It’s perhaps inconceivable that a match reduced nearly by half due to rain could produce a final session where all three results are still within the realms of possibility. And although the spoils were ultimately shared between Hampshire and Somerset, the climax was truly incredible.
The hosts declared during a rain interval that robbed the match of a further 18 overs, leaving Somerset 161 to win from 31 overs. Given the circumstances, the task was monumental: under the lights against a threatening bowling line-up, with the pink ball proving tough to score off and an outfield slowed by two days’ worth of water.
And although snatching the 16 points that have evaded them all season would have been an incredible feat, salvaging a draw from such an unlikely position is in itself worth praising, even if Somerset will need to cross-examine how they threw away such a strong opening day.
Steven Davies was promoted to open alongside Marcus Trescothick, who fell to Gareth Berg in the third over as James Vince took a stunning diving catch at extra cover. Three balls later, Adam Hose – who had looked calm and untroubled in his first innings 48 – edged behind to leave his side 4-2.
It wasn’t long before James Hildreth departed, bowled by a full delivery from Kyle Abbott, Somerset 27-3 and evoking memories of the first innings collapse. But Davies was in his element – he scored 115 for Surrey against Leicestershire in a final day chase of 216 in 21 overs two years ago – and endured, taking the attack to Hampshire.
He and Eddie Byrom pushed the rate up to five and a half an over at one stage and, with seven wickets still in hand, the target was looking increasingly more attainable.
But in the space of six balls, Byrom was bowled by Ian Holland for 15 and then Tom Abell went reverse sweeping Liam Dawson, finding only a top edge to slip.
It was a baffling shot choice – one he had attempted the ball before with no success – and the Somerset skipper is woefully out of form with a pair in this match. He has as many Championship double figure scores this season as ducks before this match: three.
When Davies fell chipping Holland to wide mid off, any hope of a miraculous Somerset victory had been extinguished, and the goal became avoiding a fifth defeat of the season.
Tim Groenewald – promoted to seven from 11 – was joined by Lewis Gregory who batted for half an hour before leaving one from Berg, and being trapped lbw with 25 balls remaining. Groenewald nicked behind with seven balls remaining to intensify the drama.
Craig Overton and Josh Davey negotiated the final seven balls and denied Hampshire a win that would have seen them go outright third. As it is, the hosts draw level with third-placed Yorkshire while Somerset leapfrog Warwickshire into eighth.
Earlier, Somerset’s remarkable collapse on the third afternoon left them in a precarious position but Hampshire’s desire to force something left the match fascinatingly poised.
The visitors were quickly dismissed for 147, and Jimmy Adams and Dawson went about setting a platform to declare. Adams looked uncomfortable against the new pink ball – as he did in the first innings – and Dawson wasn’t accelerating much either.
Just after the first interval, the hosts attempted to shift to a higher gear but they succeeded only in stalling, losing three wickets for 15 runs as Somerset clawed back some control.
Rilee Rossouw hit 22 – his highest first-class score in ten innings – and looked impressive. One particularly memorable boundary came evading a shorter delivery from Gregory, essentially late cutting the ball between the wicketkeeper and first slip.
Two balls after that, with the score on 64, he tried again in a more conventional manner but Hildreth took a terrific catch low to his right.
Hampshire made it to 79 but then lost two in two. The first came as Vince tried cutting Gregory but could only feather through to Davies on 20. Sean Ervine pushed his first ball into the offside but was caught ball-watching and sent George Bailey back, the skipper with no chance of making his ground.
Rain stopped play at 5.40pm and an early second interval was taken at 6.10pm. Play resumed at 7.10pm with the news that Hampshire had declared on 96-5 to set up the exhilarating ending.