Hampshire v Nottinghamshire, Specsavers Championship Div 1, Ageas Bowl, 3rd day May 24, 2016

Gurney stands out but Smith keeps Hampshire ahead

Hampshire 270 and 189 for 8 (Smith 61, Gurney 4-61) lead Nottinghamshire 189 (Wessels 72) by 270 runs
Scorecard

Harry Gurney chipped away at Hampshire's top order, but they retained the edge © Getty Images

In a round of barn-burning finishes, neither side at the Ageas Bowl wanted to be left out. 

With that in mind, the visitors, taking their lead from Hampshire and their clown car of a physio room, brought some injury news with them this morning. Chris Read was ruled out of taking the field for the remainder of this match, having damaged his hand while batting yesterday evening. While he would eventually recommence his innings when the ninth wicket fell, he spent the remainder of the day with his feet up on the away balcony, watching on as Steven Mullaney took on captaincy duties and Riki Wessels kept wicket.  

Not wanting to be outdone, Hampshire dropped their own bombshell in the afternoon. Reece Topley, who had been expected to return this week from a hand injury picked up on the first day of the season, is now set for another three months out with a partial stress fracture of the lumbar spine. He has still yet to bowl a ball for his new county. 

It would be easy to caveat this match with a list of those not present, from the enforced to the elated (Jake Ball arrived in Durham this morning). But to do so is to ignore the quality that was on show. Those present have ensured the game has moved on in a manner that suggests neither are as bad as recent results suggest. 

At the forefront was Harry Gurney. After four wickets in Hampshire's first innings, which stopped the lower order in its tracks, he did a number on the top order in the second. With an 81-run lead to play with, those at the front were undone by some fine swing bowling. Michael Carberry was exposed outside off stump before a beauty left Liam Dawson's forward defence hanging and took his off stump for a wander.

You would be forgiven for forgetting that Gurney is an international player. Or was. His name rarely comes up in selection debates for either white ball format. Even his worth as a long-form player is often filed over as simply "a left-arm option". But Gurney's used to being underrated. 

Even Nottinghamshire were not totally convinced that he would be a multi-format player for them when he joined from Leicestershire in 2012. Director of cricket Mick Newell admits that the motivation behind signing Gurney was that the left-armer always seemed to do well against Nottinghamshire in limited-overs cricket.

His development into a skilled and highly valued part of their bowling cartel has pleasantly surprised many at the club. Deep down, he was confident in his own ability. When another player followed the familiar route from Grace Road to Trent Bridge, Gurney wrote a message in his locker: "If you improve half as much as I have since joining here, you'll be a helluva player!"

Luke Fletcher's persistence throughout his 13 overs was rewarded with the wickets of Jimmy Adams caught at second slip and then Adam Wheater at mid-on, after the wicketkeeper played what might be one of the worst shots of the season. But both Fletcher and Gurney had to cede to Will Smith and Sean Ervine for the best part of 26 overs, as 78 was put on for the fourth wicket. 

Smith, captaining in the absence of Test newbie James Vince, displayed the sort of street smarts that saw him regularly bag around 900 runs a season while playing his cricket up at the seamers paradise that is Chester-le-Street. The first time he broke the 1,000 first-class runs mark was his first summer at the Ageas Bowl. 

His first half-century of the season, which came from 141 balls, was patient yet he kept the score ticking along. He ensured he presented a straight bat, while also getting down on one knee to lap Samit Patel over his shoulder. Everything in moderation - including moderation. 

Patel would get his share, though: a double-wicket maiden accounting for Smith, caught at midwicket, and Tino Best lbw for a pair. Ryan McLaren's reverse sweeps, while a strong quiz team name, also helped Hampshire bring up a lead of 270 as the day drew to a close. 

Hampshire may already have enough. Mason Crane, the 19-year-old leg spinner, impressed with three wickets earlier in the day when he pitched the ball on a length that forced batsmen to play. He kept tabs on Dan Christian who tried to hit him out of the park but could only play onto his stumps. Brett Hutton, replacing Jake Ball in the match, swiped across the line only to find Adams at square leg, before Fletcher went for a heave and missed completely. 

It was only Wessels who had something to cheer for Nottinghamshire with the bat: a measured 72 from 159 balls adding some worth to an innings that always looked like coming up short. The final throes of the reply saw Gurney cart Dawson for two sixes down the ground before he lost his middle stump to Best. 

The pitch, for all its wear and turn, is still rewarding composure at the crease. Hampshire have just two wickets left and Nottinghamshire will be going to bed tonight thinking a chase of around 300 would be better than they expected. 

If the final day's play is half as intriguing as this, we are in for a helluva finish.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport

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