Hampshire 303 for 4 (Northeast 94*, Rossouw 76, Markram 63) v Essex
The sight of Rilee Rossouw cutting loose against Essex's bowlers while team-mate Sam Northeast anchored the innings gave Hampshire a bright start to the County Championship season, despite the gloomy conditions.
A small but appreciative quorum of onlookers braved the frigid temperatures and overcast skies at the Ageas Bowl, their numbers possibly boosted by fans of Liverpool FC - whose players were staying in the adjoining hotel - killing time ahead of the evening's Premier League match against Southampton.
They were warmly rewarded with a top-class display from Hampshire's batsmen, highlighted by Rossouw's fireworks and Northeast's thoughtfully compiled innings while further enhanced by neat cameos from captain James Vince and last-minute import Aiden Markram.
Essex may have been left ruing their decision to put the hosts in after an uncontested toss with play starting 20 minutes late due to poor light. With the help of the floodlights and a slightly brightening sky, the Hampshire batsmen got on with their job in impressive fashion.
Vince's move up the order to open, partly to cover for the retired Jimmy Adams but also to give himself the best chance of breaking back into the England Test team, was an unspectacular success in its infancy. He batted with trademark ease to reach 40 off 68 deliveries before Ravi Bopara had him out lbw in his second over on the stroke of lunch.
Markram had been in the country for less than 72 hours, having flown in on Tuesday night as a late overseas signing to replace Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne. But he found his feet immediately to score an eye-catching half-century.
Markram, who recently played his way back into the South African limited-overs set-up after some prolific run-scoring at domestic level, brought up his fifty with a sweet straight drive off Sam Cook. He went on to reach 63, including nine fours before Matt Quinn had him caught behind by Dan Lawrence, filling in behind the stumps for Adam Wheater, who had left the field with an injured hand.
Hampshire's first-team manager, Adrian Birrell, was pleased with Markram's showing.
"He's only had one hit here outside since arriving, it's been raining the rest of the time, so from having one outdoor net, he's in form," Birrell said. "He's played well in South Africa but coming over here is a different game. I thought he applied himself very well and came up with good plans."
Markram's dismissal brought another South African to the crease in Kolpak player Rossouw and he took off at an impressive clip. By tea he had added 45 off 41 deliveries.
After the break, Rossouw took a liking to compatriot offspinner Simon Harmer, smacking him for two sixes in three balls, and another a while later as he moved to 76 off 66 balls. It was Harmer to whom Rossouw holed out off the bowling of Jamie Porter in a small consolation for Essex, but his knock, which included four sixes and 10 fours all up, was damaging.
All the while, Northeast went about his business, although he was by no means slow and was not to be outdone on strokeplay either, carving out 12 fours and a six of his own on his way to 94 off 153 balls when bad like halted play for the day late in the evening session.
"We need a guy to anchor the innings and he was that today," Birrell said of Northeast. "I was just disappointed we couldn't have a few more overs so he could get to his hundred but a very good day overall and we ain't finished yet."
Joe Weatherley was the only batsman not to make the most of his time in the middle, caught by third slip Tom Westley off the bowling of Quinn for 13 early in the day. But there was no argument that Hampshire weren't on top at the close.