Derbyshire 50 for 3 trail Hampshire 272 (Vince 114) by 222 runs
Given that Derbyshire appeared such a solid bet for promotion only a month or so ago, you cannot blame Karl Krikken, their coach, for taking steps to soften the blow should his embryonic team be knocked out of the top two places right at the death.
Krikken insisted on the eve of the final round of matches that "to actually be here now with a chance of promotion is magnificent" and he is right to be proud that the club most frequently associated with the wooden spoon have set the pace for much of the Division Two season.
Yet after winning only one match since the end of May, Derbyshire were always vulnerable to a late surge from one of the chasing pack and Kent, whose win over Derbyshire last week followed victory at Leicester a week earlier, have emerged with a threat to wreck their happy ending. It is now, it can be argued, that they need to dismiss the notion of remembering the season for a gallant near-miss and find a steely resolve.
It will be needed, surely, on day two of this contest, which will resume with Derbyshire in trouble at 50 for 3 after a nervous 18 overs with the bat rather took the gloss off what had been a decent day's work with the ball.
Despite a partnership of 136 for the fifth wicket between James Vince (114) and Sean Ervine, Derbyshire restricted Hampshire to 272, claiming maximum bowling points in doing so. Given that the opening day at Cardiff did not go well for Kent, it may be that a draw for Derbyshire will be enough to clinch their elevation to Division One but even that will take some work to achieve. Hampshire, the Twenty20 champions and potential double-winners in white ball cricket, have underachieved in the four-day competition and that makes them a dangerous opponent.
Indeed, they may consider that their opening-day performance here was not as satisfactory as it might have been. Well though they batted after Derbyshire, who won the toss, had opted to bowl first on a well-grassed pitch, both Vince and Ervine to some extent gave their wickets away. Ervine certainly did, attempting needlessly to reverse sweep David Wainwright, the left-arm spinner, and departing somewhat red-faced after he was bowled behind his legs.
Vince had hit the ball handsomely at times, his confidence growing as did his boundary count, and given that he has had a lean season in the Championship, in and out of the side and without a half-century before this match, he deserved the congratulations that came his way. Yet the ball that did for him was a wide half-volley from Ross Whiteley that he slapped straight to extra-cover.
Derbyshire had made the start they wanted. Tony Palladino, the former Essex seamer whose experience has been one of the counters to the youth that has been given its head under Krikken's stewardship, delivered a fine spell with the new ball in which he did not concede a run until his fourth over and at one point had figures of 6.5-4-9-3 as Hampshire lost their first three wickets for 26.
He bowled Michael Carberry off an inside edge, had Bilal Shafayat, pushing forward, caught at third slip and nipped one back to pin Liam Dawson leg-before as he played back. When Jimmy Adams, who has a technique good enough to earn a mention at least in connection with England's top-order vacancy, fell for 20 as Whiteley found some late away swing and Usman Khawaja took a fine catch at second slip, Hampshire were 59 for 4 and Derbyshire had every reason to feel pleased with themselves.
The Vince-Ervine partnership tempered their mood somewhat, but there was a comeback. After Vince had gone, Chris Wood flicked a ball from Tim Groenewald obligingly to square leg, Michael Bates edged Wes Durston, the offspinner, to slip, David Griffiths was caught behind driving at Wainwright, who then had James Tomlinson leg before first ball to end on a hat-trick as the last three Hampshire wickets fell in the space of ten deliveries.
On a surface that had good carry and offered no significant help to the bowlers, 272 may have been a shade under par, which would have given Derbyshire every reason to be optimistic if they could see off the new ball without too much damage.
In the event, the came up against a couple of bowlers in David Balcombe and Tomlinson who put them under immediate pressure and were duly rewarded. Wayne Madsen, trying to fend a ball from Tomlinson that climbed on him, gloved a catch to wicketkeeper Bates, while Paul Borrington edged one high off the bat to gully, where Carberry took a good catch diving forward. Durston then edged Wood tentatively to second slip. Much now depends on Khawaja.