David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Northamptonshire 95 for 5 (Cobb 28*, McManus 8*) trail Hampshire 482 for 8 dec (Vince 186, Gubbins 125, Brown 55) by 387 runs
Heavy overnight rain with a forecast of more to come, a soggy outfield and a chill easterly wind. It all contributed to a thin crowd at Wantage Road. Perhaps Northants loyalists also had an inkling about what lay in store because, if the weather holds, Hampshire are making quick strides towards a convincing victory.
James Vince's strokeplay might well be pretty, but against your own county, it was also pretty galling. He extended his overnight 104 to 186, and was in more blissful form than on the first day, doing much as he pleased, but by the time he failed to loft Gareth Berg over deep mid-off, he had overstayed his presence as far as local tastes were concerned. He had felt "scratchy" until now, by his own admission, but this was more like it.
Then, after losing a wicket to the first ball of their reply, Northants faltered again by losing three wickets in five balls under the lights to totter to 95 for 5 by the close. Hampshire's seam attack is formidable when there is good carry and a little movement and up-and-down bounce to be had.
It was the sort of day then for a Northamptonshire supporter to mark themselves absent, take in the commentary from time to time and get some odd jobs done. But which commentary?
Those who chose a now-established habit and followed the game on the county's live stream might have been disconcerted because change is afoot. Northants have become the latest county to end their link with BBC radio (a link that, as far as the average county supporter is concerned, has only been going five minutes) and instead turn to their own in-house commentary team. By contrast, Hampshire still use the BBC commentary, and will presumably expect ECB funding for it to remain in place. To lose this audio service because of changing times would be insane.
The BBC link-up has helped bring county cricket to the biggest audiences in its history - some 27 million views across all formats in 2022, and that is before you count the BBC's own audio figures - but some counties hanker after the sort of advertising revenue that any relationship with the Beeb precludes. At the time of its greatest triumph, county cricket's financial ambitions will either enhance its opportunity to re-enter the mainstream or undermine it.
As Vince undertook his special brand of elegant destruction after lunch, the new Northants commentary team fielded a question as to whether their own coverage was, ahem, unavoidably one-eyed. To their credit, they gave it a considered reply. On the BBC, the mellifluous tones of BBC Northampton's Andrew Radd (an ever-present on the county circuit since 1984, and co-writer of the Northamptonshire history) were joined by the respected Hampshire commentator, and former player, Kevan James. It was a more balanced, analytical offering; a more independent one, too, although in some counties that independence can feel somewhat compromised.
As usual county cricket is muddling through, some counties going in one direction, some going in another. Middlesex, Surrey, Somerset and Lancashire are leading the way with good quality in-house products. Not just because of potential financial returns, but because of the conviction that TV pictures and radio commentary are uneasy bedfellows.
As Northants join the chase for that advertising revenue, they will not be advertising the breakdown of county live video streams in this year's Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. Northants had the lowest average among the 18 counties in 2022 - with 24,000 average daily views, ranging from 13,000 in the Championship to around five times as many in the T20 Blast - the format where adoption of a more ramped-up, partial, in-house commentary seems most persuasive. Lancashire and Surrey, the most watched counties, attract three times as many viewers as Northants.
Clearly then, there is progress to be made, but bad days like this are not about to enhance the viewing figures. To add to their problems, the Australian quick, Lance Morris, has withdrawn from a short-term deal because of a back complaint. Chris Tremain, the current incumbent, for some reason is unable to extend his visa. A search is underway for a solution.
Hampshire's seam stocks are also lower. They are without the admirable Keith Barker here - he is fulfilling drinks duties which is a considerable effort for a man who managed to suffer minor fractures on both hands against Surrey last week - but James Fuller proved a worthy back-up.
Ricardo Vasconcelos has had a lean start to the season, his latest outing lasting only one ball as Mohammad Abbas dipped one back from around the wicket to win an lbw decision. Stalwart resistance from Hassan Azad and Sam Whiteman settled the game until Hampshire struck midway through an extended final session.
Kyle Abbott claimed Azad lbw as he offered no shot (James, who knows a bit about Hampshire, observed that he rarely brings one back into the left-hander from over the wicket - the sort of specialist insight that understandably might be lost on the Northants in-house team). Whiteman, who had not been entirely comfortable, was expertly caught at slip two balls later by Liam Dawson off James Fuller as he attempted an off side punch. Liam Procter got a second-ball nought, befuddled by Fuller's thigh-high full toss which crashed into his off stump.
Rob Keogh's insecure stay ended to Ben Brown's catch at the wicket. Brown later dropped Lewis McManus, the man he replaced in the Hampshire side, a low, one-handed catch to his right off Fuller. In normal circumstances, McManus might have secretly thought "I'd have caught that," but he had just needed prolonged treatment on a hand injury so he probably won't be supremely confident of catching much at all for the rest of the match.
There was a bit of a suspicion as cold got into the bones that one umpire quite fancied getting into the warm, while the other was a bit of stickler. Play was called off at 7pm on the pretext of bad light, the floodlights taking over from natural light and all that jazz, with seven overs left.
Sympathies of this observer were firmly with the umpire who fancied a pint. Nobody wants these interminably long days. And judging by the fact that a thin crowd had disappeared to almost nought, that view was shared by many. When will the game wake up to its responsibilities? Its timings are so irrelevant that even TransPennine Express could do better.
James Fuller fills his boots for Hampshire to leave Northamptonshire empty-handed
Abbas, Abbott apply finishing touches to humiliating three-day loss at Wantage Road
James Vince's 186 warms the cockles, but Northants feel the chill of irrelevance
New in-house commentary team can't put a positive spin on bleak day at Wantage Road