Stout resistance from Will Kendall was not enough to save Hampshire from their first ever Championship loss at the Rose Bowl. It will not be the loss itself that will cause introspection however, that was more than likely – weather permitting – after the first day when they bowled poorly and allowed Leicestershire to score about 100 over par, but the manner of it.
With eight wickets remaining and the threat of disruption by showers at the start of play yesterday, Hampshire must have fancied their chances of claiming a face-saving draw or at the very least making the bowlers toil. Kendall demonstrated what qualities were needed by becoming the latest Hampshire opener to remain undefeated throughout an innings (Giles White achieved it twice in 2000). There was some good judgement of what balls to leave and a straight bat for those that required a stroke – or more simply, the basics done well.
The architects of Hampshire's downfall were the seemingly ageless Devon Malcolm – can he really be 39? – and Darren Maddy – can he really be a bowler? You remember Maddy. Picked for England in 1999 as a top-order batsman. Played three Tests, eight one-day internationals and in 1998 broke Graham Gooch's record of runs scored in one season of the Benson and Hedges competition with 629. Hardly the classic background of a man returning his best match analysis of 9 for 74 and best innings haul of 5 for 37.
Two questions immediately occurred. What exactly does he bowl? And did he deserve such impressive figures? The answers are brisk, bustling out-swing that skids on and arrives slightly quicker than expected, and yes. Not for any ability to bowl outstanding deliveries: "harriers", that take-off vertically from a length and take the edge, or "chicanes" that pitch leg and hit off making the batsman look stupid as his bat twitches in reaction. No, he deserved them for being able to pitch five or six balls an over in the right area.
This sounds a boring skill but a skill it is. The best bowlers just happen to do this at much greater pace, like Glenn McGrath and Sir Richard Hadlee.
At the other end Malcolm was less metronomic, although certainly not profligate, and with Phil DeFreitas incapacitated with a thigh strain, shouldered responsibility and workload stoically. His enthusiasm is undimmed as he proved by bowling unchanged and like all quickies, he still enjoys making the batter duck.
Wicket-takers are a valuable commodity, even more so since the centrally contracted cream of English seam is virtually ruled out of the county game. Leicestershire can take wickets. In fact, a better last-day performance against Lancashire would have meant victory instead of narrow defeat and they would be in Surrey's slipstream.
Hampshire, in contrast cannot, or not at an acceptable rate, and that may be why they opted for six bowlers in this match. Loading a side with batters or bowlers is a high-risk option because it can put the underweight skill under pressure. Robin Smith gambled and needed his bowlers to restrict Leicestershire to 250 or thereabouts in the first innings and from the moment they failed to do so, they were struggling.
Whatever their selection, the fact remains that in their two Championship matches they have taken only 21 wickets and conceded 1,168 runs.
Their problems will be compounded if the batters fail to offer John Crawley support. He will score lots of runs (387 so far) but one or two others will have to make telling statistics. Particularly as he might not be available all season. Heavy run-scoring is hard to ignore, his last Test century (152 not out) was against the Sri Lankans in 1998 and his skill against the twirlymen could lead to a recall.
The Sri Lankans are admirers and free from the oppression of Old Trafford last season, he could force the selectors to pick him. Like another former Lancashire and England batsman, Crawley is stubborn, strong willed and a fine player.Reuse content