In spite of what Kyle Abbott and Gareth Berg would want you to believe in this match, batting at The Ageas Bowl isn’t that difficult – once the new ball is negotiated, the wicket threat mostly dries up.
Gary Ballance showed his Yorkshire teammates the right way with two potentially match-saving innings that were unflustered and calm, completing a century in the morning session and reaching a second-innings 78* by the close.
Neither knock was particularly remarkable; he greeted the Hampshire attack with a lack of eccentricity and replaced it with plenty of guile.
He came in with the score just 13 yesterday evening, and when Joe Root went for his second single-figure score of the match just after lunch today, Yorkshire were following on and two down for 20.
Cover drives and shots through third man were Ballance’s forte, with the occasional pull shot also finding its way to the boundary. A pushed single into the offside marked his century in the morning session, a run perhaps typical of the innings he played.
He made his craft look easy, playing deliveries patiently and on merit, but not turgidly, waiting for opportunities to score. It was about everything you could want from a number four batsman.
It took a sublime effort from Sean Ervine, diving full stretch to his left at first slip, to remove Ballance the first time on 108, with the odd half-chance the next closest thing.
As a captain, Ballance’s batting record is phenomenal: four first-class centuries in charge of Yorkshire (plus an additional five at Mid West Rhinos) and he has only failed to pass 50 twice in nine innings as skipper.
That Hampshire struggled to dismiss him was through little fault of the bowlers, who generally put the ball in good areas and kept the batsman in check. Liam Dawson got some good turn throughout the day to enhance the hosts’ potential.
But this is an otherwise flat pitch with very little help for the seamers once the ball has become older. Abbott and Berg showed less hostility second time around than first, but their opening spell was still a dangerous one.
Root, in particular, may have nightmares about Abbott. The South African had him in all sorts on the second evening; today, he was trapped lbw by a ball that kept low and he could do little about it. Scores of eight and two aren’t quite what the new England captain was hoping for on his county return.
Once Ballance saw off the openers, he was in little bother. Reece Topley, who took the final first-innings wicket of Ben Coad as his first scalp in Hampshire colours, threatened the bat on several occasions and was deserving of more than his single wicket, but Ballance countered him – just as he did the entire attack.
Other batsmen were less convincing, though it took until lunch for Hampshire to finish off the first innings. Adil Rashid, resuming on 16*, added 18 more before a terrific catch from James Vince at wide mid-off, diving back and to his left, sent him packing.
Dawson took 2-25, first bowling David Willey through the gate with drift and spin, and then getting Ballance. Coad’s wicket saw Yorkshire all out for 231, 224 behind, and forced to follow on.
Adam Lyth followed up his first-innings eight by scoring two fewer, nicking Berg behind. Only Alex Lees, during the afternoon, offered resistance similar to Yorkshire’s leader.
Two sharp chances for Vince at third slip and wicketkeeper Lewis McManus presented Hampshire with opportunities to break Lees’ resolve.
He otherwise looked in fine touch, launching a Sean Ervine offbreak into the midwicket stand and playing some elegant cover drives in his 70.
Lees was caught behind five overs from the end of the day and Yorkshire, having looked so assured during the evening session, are still far from out of the mire. They trail by 46, and the new ball is just 19 overs away.
For all of Ballance’s hard work so far, it could so easily come to nothing if he and Yorkshire’s middle order don’t bat for most of the final day.