Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
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Hampshire 457 (Organ 118, Vince 95, Barker 50) and 82 for 4 (Higgins 3-41) beat Gloucestershire 201 (Price 59, van Buuren 58*) and 337 (Hammond 169, Higgins 63, Abbott 6-76, Barker 4-65) by six wickets
"Catches win matches" say the coaches and the club bores. The former know the saying is merely useful but the latter invest the words with such profundity that one might suppose they have been plucked straight from Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Rhyme has got a lot to answer for.
Runs win matches, too. (See D G Bradman, J B Hobbs and S R Tendulkar etc.) And so also do wickets. See D M Muralidaran, C A Walsh and on this remarkable Friday in Cheltenham K J Abbott, whose five wickets in 12 balls set up a Hampshire win that James Vince and his cricketers will recall contentedly should the pennant be flying over the Ageas Bowl in September. Abbott's devastating burst either side of lunch included the second hat-trick of his career and it ensured that Hampshire would be chasing a modest 82 to win the game and thereby trim Surrey's lead at the top of Division One to 14 points.
As though paranoid about the approach of thunderstorms from the south-west, Hampshire's batters moved into full T20 mode and knocked the runs off in 9.3 overs for the loss of four wickets, three of them to Ryan Higgins, whose 115-run partnership with Miles Hammond had earlier appeared likely to delay their opponents' victory, if not scupper it altogether. Indeed, until Abbott placed his size 13 boots on his opponents' necks, most of the morning had been dominated by Higgins and Hammond, with the latter being dropped three times in as many overs in a bizarre passage of play. It was, in short, a quiet old day at the College Ground.
The morning had begun more or less as Hampshire might have wished. In the fourth over of the morning Graeme van Buuren half-drove at a ball outside his off stump and edged a shoulder-high catch to Vince at first slip. Not for the first or last time, one was quietly amazed at the ease with which county cricketers snaffle balls that are travelling at 80mph/130kph. The professionals may view such catches as regulation; many of their club counterparts certainly don't.
But no cricketers, regardless of their level of expertise, regard keeping wicket to spinners as straightforward, so there may have more understanding seven overs later when Ben Brown dropped a feathered chance from Hammond off Dawson when the Gloucestershire left-hander had already reached a career-best 124. Five minutes later, the left-arm spinner had his head buried in his hands once again after Vince had put down Hammond at slip, the sharp chance going waist-high to the skipper's left.
Those errors, though, were merely preludes to the absolute dolly put down in Dawson's very next over, when Hammond top-edged a reverse-sweep and Felix Organ at backward point muffed a gentle, lobbed catch to which he had to make little ground before diving comfortably forward. The fielder was plainly aghast, the bowler frustrated beyond words. It was a chance which most serious club players would have taken. But two balls later, Nick Gubbins trotted across from short leg to console Organ and pat him on the hip. Such simple acts of encouragement often mark out successful sides from the rest. They are also a good way of identifying decent people.
For an hour or so afterwards, Hammond and Higgins batted as if fate could not touch them. Hammond continued to stroke the ball around with classical ease, reaching his 150 off 235 balls with 23 fours and three sixes. "It'll come, it'll be better when it does," shouted Hampshire's fielders but by now there were strains of doubt in their yells. At the other end, Higgins played in a manner antithetical to his irresponsibility on Thursday. Of course there were attacking shots - seven fine boundaries in his 79-ball 50, indeed - but there was balance and judgement as well. Runs came easily and a lead that had once seemed impossible grew: twenty, thirty, forty…
On the stroke of lunch Hampshire got the wicket they craved. Hammond drove at a pitched-up ball from Abbott but only edged a catch to Vince at slip. He led the players off having made 169 off 278 balls. It had been a chance-littered innings to be sure but one that was revelatory of character and studded with fine strokes.
Over lunch there was talk of rain in Bristol. On the resumption Abbott bowled as if half a dozen of the plagues of Egypt were about to descend on Cheltenham. His first ball was slanted across Zafar Gohar but compelled the shot; the batter nicked the catch to Brown. Abbott's next ball was full and straight and quick. Tom Price missed and Graham Lloyd's tumultuous week drew to a close with an easy decision. Abbott was mobbed by his team-mates and this in itself was a fine effort; in case you have not noticed, there is rather a lot of Kyle Abbott to mob.
Suddenly Gloucestershire were 316 for 8. As though refusing to display such grim tidings, the scoreboard conked out. Cheerily undaunted by such mechanical non-compliance, Abbott continued his merry dance. In his next over Higgins swung him to deep square leg and was caught by James Fuller for a fine 63; ten minutes later Josh Shaw swiped him to Gubbins at midwicket.
Even in a place as strange as the College Ground, the only threat to Hampshire was now the weather. Vince came out to open but watched as Organ drove Higgins for three fours in the first over. Organ eventually fell for an eight-ball 17 but Vince hit 24 off 16 deliveries in what became a race against the approaching elements. That was a sprint Hampshire won and they now go to Scarborough on Monday after the sort of week that defines a season.
Kyle Abbott's hat-trick and six-for seal Hampshire's win in Cheltenham sprint finish
Hampshire hot on Surrey's tail despite Miles Hammond's efforts on dramatic final day
Miles Hammond gives Gloucestershire hope as Cheltenham factor kicks in at last
Hosts still need a miracle, but battling innings sets the stage for a possible escape
James Vince 95 a feast for the eyes as Hampshire build big first innings on rain-hit day
Organ falls after completing career-best 118, Barker adds half-century