Solanki spares Worcestershire's blushes
Worcestershire 132 (Cork 4-10) and 150 for 8 (Solanki 64*) lead Hampshire 216 (Dawson 66, Arif 4-42) by 66 runs
Vikram Solanki's defiance spared Worcestershire from the humiliation of launching their Division One campaign with an innings defeat inside two days at the Rose Bowl. But the writing still appears to be on the wall for last year's Second Division runners-up.
Thanks to captain Solanki (64) and No 9 Chris Whelan (47), Hampshire were kept waiting. Together they added 97 for the eighth wicket, almost tripling the total from a grisly 53 for 7 and giving the visitors a lead of 66 in the process. But with Whelan falling to the first ball of the second day's final over - edging a big cut against Chris Tremlett - surely only a lot of bad weather can deny the hosts.
Still, 150 for 8 represented positive riches for Worcestershire. Dismissed for 132 first up, they were subsiding even more meekly second time around on a pitch passed fit for purpose by inspector Tony Pigott. Apart from Solanki, who survived an appeal for caught behind off Tremlett before scoring, only Ben Smith of the top eight reached double figures as too many batsmen fell in cheap fashion.
Stephen Moore played on to one from Tremlett that kept a little low, Daryl Mitchell edged Dominic Cork - rewarded with the new ball after his first-innings heroics - into the slips and then the collapse really gathered pace.
Michael Carberry, one of the game's best fielders, dived forward in the covers to hold a skimming catch off Smith's bat. But Moeen Ali could not have turned James Tomlinson more gently to square leg before Steve Davies snicked routinely. And with Gareth Batty edging an optimistic drive and Kabir Ali falling lbw, the end looked night with 24 overs remaining.
Solanki, who came in at No 3, had barely played a shot in anger up to that point. But the class that earned him a half-century of England ODI caps came to the fore as he suddenly decided that the long handle was his only hope - and a crashing six over cover off seamer David Balcombe swiftly followed.
At first, Solanki tried to protect Whelan, even running a bye off a bouncer which went straight through to the keeper in order to pinch the strike. But his partner soon showed himself more than capable of surviving and supplied 47 to the stand before a moment of hot-headedness gave Hampshire the breakthrough they had been striving to achieve.
While Solanki's heroics saved the day (if probably not the match) for Worcestershire, the best batting so far has come from the 18-year-old Hampshire allrounder Liam Dawson. At 116 for 7, the home team were making heavy weather of forging a first-innings lead. But Dawson, backed by the irrepressible Cork (25) during a stand of 91, made sure they gained a decent advantage.
The pair came together following a flurry of wickets in the morning - nightwatchman Balcombe was yorked by Kabir and then both James Adams and Nic Pothas were undone by Imran Arif, a Pakistan-born paceman who had tried his luck with both Hampshire and Sussex before Worcestershire took him out of the Bradford League last season and made him their overseas player.
Arif has since become a British passport-holder, meaning he can play in the same side as Ashley Noffke when the Australian fast bowler arrives later this week, and the quickie will clearly fight hard to keep his place.
No-one could shift Dawson, however, until he was last out - swinging the bat at paceman Matt Mason - for a wonderfully composed 66. The England Under 19 captain (and England Lion during a Twenty20 'international' against New Zealand A earlier this year) ended last season by making his maiden championship century at Trent Bridge. Here, he timed the ball beautifully while stroking eight fours and looking a class act.
David Lloyd is the former correspondent of the London Evening Standard