Middlesex rally for draw as Hampshire turn to unfamiliar tweakers

A strong rearguard action from Middlesex and some baffling bowling by Hampshire ensured both sides left The Ageas Bowl with ten points apiece.

Resuming after lunch with the visitors five down, Hampshire had nine overs until the second new ball and decided the best option was a combination of Liam Dawson and Sean Ervine, bowling competent if unthreatening off-breaks.

Later, after a ninth-wicket partnership of 37 between Toby Roland-Jones and Ollie Rayner, and with Tim Murtagh accompanying the latter for the final wicket, the spin-bowling pair were reintroduced into the attack.

And either side of tea, Michael Carberry walked up with his own off-spin – although it was more impressions than it was bowling – and Jimmy Adams trundled in with some medium pace.

Carberry’s stint was greeted with cheers and applause from the Hampshire faithful, but it marked the moment where a side who had been in a commanding position for much of this match had conceded victory.

And although sharing the spoils with the county champions after beating Yorkshire is a considerably better start than many punters would have anticipated, it is difficult to deny that Hampshire let this game slip.

The day did not start especially well, with nightwatchman Steven Finn and Adam Voges keeping the hosts at bay for the better part of an hour.

Both looked solid until Finn chipped Brad Wheal into the legside on 16, giving their opponents a rejuvenated hope.

John Simpson joined Voges and together they continued to resist, putting on 75 for the sixth wicket with very little fuss and few fireworks, their partnership yielding just six boundaries.

They faced Dawson and Ervine in a spell of bowling that seemed little more than going through the motions, never really looking as though a wicket might fall and instead consumed nine overs for 30 runs, essentially handing Middlesex a greater advantage.

Pinning all their hopes on the new ball worked, though, with Kyle Abbott striking third ball – removing Voges in the exact same fashion as he removed Stevie Eskinazi last night, a short and wide delivery edged behind.

The Australian made 92, meaning the match went without a ton despite five 80+ scores, three of which were in the nineties.

Abbott then squared up James Franklin to pick up his fifth wicket, acknowledging the feat by holding his right hand in the air in triumph – he looked deadly and is proving to be a fantastic signing.

Simpson was unfortunate to depart having received a rip-snorter of a delivery from Gareth Berg, the ball popping off the surface and taking the glove with evasive action unable to save the wicketkeeper.

At 215-8, with a lead of just 133 and more than 50 overs remaining, it looked as though Middlesex would lose a Specsavers County Championship match for the first time since 2015.

But Roland-Jones and Rayner had other ideas, the former playing some beautifully crisp drives – first through mid-on, then through cover – while the latter was watchful, having to evade a flurry of bouncers from Wheal.

By the time Roland-Jones went, the lead was 170 and if a Hampshire win was still an outside possibility, Murtagh helped steal it away.

At one point, he struck three consecutive fours off Wheal with the following field: first slip, leg slip, short leg, mid-on, long-leg, third-man, third-man so fine he was basically a backstop, deep backward-point, and cover.

That was about an hour before the handshakes, but it perhaps best sums up a strange afternoon of cricket as Middlesex salvaged a more positive result than they deserved for much of the play.

James Vince said: “The way the guys fought back from [Middlesex being 220-2 in the first innings] to get in a position where we came really close to being able to chase a getable score on that wicket is a great effort from everyone, especially the bowlers having lost Fidel Edwards quite early in that first innings [to a hamstring injury].

“To put in the shift that they did was outstanding to get us into that position.

“There wasn’t much on offer when the ball was a bit older so we tried to keep it tight in that first session and pick up wickets if and when we could, and then that new ball did exactly what we wanted.

“Huge credit to all the boys and to win away at Yorkshire and then to come here and back it up like that was a great effort.”

Middlesex’s James Franklin said: “The first two days, I thought there was quite good parity in the game and then yesterday we blew a couple of chances and I guess Hampshire gained the ascendency, and we really had to scrap it out today.

“We weren’t at our best by any stretch in this game. First game up, we showed quite a few rusty signs there in all departments but it’s a good thing. We’ve got a lot to improve on and luckily we’ve come out of here relatively unscathed.”

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