BAT Sports remain top of the ECB Southern Electric Premier League after forcing a tame draw against arch championship rivals Havant.

But their lead has been trimmed to a mere five points by South Wilts, who beat Liphook & Ripsley by four wickets at Bemerton to cement themselves firmly into contention after the seventh round of fixtures.

BAT travel to Salisbury for a potentially crucial all-day game in the 18-match calendar on Saturday week, June 28.

The eagerly awaited clash between the two Premier powermen of the past three seasons fizzled out into a damp squibb after the Havant, the defending champions, batted the visitors out of the game with a massive 288-7 in 66 overs.

No team has ever scored that many batting second in the SPL and, with only 56 overs bowled back at them, BAT were in no mood to give their biggest rivals an inch.

They were content to play out time at 179-5, with Damian Shirazi batting almost three hours for 82 not out.

The stalemate was largely due to the excellence of the Havant Park strip, on which bowlers toiled in the sun to prise out just 12 wickets at a cost of 467 runs.

Havant's traditional pitches are notoriously slow and low, but this strip - one of four relaid two winters ago - was an absolute belter.

"Our players were a bit surprised to be playing on a much harder than normal strip, but it played superbly and the batsmen thrived on it," said Havant team manager Mark Readman.

"We didn't get our runs as quick as we might have liked, simply because of a lull in the scoring caused by wickets falling at the wrong time late in the innings.

"That prevented us from declaring before our 66 over allocation was complete," he added.

Adrift in the honours race after having lost to South Wilts a fortnight ago and been held to a draw at Liphook last week, Havant needed to apply the pressure from the start.

They began on a positive note, with Damian Carson (22) and left-hander Simon Barnard seeing off the perils of the new ball during a 48-run opening stand.

Carson fell to the first ball Mark Page bowled, but his departure opened the door for Richard Hindley to play arguably his best Premier League innings.

Hindley, who spent the winter playing and coaching in New South Wales, looked in immaculate form, punching drives through the covers and playing sweetly off his legs.

By lunch, he had almost caught up the equally impressive Barnard, who completed his second consecutive half-century just before the interval.

The pair made hay immediately after the break, with Dan Goldstraw - BAT's eight-wicket hero against Calmore Sports - being smacked for 22 runs off one remarkable over.

Barnard struck the first ball for three and then Hindley thumped four boundaries in succession - his straight on-drive, which rocketed to the long-on rope, particularly eye-catching.

The two left-handers added a quality 145 runs for the second wicket before Barnard (73) was trapped in front by Terry Rawlins at 193-2.

Apart from a couple of blemishes, BAT kept their shape well in the field and when Hindley eventually fell for 93 - his innings included 12 fours (and an over-thrown six) - they sensed some bowling bonus points were on the table.

An untimely stutter - four wickets fell for 28 runs - cost the champions the opportunity of a declaration.

Paul Gover, in hindsight probably overcautious, chipped an unbeaten 32 and Graham Benton struck an aerial 18, as 30 runs came off the final two overs.

It was certainly entertaining to watch, but Havant's near four-hour sojourn of the crease ultimately gobbled up too much of the playing time for there to be a positive outcome.

BAT, with an hour less batting time, needed to be 100 without loss if they were to offer a serious challenge.

They weren't - Australian Matt Cox, bowling a tight off-spin line, removing Neil Parlane and Richard Kenway to have BAT an uncertain 50-2.

From that point on, it was simply a case of whether could prise MCC Young Cricketer Damian Shirazi from the crease.

They seldom looked like achieving their aim and, with David Banks (50) playing a selection of good shots, BAT's reply reached 125-3 before the wicketkeeper was neatly snapped up at short-leg.

Shirazi's main aim was to frustrate Havant and glean a second batting point for BAT at 175.

He finished with a somewhat tedious 82 not out, but did the job BAT required of him as time was called with the visitors 179-5 in ten less overs than Havant bowled to them.