If Hampshire were to escape the depths of relegation for a second, remarkable year, then plenty of gratitude would have to head towards the direction of Sean Ervine.
It would be, at the very minimum, a fitting end to a Benefit Year for a man sacrificing international honours with Zimbabwe for time on the county stage a few years ago.
Ervine has immersed himself as a Hampshire man through and through. And the runs and rewards have quickly followed.
Hampshire could only draw in their last trip, to Taunton, where Ervine’s twin centuries told tales of their own, desperate runs in desperate circumstances.
While this 100 on the third day at the Kia Oval was more assured, less vital and just about the same in its weight to the travelling southerners, it seems 158no against Surrey will also provide nothing more than a shared result.
But it won’t be through lack of Hampshire effort. For almost 155 overs they ground down the hosts – on what was admittedly a road – to grasp a lead of 250 before finally, perhaps conservatively, declaring. A lack of Surrey wickets before the close suggests the win may have to wait a little yet.
But in Ervine, there is at least plenty of batting spirit. Averaging 57 before the match, the 33-year-old first had to watch as yesterday’s centurion Tom Alsop fell to the second ball of the day, feathering Mark Footitt behind to Ben Foakes.
When Liam Dawson followed soon after – via a neat, diving Jade Dernbach catch – plenty was still needed just to reach parity, let alone find the lead.
In Ryan McLaren, Ervine found a keen partner, a contribution from the pair that can hardly be undersold.
While McLaren accumulated at a rate of knots, Ervine added to his total in slightly more sedate fashion. Both were profitable, and both were chanceless.
That’s not to say that Ervine was to go boundary-less, as Gareth Batty found as he landed in the stands, but an assuring single to bring up his century – from 178 balls – told its tale.
McLaren, who began with much-needed Hampshire intent by taking three boundaries from the first over of the new ball, followed him to three figures soon after, the first time the visitors have had three players reach 100 in the same innings for 24 years.
A new sixth-wicket record of 186 against Surrey came just as McLaren departed, caught at mid-on off Mark Footitt, who was to finish with six wickets after his innings of seven just a week previous.
But at 415-6, there was still more to come from Hampshire, continually opting not to declare as Lewis McManus drove with continuous grace on his way to 39 before edging Batty behind down the leg side.
Still Hampshire batted on, with Gareth Berg opting for more a more agricultural fashion – taking Batty for a four followed by three consecutive sixes – before he departed for 42 from 27 balls. Gareth Andrew followed soon after for an equally-fun 25, with Footitt bearing the brunt of his brute.
But Ervine, in fitting acclaim to his time with Hampshire, remained firm and resolute. When last man Brad Wheal finished his hitting with a four and a six, Ervine stool tall and unbeaten on 158, his second-best score in first-class cricket.
With ongoings at Trent Bridge, it seems a win may be the order of the day for Hampshire, but with just nine overs remaining, the visitors couldn’t make a breakthrough and now require ten wickets for win tomorrow.