Stephenson lifts work rate

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Hampshire 359 and 150-4

Surrey 331

Perhaps the ideal structure of a four-day match is for each innings to last a day, each accumulating about 350 runs, with the match being won or lost sometime in the final hour on the fourth. In those terms, the contest at Northlands Road looked likely to meet the essential criteria. Yet it was strangely uninvolving stuff yesterday until rain shortened proceedings by 46 overs, and while it may be heresy to disparage such apparent symmetry, it was difficult to feel too aggrieved.

Hampshire, resuming on nought for no wicket, set out to fulfil the third part of the bargain, having batted for all of the first day and bowled out Surrey, 28 behind, on the second. Presumably the notion was to stretch the lead to something above 300, and thus provide a serious examination for a Surrey team aspiring to the Championship.

It was an admirable objective, to which Hampshire applied themselves well. Surrey ensured they did not allow many cheap runs on a pitch still likely to be punishing on those bowlers wayward in line. Perfectly balanced then, and what the Championship should be about, but it still needed something more substantial to lift the interest level.

Most of the batsmen got in, but none of them stayed around genuinely to capitalise. After losing Jason Laney in the day's fifth over to a catch at second slip, Raj Maru and the captain John Stephenson ensured that there were no other early Hampshire errors. Maru had been sent in as a nightwatchman opener for just one over the previous evening - instead of his captain - and played with a pleasant solidity. After 90 minutes he attempted to leave one from Brendon Julian which grazed the bottom of the bat as it passed. It was unfortunate but perhaps the proper length of shift for a nightwatchman.

Stephenson was joined by Kevan James and still nothing much stirred. They had a target in mind and that was it. James squirted a shot or two confidently through point before Joey Benjamin knocked over his off-stump. Stephenson duly reached his second half-century of the match, and his fifth of the season, intent of discharging his responsibilities. He had struck 10 fours, as well as an overthrown five which brought up his 50, from 117 balls when he was offered the light. He spurned it and next ball was promptly undone by Julian's lift to provide Hollioake with his second slip catch. If in doubt, go off.

A few minutes later the rain began and did not stop. Instead of the ideal structure, it will now require some old-fashioned contrivance tomorrow.