Somerset head east to The Ageas Bowl knowing that their chances of claiming the Specsavers County Championship are incredibly slim and that only a win could delay table-toppers Surrey’s title celebrations another week.
The scenario is clear: taking 20 points from Hampshire is the only way to guarantee that the leaders go to Taunton in the penultimate game still needing points to lift the trophy. Should they fail to win, Somerset cannot afford to take any more than four points fewer than Surrey do at Worcestershire.
Tying last week’s match against Lancashire — the first Championship tie since 2003 — dealt Somerset a near-fatal blow to their hopes of lifting the trophy, and it will now require something of a miracle to catch Surrey.
Still, Somerset can only try as best they can to keep pace with them, and they visit a Hampshire side which remains in danger of slipping into the relegation zone. They are only eight points clear of seventh-placed Yorkshire.
Hampshire still have to travel to play the White Rose, next week, but would so dearly love to drag themselves comfortably clear of the bottom two and avoid a fourth consecutive relegation battle.
Last week, they recovered from collapses in both innings to claim victory at Worcester. It was a recovery that will remind them of the importance of grit in these final few weeks, but Somerset will be far less relenting.
Kyle Abbott has 19 wickets in five innings since the end of the Vitality Blast, including two five-wicket hauls. The South African quick picked up a hat-trick in the second innings at Worcester, and he looks a potent force. He was rested for the duration of the Blast and it appears to have been highly beneficial. As part of an attack also featuring Fidel Edwards and Dale Steyn, Abbott allows Hampshire to keep coming at Somerset, and it will be a real test if he can get into a rhythm once again.
Lewis Gregory has been in fine form of late, with three Championship half-centuries in his last four innings and four in his last five in all formats. His quick runs at Yorkshire pushed Somerset into a commanding position to help them win, while he top-scored in the Lancashire tie with an unbeaten 64 that had put them in control. He’s taken 30 wickets this season, too, and has proven he can be an explosive option with both bat and ball. Hampshire will need to be wary of him.
Hampshire’s squad is unchanged from the Worcester trip, with Rilee Rossouw still absent having returned to South Africa for the birth of his second child. Oliver Soames, who made his Championship debut last week, is retained, as is Aneurin Donald. The 21-year-old is still awaiting his full Hampshire debut after signing from Glamorgan last month.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Tom Alsop (wk), Kyle Abbott, Jimmy Adams, Gareth Berg, Liam Dawson, Aneurin Donald, Fidel Edwards, Ian Holland, Sam Northeast, Oliver Soames, Dale Steyn, Joe Weatherley
Somerset have named a 13-man squad with Eddie Byrom and Max Waller dropping out of the 15-man group named for the Lancashire clash. They have no injury worries from that tie with Josh Davey and Roelof van der Merwe included alongside that playing XI.
Somerset squad: Tom Abell (c), Steve Davies (wk) Azhar Ali, Dom Bess, Josh Davey, Ben Green, Lewis Gregory, James Hildreth, Jack Leach, Roelof van der Merwe, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Marcus Trescothick
Weather and conditions
Hampshire will want to avoid the sort of pitch prepared for last week’s fourth Test, given the plate of rough that appeared to assist the spinners and could see Jack Leach and Dom Bess licking their lips. It’s set to be fair and dry this week with plenty of warm spells.
Date: 10th-13th September 2018
Ground: The Ageas Bowl
Odds (SkyBet): Hampshire 6/5, Somerset 4/6