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George Dobell at Edgbaston
April 24, 2009
Hampshire 379 and 61 for 0 (Carberry 38*, Adams 22*) trail Warwickshire 630 for 8 dec (Troughton 223, Ambrose 153, Clarke 112, Botha 51) by 190 runs
It takes a remarkable performance to overshadow the efforts of Brian Lara. In posting a stand 335, however, Jim Troughton and Tim Ambrose wrote the great West Indian out of at least one part of the record books. The previous Warwickshire record fifth-wicket stand, a partnership of 322, was set by Lara and Keith Piper here against Durham in 1994; the innings in which Lara scored an unbeaten 501.
In a golden afternoon of Warwickshire batting, Troughton and Ambrose ran Hampshire ragged as Warwickshire posted their highest score since 2001 and the ninth-highest in their history.
But, in an innings of three fine centuries, it was Rikki Clarke's that most caught the eye. It is true that he came in against a tired attack, but the power with which he struck the ball was deeply impressive. His century, brought up with a thumping straight drive, took just 78 deliveries and included 20 fours. There were times when, despite seven men on the boundary, he appeared quite irrepressible.
It was his first century since July 2006 and the eleventh of a career that has, so far, promised more than it has delivered. If Clarke could only harness his ability with bat and ball, he might offer the England selectors a viable alternative to the unfortunate Andrew Flintoff. But 'if' is a common word in sentences about Clarke.
The hard work was done by Troughton, however. Coming to the crease with the score 12 for two, he produced a career-best innings, overflowing with pleasing strokes. The cover drives were sumptuous, but it was the shots off his legs that were most impressive.
As pleasing as the stokes he played, however, were the ones he did not. Gone was the Troughton of old, fiddling and flashing outside off stump. Instead we found a disciplined, mature professional determined not to let slip an opportunity to fill his boots.
Ambrose lost nothing by comparison. He may not possess the largest array of strokes, but those he has, notably the drive and cut, he plays with rare panache. He can, perhaps, count himself unfortunate to have lost his England place after an impressive display in Barbados, so this was a timely reminder of his abilities. He may not be quite so destructive a batsman as Matt Prior, but he remains an infinitely superior keeper.
Liam Dawson suffered most as Warwickshire accelerated. The 19-year-old, who dropped Troughton on 99 the previous evening, was thrashed for four sixes in three overs as Warwickshire scored 288 in 50.5 overs from lunch, and 139 in 18.5 from tea.
Such was Warwickshire's dominance that Hampshire could earn only one bowling point. The lack of a quality spinner was most cruelly exposed as Dawson and Michael Carberry conceded 180 in just 25.5 overs, but Chris Tremlett could summon little of the menace of the previous day, while the support seamers lacked the control to sustain any pressure.
Perhaps, if Hampshire had clung onto their chances, things might have been different. But Ambrose (on 73) and Troughton (on 132) were missed within a few minutes of one another - Tomlinson the unfortunate bowler on each occasion - while Clarke, too, was reprieved on 73.
Indeed, Hampshire's cricket became ragged, with mis-fields and overthrows increasingly prevalent. The nadir coming when David Balcombe, frustrated by a dreadful dropped chance from Tomlinson the ball before, scooped up the ball off his own bowling and, in attempting to intimidate the batsmen, threw it miles over his keeper's head to the boundary.
A draw is still the most likely result. Hampshire, faced with a first-innings deficit of 251, negotiated the final 11 overs of the day without alarm and should be able to withstand a limited Warwickshire bowling attack on the final day. The pitch, as ever at Edgbaston these days, remains slow, low and deathly dull.
George Dobell is chief writer at Spin magazine
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