ONLY 10 days ago Mark Nicholas was saying, amid jubilation at Lord's, 'Now we can aim for the Championship'. Today Hampshire are 51 points behind Essex and have to win here, with five senior players absent either injured or at Headingley, to prevent Essex from thundering out of sight.
Nicholas began well enough, winning the toss after losing eight in succession, but batting first on a pitch hard underneath but damp on top was a mixed blessing and batsmen facing Courtney Walsh this season have much stronger words for the experience.
It sometimes takes Walsh a while to get involved but it is unwise to provoke him by trying to take advantage of a seemingly languid start.
It was the much less spectacular left-arm medium pace of Mike Smith who began Hampshire's woes by having Sean Morris caught smartly at short leg. Tony Wright brought on his off-spinner, Martyn Ball, for the 16th over, Rupert Cox being trapped in his second over, but the partnership of Tony Middleton and Nicholas flourished so successfully that Hampshire had reached 103, off 43 overs, before Walsh returned just before tea, taking 6 for 24 in his next 14 overs.
Nicholas fell at short leg, Middleton lbw, in successive overs, Malcolm Marshall was superbly caught at gully, Jon Ayling at third slip, Adrian Aymes played on (Shaun Udal temporarily retired hurt in the same over after being hit on the left forearm), Rajesh Maru lbw. It was Walsh's fifth five- wicket return of the summer and took his wickets total to 55.
Had Gloucestershire been able to pair David Lawrence, who is expected to bowl in the second team next month, with Walsh they might have had an excellent season. Their batting, led by the improving Dean Hodgson, is showing an unexpected resilience and if Justin Vaughan continues to improve on his good start they may have found their missing middle-order player.
Hodgson, opening with Richard Scott, survived Marshall's opening burst on a cloudy evening, emphasising how hard Hampshire will have to work.Reuse content