The increased competiveness of Division One’s eight-team structure means that, with just four matches remaining, third-placed Hampshire and fourth-placed Surrey aren’t out of a potential relegation scrap.
Victory in their encounter at Southampton this week would surely see either side safe, but less would leave one or both teams glancing nervously over their shoulder at the quartet below them.
It’s particularly treacherous territory for the visitors, who have won just once this season – a tally shared only with the bottom two, Somerset and Warwickshire – and that was in their opening fixture.
Drawing eight would appear to have denied them much hope of silverware but failing to break the habit now could be disastrous. And this match doesn’t come at a good time, either: with several key players missing through injury or other cricketing commitments, they fielded four teenagers against Middlesex last week.
Hampshire are in slightly better shape, although they haven’t won in the Specsavers County Championship since early June.
Burnt by defeat in Saturday’s Natwest T20 Blast semi-final, this week presents a good opportunity for the hosts to bounce back and demonstrate some of the promise shown in glimpses earlier this year.
James Vince has had a very moderate year with the bat, averaging just 36 in the Championship. But the former red-ball captain loves batting against Surrey, boasting an average of 68.5 with two centuries from just four knocks – which, curiously, have all come in different matches. His hundred at The Oval in July was his second and most recent first-class ton, and he’ll want the milestone again this week.
Rory Burns seems to thrive against Hampshire. Two fifties and three centuries in eight first-class innings represents a terrific return – the most recent of each coming in this season’s return fixture, which saw him grind the south coast side into the ground with a mammoth 219* and a second-innings 68 that, combined, took more than 12 hours. Set to once again open with 19-year-old Ryan Patel, Burns will be an experienced hand and will want to continue his strong record.
Michael Carberry temporarily returned to Hampshire from his loan spell at Leicestershire to appear on Finals Day, but is now back at Grace Road. Mason Crane is across the river at Lord’s with England.
Tom Alsop plays as wicketkeeper in place of Calvin Dickinson, who has helmed the gloves since Lewis McManus suffered a fractured finger a month ago, while Joe Weatherley is included after returning from his loan spell at Kent.
Hampshire squad: George Bailey (c), Tom Alsop (wk), Kyle Abbott, Jimmy Adams, Gareth Berg, Liam Dawson, Fidel Edwards, Sean Ervine, Ian Holland, James Vince, Joe Weatherley, Brad Wheal
Surrey are still without Kumar Sangakkara, who is honouring his Caribbean Premier League commitments. His temporary overseas replacement, Aaron Finch, has gone home to Australia with a calf injury while Mark Stoneman remains with England.
Tom Curran is back in the squad following back problems and Conor McKerr, who last played in the return game, is also included.
Surrey squad: Gareth Batty (c), Ben Foakes (wk), Scott Borthwick, Rory Burns, Rikki Clarke, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Jade Dernbach, Conor McKerr, Stuart Meaker, Ryan Patel, Ollie Pope, Jason Roy, Amar Virdi
Weather and conditions
This could be an enticing contest should the wicket be akin to the one used in Hampshire’s draw with Lancashire last month, which produced plenty for the bowlers but was far from a minefield. Patches of rain throughout the week will take time out of the game – most likely on Tuesday and Friday – with conditions overcast.
Date: 5th-8th September 2017
Ground: The Ageas Bowl
Odds (SkyBet): Hampshire 4/5, Surrey 1/1