They prepared a very green wicket, duly won the toss and chose to bowl, having omitted their spinner Shaun Udal, but this verdant pitch offered little of the expected movement or bounce to a five-man seam attack headed by Nixon McLean, and Lancashire pottered happily along at little above three an over. They simply wanted to bat the hosts out of the game before unleashing Muralitharan, who could probably take wickets in a cow pasture.
The state of wickets is a topical subject on the south coast. This fixture should have marked Hampshire's mid-season visit to Portsmouth, but the landlords of the United Services Ground, the Ministry of Defence, first sold off the heaviest of heavy rollers, Hercules, and then attempted further cost-cutting by sub-contracting the ground maintenance. In June, groundsman Bob Wheeldon, no longer master of his own terrain, felt obliged to warn Hampshire that the pitch could not be relied on.
Mike Atherton looked to be in the prime form that brought him 268 not out against Glamorgan. Too soon, however, he chased McLean outside off- stump, and the stage was set for John Crawley (101) and Neil Fairbrother (83) once Mark Chilton had completed a cautious half-century.
Crawley took 239 runs from Hampshire in the final Championship match of last season. Yesterday's was not a chanceless century - McLean juggled and spilt a tough caught-and-bowled when Crawley was on 52 while Jason Laney ditched a slip chance.
While Crawley progressed steadily, Fairbrother performed his familiar nudge-and-clump act, and the pair added 139 runs before Crawley gave Adrian Aymes his third catch of the day, driving slackly at Peter Hartley. Fairbrother skied Dimitri Mascarenhas to mid-off and Andy Flintoff gave Simon Francis his first Championship wicket.Reuse content