Hampshire fears rise as wickets fall

Middlesex 101 Hampshire 99 for 7
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The Independent Online

This was a day for heroics. With so little between these two counties – second-placed Hampshire went into this match with a nine-point advantage over Middlesex in third place – as they jostle for precious promotion, and even the Second Division title, it was little wonder that, as the wickets mounted up throughout the day, a frisson of fear swept through the sizeable crowd.

That fear was heightened with the knowledge that Peter Walker, one of the England and Wales Cricket Board's pitch liaison officers was hovering over proceedings. When the 15th of 17 wickets fell the prospect of a 25-point deduction bobbed, unwelcome, into the promotion equation.

But what everyone had overlooked was some edgy and indifferent batting, not to mention some excellent bowling from both sides. And, to the relief of the Hampshire faithful, these factors featured heavily in the inspector's report. The conclusion was that the pitch was blameless. A verdict which elevated Walker, briefly, to the status of local hero. Indeed so convinced was Walker that these two teams were competing on a level playing field that he left the Rose Bowl long before the end of the day's proceedings.

And of course that all-clear on the pitch added even more kudos to the contribution of the day's earliest hero, Dimitri Mascarenhas. His return of 6 for 26 was instrumental in helping to skittle out Middlesex for their lowest total of the season, it was also a career best for the Hampshire all-rounder.

The Middlesex captain Angus Fraser could also claim a slice of the day's heroics. Fraser bowled unchanged from the start of the Hampshire innings until bad light drove them off temporarily three hours later and helped to orchestrate an alarming collapse which saw the home side plummet to 41 for 5.

By the close, Hampshire had clawed back to within two runs of their opponents with three wickets in hand thanks to the resistance of Adrian Aymes and Shaun Udal.

Fraser, who was limping badly by the end, still troubled by an Achilles tendon problem, took three wickets. Chad Keegan took another three, with Tim Bloomfield accounting for the other one to fall.

Hampshire lacked someone like Middlesex's Andrew Strauss. He gutsed it out for three hours battling his way to a courageous half century before falling to Mascarenhas. He had been dropped on 40, edging a Mascarenhas' delivery to Alex Morris in the slips, but in the grander scheme of the Middlesex innings it was a mere blip. And all the batsmen on both sides will have to show a vast improvement second time around.