Somerset become the hunted after mammoth win over Hampshire

Jack Leach celebrates another wicket for Somerset Getty Images

Somerset 408 (Hildreth 105, Abbott 6-84) and 358 for 8 dec (Ali 79, Banton 70, Abell 58) beat Hampshire 349 (Northeast 101, J Overton 5-70) and 104 (Leach 3-14) by 313 runs

Somerset are used to being the hunters in the County Championship. They have regularly been in and around title contention in the top flight in the past decade - and have finished second four times - but have typically played catch-up after slow starts.

Now, they have become the hunted. A statement win against third-placed Hampshire, sealed with eight wickets before lunch on this final day, coupled with Essex's rout at Trent Bridge, has opened up breathing space between the top two and the rest of the division. With six games to go, the Championship is set to turn into a heavyweight bout, with two sides both hoping to land decisive blows before a final-round shootout here at Taunton.

"I thought it would be a tough day today," said captain Tom Abell, who made a pair of fifties. "We still felt it was a pretty good wicket, but full credit to our bowling attack. The way we started this morning was outstanding - we got the ball swinging, and asked lots of questions of the batters, and then the spin twins came to the party as well."

A pitch that had been hard work for bowlers throughout the first three days implied this would be a struggle for Somerset when they arrived this morning. Instead, this turned into a procession.

Ajinkya Rahane had made a gritty 55 in the first innings, and must have felt he had something to prove after missing out to Mayank Agarwal as India's replacement batsman in their World Cup squad. But he looked ill at ease throughout his brief stay here, playing and missing to the second ball of the day and nearly playing on to the sixth, before his aimless waft outside off stump diverted a Lewis Gregory outswinger to Jamie Overton at second slip.

After nightwatchman Kyle Abbott had feathered an edge behind off Overton, the stage was set for an innings of resolve from Rilee Rossouw, a senior player who has endured a mixed season but needed to grit it out until the lunch interval if his side held a chance of victory.

But Rossouw is an enigmatic character, who chose the week of Hampshire's Championship opener to tell the Daily Echo that he was likely to give up red-ball cricket when his contract is up at the end of the season since his "desire had gone down".

And so, after edging and then toe-ending boundaries off consecutive Overton balls, Rossouw looked to seal a third with a cut; he found himself cramped for room, and was caught in the gully. With Tom Alsop and Joe Weatherley likely to miss Sunday's game against Warwickshire through injury, Hampshire need Rossouw to prove his worth.

Sam Northeast and James Fuller added 57 for the fifth wicket, and briefly looked like they would take this game long into the afternoon. But once Northeast's leading edge had fallen into the hands of Abell, leaping forward at short cover, Jack Leach and Dom Bess made short work of the tail, and the game was won by lunchtime.

This win was not only an important response for Somerset after their thrashing at Chelmsford, but a vindication of their decision to send Overton and Bess on loan to Northamptonshire and Yorkshire respectively in May. The pair accounted for 11 of the 19 Hampshire wickets to fall in this game (Weatherley was absent hurt in the second innings), and both celebrated as though they had been waiting for this moment for some time.

Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale declared that the club would do "everything we can" to sign Bess permanently after he took seven wickets in four matches on loan, but the offspinner - still only 21 - has 18 months to run on his Somerset contract, and the club remain confident of keeping him beyond that.

For Hampshire, meanwhile, this was little more than a meek surrender. First-team coach Adi Birrell said the defeat was "hurtful", and that a few players had "lost confidence".

"We didn't apply ourselves very well again," he said. "It was disappointing to capitulate like we did. We lost eight wickets in a session - that's not good reading no matter what the pitch is like. The last two matches we've let ourselves down and the club down."

The absence of James Vince and Liam Dawson to England duty has undoubtedly been a major factor in their recent struggle, and the injuries to Alsop and Weatherley will mean that the club looks to the second team for Sunday's game; perhaps there will be a chance for 20-year-old batsman Felix Organ, who made 111 against Surrey's seconds this week.

Hampshire 4th innings Partnerships

1st0KJ AbbottOC Soames
2nd18AM RahaneKJ Abbott
3rd0SA NortheastKJ Abbott
4th10SA NortheastRR Rossouw
5th57SA NortheastJK Fuller
6th4KHD BarkerJK Fuller
7th8JK FullerMS Crane
8th7FH EdwardsMS Crane
9th0TP AlsopMS Crane