As Hampshire claimed a six-wicket victory over Somerset inside five sessions, those of a cider-country persuasion could be forgiven for querying the different competency standards between this Ageas Bowl wicket and last week’s one at Taunton.
After all, this match ended half-an-hour earlier in the afternoon and in 9.2 overs fewer than the tie against Lancashire, although with only 34 wickets falling. Lancashire captain Liam Livingstone suggested a pair of club wickets the previous weekend had been superior, but there was no such hostile comment from the protagonists here.
“It was a tough wicket,” Somerset captain Tom Abell said afterwards. “I think they had a world class seam attack and it was always going to be tough. There was a little bit of invariable bounce but they outperformed us, so [we have] no complaints.”
Kyle Abbott said: “It doesn’t look any different to what we have played on [at The Ageas Bowl]. The wickets have been very strange this time of year. I suppose it’s good for me but not good for the top-order batsmen.”
ECB regulations dictate that if a pitch “demonstrates at most, occasional seam movement at all stages of the match” — as it appeared to do — then it must be rated as “below average,” but that occasional unevenness of bounce is fine.
It should be noted that Wayne Noon, the cricket liaison officer, had yet to make a decision after the close after consulting with a number of individuals. It was interesting, too, that this was the first Division One match this season in which no spinner has bowled.
Hampshire applied themselves well enough to chase 75 as Jimmy Adams, at number three, helped anchor their fourth Specsavers County Championship victory of the season. He was unbeaten on 25 and steadied things as his side fell to 21 for three.
Openers Oli Soames and Joe Weatherley were caught behind off Craig Overton, who then claimed James Vince for the first pair of his first-class career. His was a woeful shot, flaying a cover drive far from his body straight to point.
But Adams hung in, partnered first by Sam Northeast — whose 12 is hardly impressive at a passing glance, but did help negate much of Overton’s spell — and then Tom Alsop, who hit the winning run by stealing a single to mid off.
Hampshire had earlier bowled Somerset out for just 116 — a ten-run improvement on their first innings tally — as Kyle Abbott and Dale Steyn ran through the batting card, taking all ten between them. Marcus Trescothick was the only man to put up any resistance, recording his 126th first-class half-century. Somerset’s next highest scorer was Steve Davies, with 23; no one else escaped single figures.
Trescothick had 25 from 100 balls when joined at the crease by Josh Davey, the number 11. He added 25 more from his following 22 deliveries before being dismissed from the next one. In that time he moved past 26,000 first-class runs with an audacious pulled six off Dale Steyn, and later hit another to reach 50.
Steyn got him two balls after reaching fifty, the third time in his first-class career that he has dismissed Trescothick. The first came on his Test debut in Port Elizabeth in 2004 — Steyn’s maiden Test wicket — once the opener had reached 47. His 4,000th Test run came off Steyn, too.
Abbott has been destructive since the end of the Vitality Blast, in which he only played three games. He’s claimed 30 wickets in seven innings at an average of 9.83, and looked at his absolute best as he toppled Somerset. He finished with figures of six for 40 in this innings and claimed 11-71 in the match.
The first four wickets of the innings fell to him with the ball nipping around. Ben Green was done by the late in-swing and castled, with Tom Abell beaten instead by a hint of away swing. In between times, Azhar Ali went caught behind off the inside edge and James Hildreth was plumb in front.
Davies hit 23 as Somerset moved into a lead but edged Steyn to first slip before Lewis Gregory lost middle stump, the ball arcing back in and keeping low and giving Abbot his fifth victim. The Overton brothers soon went caught — Craig to a terrific grab by Tom Alsop, low to his right — and Jack Leach played on backing away to Steyn.
The 25-run partnership between Trescothick and Davey gave Somerset something to bowl at, but it remained too few. They take just three points, and it means Surrey need only draw at Worcestershire to claim the title. Hampshire pick up 19 points and move up to third, dependent on other results.