Nottinghamshire v Hampshire, Trent Bridge, 2nd day September 25, 2008

Tahir leaves Notts' hopes in the balance

Jon Culley at Trent Bridge

Hampshire 203 (Shreck 4-48) and 102 for 1 (Brown 51*, Lumb 25*) lead Nottinghamshire 211 (Patel 70, Tahir 4-55) by 94 runs

Is it slipping away? Andre Adams watches Hampshire's lead grow © Getty Images
The prospect of letting a second of the season's major prizes slip through their grasp loomed large for Nottinghamshire as day two of the County Championship's dramatic final round finished with their status as title favourites under severe pressure.

Limited to just one batting bonus point after losing their last seven first-innings wickets for just 39 runs, the advantage Nottinghamshire took into the last week of the season has been severely eroded, to the extent that the possibility of taking the title with just a draw has gone.

Anything less than a win in this match opens the way for Durham or Somerset. The only certainty is that Hampshire, who began the round with a mathematical chance, are out of the race.

Moreover, Nottinghamshire's failure to make significant inroads with the ball in the final session means that Hampshire have the upper hand in this contest. And given that Imran Tahir's four first-innings wickets have already demonstrated what he can achieve on this slow, dry pitch, they will not relish a fourth-innings run chase of any substance.

Tahir and James Tomlinson finished with four wickets each after Nottinghamshire's implosion, although it was the leg-spinner who did the significant damage. The guessing game that Hampshire left their opponents to play over Tahir's availability may leave a bitter taste now.

His mix of googlies, flippers and conventional leg-breaks during a devastating afternoon spell baffled and bemused Nottinghamshire, to the extent that one wondered if his first spell, in the morning session, when Samit Patel was hitting him to all parts, had been bowled by a ringer.

Going for 25 in his first three overs, Tahir's looseness had helped Patel lead what had looked like a match-winning recovery, with little indication of what was to come. Prior to that, after needing only 10 balls to claim the last Hampshire wicket, the home side had lost Bilal Shafayat, lbw to Dimitri Mascarenhas without a run scored, and wobbled badly on 56 when Mark Wagh, trapped by a Tomlinson inswinger, and Will Jefferson, pinned playing across the line by Mascarenhas, were dismissed in consecutive overs.

Yet Nottinghamshire's equilibrium seemed to be fully restored as Patel and Ashwell Prince added 116 in the next 24 overs, the former, doubtless with a thought or two on next Monday's England squad announcement, taking his first-class aggregate for the season to 900 runs, some 630 of which have been scored in the last 10 visits to the crease.

However, it was Patel's demise on 70, caught by Chris Tremlett at cover, attempting to hit over the top to the short Bridgford Road boundary, that set in train Nottinghamshire's dramatic collapse.

Tahir had Graeme Swann caught at the wicket with a leg-break, Tomlinson had Chris Read taken at first slip, then Mark Ealham, Andre Adams and Darren Pattinson all came and went without scoring - Ealham plumb in front as the flipper pinned him on the back foot, before Adams and Pattinson succumbed in quick order to big-turning googlies. His four wickets had come in the space of 24 balls.

Nottinghamshire, 197 for 9 at that point, would have been 197 all out, denied even one batting point, had Tremlett not dropped Prince on the boundary, conceding four for good measure. Prince celebrated with a six and completed his first half-century for the county, but then skied another one, off Tremlett's bowling, to leave his side finished off for 211 at tea.

What was needed now, from the home crowd's point of view, was for Pattinson and Charlie Shreck to hit their straps and put their team back in the ascendancy. Instead, Nottinghamshire's only success came when Adams moved one away just enough for Michael Carberry to nick a catch to Read behind the stumps, and Hampshire closed at 102-1 - 94 in front - with Michael Brown having progressed in relative serenity to 51 not out.

Having let the Pro40 title out of their grasp in dramatic fashion against Sussex a couple of weeks ago, Nottinghamshire may have some mental demons to overcome if they are to avoid the Championship turning into another sorry tale of what might have been.