Hildreth's latest century offers Somerset hope

Hampshire 284 Somerset 392-7
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James Hildreth has been carrying the weight of expectation ever since, six years ago, in only his second first-class match, he made a century against a Durham attack containing Shoaib Akhtar at somewhere near his peak. His former captain, the hard-nosed Aussie Justin Langer, said he possessed "extraordinary talent".

Yet anyone waiting to see his talent blossom has needed to be patient. There have been innings of brilliance but not much consistency. Last year was a case in point. His opening innings was a triple century, yet he failed to complete 1,000 runs for the first-class season.

This year, though, something has clicked and he is blazing a trail that might yet persuade the England selectors that the ability they have been monitoring is ready to be tested at the highest level.

Yesterday, he became the first batsman to hit six centuries in the First Division this season, one ahead of another England candidate, the Hampshire opener Michael Carberry. Moreover, five of Hildreth's have come in his last seven Championship matches.

It was Hildreth – whose remarkable all-round sporting skills also saw him excel in his youth at rugby, tennis, squash, hockey and football – who was the driving force as Somerset sought to build a winning position in a match that suffered badly from the weather on the second day.

The pace of his scoring – 50 off 77 balls, 100 off 143 – kept Somerset on course as they aimed to close the day 100 or more in front, add some more this morning and then ask Murali Kartik to find enough turn in the track to bowl Hampshire out cheaply to give themselves a small target in the final session. However, the visitors will not be looking to chase a decisive result as, with Dominic Cork and Sean Ervine both carrying injuries, their attack is threadbare.

At first Hampshire were on top. The left-armer James Tomlinson, forced to bear much of the workload, supplemented the wicket of Marcus Trescothick late on Tuesday by dismissing nightwatchman Alfonso Thomas and opener Arul Suppiah via catches in the slips, at which point Somerset were 60 for 3.

The turning point came when Craig Kieswetter was dropped, on nought, by James Vince off Ervine. Kieswetter helped Zander de Bruyn add 65 more before he drove Tomlinson, who ended with 5 for 78, to Michael Lumb at extra cover.

De Bruyn found his rhythm in a stand of 155 with Hildreth, missing the chance of a hundred when he was bowled five short attempting to reverse-sweep Danny Briggs, who might have seen off Hildreth in the 90s too had Michael Bates, Hampshire's rookie wicketkeeper, been able to take advantage of a stumping chance.

Somerset achieved their objective, closing on a lead of 108 with Hildreth still there on 128. Hampshire had to send their physio, Craig de Weymarn, on to field after Ervine came off. They will hope now that he can get their wounded into shape for Saturday's Twenty20 Finals Day.