Kyle Abbott’s destructive morning spell of bowling consigned Essex to their lowest first-class total at Hampshire, but an afternoon fightback from Dan Lawrence and Ravi Bopara leaves the champions still in this match.
Abbott picked up four wickets for 12 in just five overs on this second morning as Essex, already in trouble overnight at 33 for five, slumped to 76 all out – the smallest score since Hampshire moved to The Ageas Bowl in 2001.
His stint was as good as the 30-year-old gets, hurrying the batsman and finding just a hint of movement, a carousel of batsmen helpless to deal with his raw pace.
England hopeful Lawrence had resumed the morning on eight but was bowled by Abbott having added just three – at the time, dismissed on 11, he was the only batsman to have reached double figures.
Then came a quartet of lbws in the space of 22 balls. First, skipper Ryan ten Doeschate went before Simon Harmer and Neil Wagner were trapped by Abbott in consecutive balls to leave the visitors 75 for nine.
Ian Holland had James Foster to end the innings, Essex’s lowest total since their infamous 20 all out against Lancashire four years ago. Abbott claimed six for 20, his second best first-class figures for Hampshire, while, curiously, all ten wickets fell without the involvement of any fielders.
With a lead of 178, Hampshire enforced the follow-on – to the surprise of nobody – but found out just why this team have won the title two matches from the end of the season.
Lawrence displayed the same grit that he had in his unbeaten 141 that saved their opening game of the season against Lancashire. This one is still very much in Hampshire’s reach, but a repeat of that knock would likely take it from them.
With him returned the resilience that had been non-existent in their dismal first innings. As he was joined by Bopara 17 overs before tea, the pair added just 37 as they sought to avoid any wobble that could leave them facing a first defeat of the season.
By the time umpires took the players from the field for bad light, eight overs before the scheduled close, their stand was worth 127 and they had made Hampshire toil in the final session.
Lawrence, having moved past fifty, late cut a pair of boundaries to move his side into a lead. Bopara joined him at the milestone 14 overs later, pulling nicely behind square.
Earlier, Hampshire had made inroads as they looked to try and push their substantial advantage.
“I think there was just a lot of good balls kicking around to be honest,” Lawrence suggested of what caused their first innings failure.
“Not many of our batters got out playing daft shots. It can happen, when you’ve got a world-class bowler like Abbott. When it’s his day, it’s his day.
“In the long term of things we’re still only 30-3, so we’re still not in the best position, but it was a nice little turnaround from the boys and we’re in a quite steady position at the moment.”
Varun Chopra made five for the second time in this match, before edging Gareth Berg behind. His stand of 11 with Nick Browne is the highest opening partnership of this match by a margin of ten.
Browne made it to 24 before getting trapped in front by a Liam Dawson delivery that spun considerably. Simon Harmer will likely be licking his lips at the prospect of defending 150+ on a turning wicket.
Tom Westley would have been looking to cement an Ashes spot here but, after a classy-looking 36, he drilled one back to Dawson who took a sharp return catch – at that stage, Essex were still 97 runs behind.