Stumps, Day Two: Yorkshire 128-6 (Ballance 63*) trail Hampshire 455 (Vince 147, Berg 99*; Coad 4-71) by 327 runs.
Hampshire are fortunate to still be in Division One. But for the ECB punishing Durham with relegation, they would have dropped a tier having finished second-bottom in a dismal 2016 season.
And yet their displays in 2017 are akin to that of a title-challenging side, certainly not one widely tipped to flounder at the wrong end of the table once again.
Against a Yorkshire side packed with eight internationals, including England Test captain Joe Root, Gareth Berg spent the afternoon gradually dismantling his opponents with the bat and then, in tandem with Kyle Abbott, brutally eviscerating them with some lethal fast bowling.
Post-tea, they produced a relentlessly sublime opening spell that made Yorkshire’s top order seem like novices, accounting for both openers, Root, and Peter Handscomb.
Abbott was especially dangerous, squaring up Gary Ballance four times in an over having had Root in similarly dire straits. His opening seven overs went for just eight runs with five maidens.
He eventually got Handscomb with an lbw that looked harsh – perhaps hitting him outside off – but was fully deserving of his scalp; his only disappointment will be having not taken more.
Berg, having made an unbeaten 99 earlier in the afternoon, trapped Alex Lees in front – that one maybe a little high – for a duck and had Adam Lyth chop on in consecutive overs.
Root fell playing a very Root-esque shot, attempting to pierce the offside on the back foot but edging through to the wicketkeeper on eight.
Ballance steadied the ship, reaching a tenacious half-century, but partners Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan were eventually dismissed, the former adjudged lbw off Brad Wheal and the latter caught behind playing a very loose drive off Berg.
The visitors recovered to close 128-6 but remain 327 runs behind Hampshire, in danger of being asked to follow on, and faced with the possibility of losing twice to a relegation favourite in their opening three matches.
If not for Berg’s earlier batting display, however, things would have been very different.
Since joining from Middlesex in 2015, Berg has yet to record a century in any format, his highest score a 99 at Hove two years ago. He was stranded here on the same score when Wheal became Root’s 30th first-class wicket.
It was a classy, if at times uninspiring, innings, and a crucial one to help his side recover from 302-7 to 455 all out.
Adam Lyth’s second drop of the match, a tough chance to his left at first slip, was as close as Yorkshire got to dismissing him as he was subsequently unperturbed by whatever a tiring and increasingly lifeless bowling attack sent his way.
Berg’s half-century came from 89 balls and with just Wheal left for company he upped the tempo. One elderly spectator beneath the pavilion needed a bandage having been hit as Berg advanced to Adil Rashid and plonked him over long on.
Two Rashid overs later and he again found the stands, clearing his front leg and carting the legspinner to cow corner – less second day in a Specsavers County Championship match, more penultimate over of a Natwest T20 Blast game.
Berg struck just eight fours to go with his pair of sixes, passing 4,000 first-class runs and 1,000 for Hampshire, looking far better than a man without a century in five and a half years and considerably better than a man batting at number eight.
His innings became a necessary one when a flurry of three wickets for two runs before noon left Hampshire reeling at 302-7. James Vince added just four runs to his overnight 143 in ten overs before Ben Coad found his inside edge, playing away from his body.
David Willey then took two wickets in as many overs, Lewis McManus clipping through to Bairstow off his legs before angling one across to Liam Dawson and removing him lbw.
Kyle Abbott’s entertaining cameo of 30 included depositing Rashid for his first conceded six of the day (Berg’s additional two off him were the day’s quota) while Reece Topley, batting at ten, surpassed his high score of 15 by a solitary run before being given leg-before.
He later bowled for the first time in his Hampshire career – having broken his hand batting in the first innings of last season – and although wicketless, his pace was up and he is sure to play a large part in the remainder of this match and in his side’s season.