Somerset 136 for 4 (Gayle 52, Jayawardene 45*) beat Hampshire 133 (Dawson 46, J Overton 4-22, Waller 4-33) by six wickets
Is this where an era ended? Under a blanket of heavy cloud, on a damp and miserable day in Taunton, Hampshire's age of dominance in T20 cricket in England has been left on the brink of collapse after their badly out-of-form batting line-up collided with a superb Somerset bowling performance on the way to a crushing six-wicket defeat.
The loss leaves Hampshire's 2016 NatWest T20 Blast season in tatters. With just one win from seven matches they are rooted to the bottom of the South Group and will require a dramatic turnaround to extend their record and reach a seventh consecutive Finals Day. "The weather has been pretty grey and miserable, it's rained pretty much most of the game and our performance wasn't much better really," summarised Hampshire's dejected coach Giles White at the end of the match.
Beneath thick clouds and with rain forecast there was a serious possibility that this match would not be played. As it was the weather delayed the start, interrupted the first innings and threatened to end Somerset's early, but in amongst persistent rainfall a match was completed to satisfy a near sell-out crowd in Taunton.
With the possibility of a reduced-overs second innings and a favourable Duckworth-Lewis-Stern target, Somerset captain Jim Allenby had no hesitation in opting to bowl first after winning the toss. Having sweated under the covers all morning and only given 25 minutes to breathe before the match, the pitch displayed some zippy bounce early on.
Despite the return of Michael Carberry from a wrist injury and James Vince from international duty, Hampshire appeared unsettled by the helpful bowling conditions and some tight lines from Somerset's seamers to record their worst Powerplay of the season: 35 for 3. All three wickets, a run out on T20 debut for Tom Alsop, who replaced the dropped Jimmy Adams, a lazy uppercut straight to the fielder at third man from Carberry and a loose flat-footed drive from Vince were emblematic of a top-order lacking in form and confidence.
With the Powerplay over Somerset shifted strategy and began taking pace off the ball, working together in pairs. First it was Allenby and Peter Trego; bowling tight, stump-to-stump lines they cramped Adam Wheater and Liam Dawson for room and conceded just nine in the two overs immediately after the Powerplay. It was the introduction of spinner Max Waller, however, that tightened the noose around Hampshire's neck.
With Wheater clearly keen to remain proactive he advanced down the pitch to Waller's fourth delivery, but the legspinner saw him coming and fired it fast down the leg side where Ryan Davies snaffled a sharp take and whisked the bails off before Wheater could make it back. When Will Smith, promoted up the order to help rebuild, was trapped lbw first ball by a quicker delivery, Hampshire were reeling at 56 for 5.
It was at stages such as these that Hampshire teams of years gone by would find a way out of trouble. No such rescue act was possible today. The dismissal of Sean Ervine, who has captained this season in the absence of Vince, charging furiously down the pitch for a huge heave to Waller before being stumped by some distance, was sadly fitting. Excluding his 56 against Kent, Ervine has scored 15 runs in his five other innings this season.
Shahid Afridi and Dawson briefly threatened to elevate Hampshire towards a respectable total, striking a handful of boundaries between them, but faced with a powerful Somerset batting order at a high-scoring venue they couldn't afford to hold back. Waller preyed on such reckless attack and completed an impressive four-wicket haul when he bowled Afridi with a quicker delivery that skidded on. Waller now boasts an average of 15.70 against Hampshire in T20 cricket.
Moments after Dawson was run out for 46 the players were forced from the field for half an hour by the persistent rain. When they returned Darren Sammy and Gareth Berg missed more than they hit as they tried desperately to squeeze some extra runs from a tired and bedraggled innings. Overton matched Waller's four-wicket haul when he removed the pair in the penultimate over, wrapping up Hampshire's innings for 133 and with nine balls to spare.
The target was never going to be enough for Somerset, especially with Hampshire having to cope with a wet ball, and after the erratic Tino Best conceded more than 10% of Somerset's target from his first five legitimate deliveries there was an inevitability about the remainder of the contest that even the two Powerplay wickets of Allenby and Trego couldn't dissipate.
A hardy Taunton crowd who endured the poor weather were rewarded for their fortitude as Chris Gayle, in his last match for Somerset this season, and Mahela Jayawardene forged a partnership of steel and silk, clubbing and gliding their respective ways towards 52 and 45 not out and guiding Somerset to a valuable victory that keeps them within touching distance of the leading pack in the South Group.
Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist. @fwildecricket