reports from Bristol
Hampshire 341 & 175-6 dec Gloucs 266-9 dec & 180-6 Match drawn
Six weeks ago Hampshire were second from bottom; last evening, in Nevil Road's grey gloom, they were four wickets away from a fourth successive win and from becoming second top. But even Mark Nicholas's audacious declaration could not compensate for the loss of all but seven overs on the third day.
To be fair, neither team looks capable of challenging for the Championship but these are modest, if not threadbare, days in the shires when the lack of individual ability can be masked by good leadership, good fielding and team spirit - such as Warwickshire in 1994.
Hampshire continued their second innings until 2.35 without ever suggesting they were taking control, Giles White adding a commendable 39 to his 34 in the first innings, good figures on a pitch that has always provided some help for the bowlers. Their hopes of switching on the afterburner were ended when Robin Smith edged a leg-break on to his stumps.
So Nicholas's declaration, setting Gloucestershire 251 in 53 overs, was a surprise in that Jack Russell had time to win but hardly time to lose, if he chose to block out. Cardigan Connor upset calculations almost immediately by trapping Dean Hodgson but the chase was on until all the top order were removed by the 30th over, for 100, a far from happy Tony Wright falling to Heath Streak after a handsome 47.
Thereafter Gloucestershire seemed unsure whether they were coming or going. Mark Alleyne mostly blocked, as did Jack Russell, Andrew Symonds swung and paid for it, while Javagal Srinath, with Alleyne looking on amazed, hit Shaun Udal for three enormous sixes, roughly straight.
These tactics did give Gloucestershire just a glimpse of victory, until they ran out of overs and their whole innings suggested a lack of purpose and direction. Had they worn coloured clothing and been set such a target on Sunday afternoon, they would probably have strolled home.
That said, Nicholas must take credit from shrewd manipulation of his bowlers - Udal always posed problems - and field settings.