Hampshire captain George Bailey fell 11 runs short of his third Specsavers County Championship century of the season as Hampshire dominated the opening day against Essex.
The newly crowned champions, having won six of their last seven matches, aren’t used to such a position but early wickets for opening bowlers Kyle Abbott and Fidel Edwards have left them on the back foot.
Australian Bailey, who was unbeaten on the same score against Essex in the Natwest T20 Blast last month, anchored his side having come in just before lunch with the score 85 and enabled them to get two batting bonus points.
He was easy on the eye-hitting square of the wicket and at stages during the afternoon employed the reverse sweep to Simon Harmer, he and the rest of his middle order having decided sitting in was not the way to go.
It was largely typical Bailey, and his knock was a crucial one to hold together an innings that would otherwise have fallen away very quickly after lunch.
By the time he picked out Tom Westley at deep midwicket, Edwards was his final partner and he can be forgiven for wanting to reach three figures as quickly as he could.
Essex’s reply got off to a very poor start, losing their top three within the first six overs of the innings.
Kyle Abbott bowled openers Nick Browne and Varun Chopra – Browne’s expansive drive very late, Chopra beaten for pace – before Edwards trapped Westley lbw for just six.
Westley’s dismissal, trying to whip through wide mid on, was not dissimilar to the ways in which he has struggled for England and this brief performance will only harm his Ashes chances.
Ravi Bopara shouldered arms to Gareth Berg and lost off stump before Sam Cook, sent in as nightwatchman, was hurried up by Edwards for the same result and Essex slumped to 26 for five.
“That last hour and a half was outstanding,” said Bailey. “It was probably as well as we’ve bowled all year. The partnerships were absolutely phenomenal, I can’t think of a loose ball. They just had to fight for every run.”
Earlier, James Vince had been incumbent when Bailey came to the middle and he, like his skipper, looked comfortable as he raced his way to 60.
Vince drove gloriously, taking an early liking to Harmer, taking two boundaries from his opening three balls straight down the ground.
He edged Cook behind, looking very aggrieved by the decision, marking the first time this season he hasn’t converted a half-century.
“I think we’ve had a lot of those sorts of innings throughout the year,” reflected Bailey. “It would have been nice for one of us to turn it into 130, 140 and the 250 into 350.
“I think that’s where we need to get to, but I guess given where the game’s at now, hopefully, they’re handy runs.”
Hampshire had also started poorly, losing Jimmy Adams lbw in the second over before opening partner Joe Weatherley went the same way to Jamie Porter.
Tom Alsop batted nicely to reach 34, counter-attacking as partner Vince did, but performed the second worst leave of the day – after Bopara’s – expecting the ball to shape away but taking his off bail.
Once Vince went, it was something of a procession of batsmen, a high score of 14 coming from numbers six and below.
Sean Ervine fell to Harmer thanks to a smart catch low to his left at slip by Chopra, though only because he palmed it across from his right hand.
Liam Dawson and Ian Holland were both bowled either side of the first batting point with Berg caught behind before Abbott became Porter’s fourth victim, nicking off to first slip.