Hampshire 189 for 8 (McLaren 84*, Barker 5-44) v Warwickshire
Keith Barker made an impressive start to the season © Getty Images
No one complained when the players left the field at 5.15pm, two minutes and one ball after the umpires had checked the light for a second time. Rikki Clarke, who had bowled that one ball, seemed the only man keen to play on. By 5.20, the full covers were being dragged on and, 15 minutes after that – with the circling buzzards the only remaining spectators – the forecast rain was falling from ugly, low, leaden clouds. Almost 21 overs remained unbowled.
But, despite some fine, attritional, April-ish cricket, it had been just that sort of day; few minded the early finish. Certainly Warwickshire, who had started so well – five wickets for Keith Barker and a pair of bonus points by lunch – only to let their day slip away, needed either the new ball or day’s end to call a halt to their increasing sloppiness.
Hampshire, by contrast, had faced considerable indignity early on – 17 for 3 then 87 for 7 – and recovered, thanks mainly to Ryan McLaren and a pair of doughty allies in Reece Topley and James Tomlinson, to sit on the brink of an unlikely bonus point. There will be considerable relief in that dressing room that this match remains a contest, and one they can take plenty from.
Warwickshire benefited greatly from their ability to simply put Hampshire in under those murky skies. James Vince donned his whites and ambled to the middle shortly before 10.30 in the hope that a coin might be tossed, but Ian Bell was able to file this decision so emphatically under “no-brainer” that he remained in his tracksuit and told his cordon to continue warming up.
But even at lunch, with Hampshire 66 for 6, Barker was the only one of Bell’s bowlers to have taken advantage of favourable conditions and actually bowled well. Charging muscularly in from the Hilton Hotel, he exploited a convenient crosswind to angle the ball away from Hampshire’s lefties and jag it into the right-handers and found – from the first over when Michael Carberry played and missed three times outside off – extravagant movement.
With the early jousting soundtracked by umms and ahhs from a growing Warwickshire cordon, Barker’s third over provided the inevitable. Carberry pushed half-forward to its first delivery and edged to Tim Ambrose, before Tom Alsop – another left-harder – did the same to the over’s final ball. The only difference was that Alsop’s prod took the inside edge of his bat while Carberry, to one that moved a touch more, found the outside edge. Two Barker overs later and Will Smith was gone for a duck, the swing defeating him too. Sam Hain fell forward at short leg and seized the chance.
The first buds of Hampshire’s revival arrived with the elegance of James Vince and Liam Dawson. With England selector Angus Fraser watching on, there was some trademark languid easiness from Vince as he leaned into a cover drive, then caressed through midwicket. It was a surprise when Boyd Rankin, replacing Barker, made one hold and the leading edge flew straight to cover. Vince left with half his team’s runs to his name, but, unfortunately, another pretty cameo. This, and top order messes in general, were a major reason for Hampshire’s lowly position last year. Vince will hope the return next week of the man he replaced as captain, Jimmy Adams, will ease the burden; currently, everyone just looks a place too high.
After Sean Ervine and Dawson fell leg-before to Barker – the latter looked to pitch outside leg – it was left to McLaren to pick up the pieces. Hampshire had explored the option of signing McLaren as a Kolpak, thereby freeing up a spot for an overseas batsman, but that did not work out.
For now, McLaren will have to do the job of both. When Clarke pinned Adam Wheater lbw (the first wicket to fall from the Pavilion End, where the wind was not so kind), McLaren cannot have been hopeful. Topley, bringing with him a career average of 2.80, joined him, his nose surely bleeding batting as high as No. 9, and only the limited Tomlinson and carefree Fidel Edwards remained in the sheds.
Few would have blamed McLaren had he swung for the hills, but his method was different. Foregoing risk, and hitting only the increasing number of loose deliveries, he profited as Warwickshire lapsed. There were handsome cover drives and more economical nudges to leg, while Jeetan Patel’s cold hands were never allowed to settle. Topley got in behind the ball and, like Tomlinson after him, utilised the third-man region. Having put on 51, Chris Woakes finally angled a yorker through Topley – who departed with a well-earned first class best – but on Hampshire trudged, finding 61 more before the close.
If Barker’s effort meant the scoreline flattered his team-mates at lunch, they looked rather ragged by the close. Tomlinson was twice dropped on 12 – by Patel at slip then Varun Chopra in the gully – and the myriad appeals and the springy steps of the morning session seemed an eternity ago. They were pleased to get off because, oh, what could have been.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo