Warne turns the tide Hampshire's way
Hampshire 353 and 81 for 5 lead Essex 158 (Tremlett 4-29) by 276 runs at Chelmsford
Hampshire took control of a fluctuating match and should complete their fourth win of the Championship season despite a late blip on a day in which 18 wickets fell, and Essex were dismissed for a sorry 158 on a decent, but deteriorating, batting track. Hampshire closed the day on 81 for 5 with a valuable lead of 276.
The Essex wickets were shared around, but it was Shane Warne who turned the game in Hampshire's favour. The pitch was offering a little turn, and an immature top six facing a man who has taken 517 Test wickets did not bode well. It was always likely to be Essex's mice to Warne's alley cat. He didn't bring himself on until past 3 o'clock, but he made an immediate impact.
Aftab Habib and Ravinda Bopara - in for the injured captain Ronnie Irani - were playing comfortably for the fourth wicket, picking up singles and running well as they added 32 to take the score on to 105 for 3. But the prospect of facing Warne seems to hang over a batting side like a silent room for a comedian. Warne removed both of them with only one run added in between.
The lack of confidence derived from the inability to win any of their seven Championship games this season took another dive as Chris Tremlett and Dimitri Mascarenhas took advantage of the doubt Warne had spinned into the minds of the Essex batsmen. Together, and with the help of some sharp catching at slip from the two Michaels - Clarke and Brown, they accounted for the last five Essex wickets for only 40 runs. Essex may be top of the first MCC Spirit of Cricket table, but the kind of help they offered Hampshire should be reserved for licensed charities.
Essex had started well, with Darren Gough picking up the remaining three Hampshire wickets in under an hour, and with it his first five-wicket haul in first-class cricket since August 2001, against the Australians at Headingley. Essex, who have dismissed a side for less than 335 only once this season, were grateful for Gough's 5 for 57. He looked fitter and sharper than he has done all season, and he accounted for the dangerous Nic Pothas by trapping him on the crease early on. Soon after he beat Chris Tremlett's defences and wrapped up the innings by inducing an edge behind from Billy Taylor. Only Shaun Udal's big hitting unbeaten 43 ensured that Hampshire posted 353, only the second time they've passed 350 this season.
At 55 without loss in their second innings, Hampshire appeared to be driving home their advantage. But Danish Kaneria took two wickets in two balls for the second time in the match - John Crawley being the unlucky recipient of a first-ball snorter from Kaneria that was well taken behind by James Foster. Kaneria picked up another one and Andy Clarke, bowling a steady line, chipped in with two wickets as Hampshire lost their top five for only 17 runs. But it seems to be a little too late for Essex, and the prospect of facing Warne on the last two days will still be hanging over them.