David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Hampshire 68 for 6 (Harmer 4-23) trail Essex 238 (Snater 71, Abbott 3-41) by 170 runs
Chelmsford is Simon Harmer country again. The sun is up, the pitch is turning on the first day and one by one he can expect that all his dreams will come true.
If Hampshire are to quicken their Championship challenge here - they lie second, three points behind Surrey as the halfway stage of the season approaches - then they will need to withstand Harmer at his most potent. Few county sides have shown the ability to do that. Much more likely is that he will finish with something approaching the best match figures of the season.
By the close of the opening day, he held figures of 8-2-23-4 with Nick Gubbins, James Vince, Liam Dawson and Aneurin Donald already ticked off. The welcome inclusion of a few Championship matches in midsummer might be designed for him.
An attention-grabbing haul will also sharpen his chances of retaining his place in South Africa's side for a three-Test series against England, beginning at Lord's on August 17. He returned to the fray after a near seven-year absence in March and April and returned 13 for 78 in two Tests, with Bangladesh shot out for 53 in Durban. But his fellow spinner, Keshav Maharaj was also in the wickets and it would be a rare thing for two specialist spinners to be fielded in England.
These are the days of summer wine that Harmer has been missing, a throwback to 2017 when he took the second-highest haul in the country with 72 wickets at 19.19 and teams came to Chelmsford and came over all of a tizzy.
The following seasons were successful, too, but his rewards have been meagre this summer, with only 12 wickets at 39.33 at the start of this match, partly the result of three tortuously slow, low Chelmsford surfaces in which all matches have been drawn. This surface had more bounce and pace, not just for Harmer, but also for the seamers. He was brought into the attack as early as the eighth over after Sam Cook had dealt with arguably the weakest opening pair in the country.
The most extraordinary dismissal was Harmer's first, that of Vince, who decided to try to dominate Harmer from the outset. Perhaps the influence of "Bazball" is now beginning to permeate county cricket. If Vince imagines such an approach will win an England recalled at 31 he may be deluding himself. He charged down the pitch to the second ball he faced, his first from Harmer, failed to reach the pitch, as the ball turned substantially through a wild swing, and was stumped.
Harmer's second over included the wicket of Dawson, who conjured up a gentle leg-side push at a turning delivery despite the presence of two close fielders, and even though it took a deflection of the wicketkeeper's gloves en route it could not be construed as unfortunate. Gubbins pushed firmly to silly point in Harmer's sixth over and he had two wickets in two balls when Donald propped limply forward to be caught at short leg.
In this season of good county surfaces, one of the most regrettable aspects is that so few of them have broken up on the final day. Matt Parkinson, Lancashire's legspinner, is arguably the only slow bowler to have presented a persistent threat. Faced by a turning surface from the outset, Hampshire's response was inadequate, but it is difficult to improve against something you meet so infrequently.
Kyle Abbott, Hampshire's South African pace bowler, suggested that Hampshire's approach against Harmer had been a considered one.
"We are coming up against a world-class spinner so we knew it was going to turn but we didn't expect it to turn that much that quickly on day one," he said. "It maybe took us a bit by surprise but we now have a challenge ahead of us now.
"We discussed Harmer and how we wanted to play him but he is world-class and has taken a lot of wickets for Essex over the years and been successful for South Africa. I thought we played him pretty well except for some of those ones which we managed to get out. We need to find a way to negotiate that."
Essex were in bother themselves at 105 for 7 but allrounder Shane Snater hit about him cleanly to make 71 from 73 balls - the left-arm spin of Dawson suffering the most - and remarkably his third half-century of the season was enough to make him Essex's third-highest Championship run-scorer. There was skill alongside the power, notably when he leant back to avoid a short ball from Brad Wheal and uppercut to the third man boundary. He fell attempting to slap Wheal down the ground.
Nine days ago, Snater was a part of the Netherlands bowling attack which was flailed for a world record 498 by England in Amstelveen. He went for 99 runs, although he picked up the wicket of his cousin Jason Roy.
"I don't know what the groundsman has done differently but it has brought Harmy more into the game which is good for us," he said. "If it is going to turn they also have spinners, but he is just so much better."
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