Two chastening days for champions Yorkshire concluded in an honours-even stalemate as Hampshire consolidated their fightback at Headingley.
Yorkshire appeared on course for an emphatic opening win, to kickstart their bid for a third successive title, by stumps on the second day of this Specsavers Division One match against opponents who only narrowly avoided relegation last September.
But after Hampshire defied expectations to pass a follow-on target of 444, their injury-ravaged attack was vastly improved too.
Sean Ervine, one of Hampshire’s rearguard centurions, and Liam Dawson were already out of the equation with respective finger and stomach injuries.
Then Fidel Edwards hurt himself in morning warm-ups, and may be missing for up to two months with an ankle problem, leaving James Vince with precious few bowling options.
Hampshire also needed three substitute fielders, including their analyst and also their coach Dale Benkenstein – whose presence at close quarters, after he had reportedly been far from impressed mid-match with collective efforts, doubtless ensured motivation remained high.
It had been an apparent mis-match when Jonny Bairstow and Liam Plunkett were plundering a double-hundred stand at more than eight-an-over in Yorkshire’s first innings.
The players are shaking hands – the match has been drawn.
Excellent fight & determination shown by Hampshire over the past two days!
— Hampshire Cricket (@hantscricket) April 20, 2016
But two days on, facing Hampshire’s even more depleted bowling ranks was a surprising struggle in perfect conditions under cloudless skies.
Alex Lees never got started, pinned lbw when ball appeared to marginally strike pad before bat in the first over from James Tomlinson (3 for 31).
Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance found the going tough, the latter especially out of sorts as he took 28 balls to get off the mark and then fell for just four to a catch at cover.
Lyth must have been infuriated with himself for hanging his bat out at a short and wide ball, only the second of Ryan McLaren’s spell, to be caught-behind to a very poor shot.
The South African needed a much better delivery to interrupt Jonny Bairstow’s long run of brilliant championship form, getting surprising extra bounce out of this benign surface for another caught-behind.
Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie had spoken optimistically the previous evening of the intent to hustle out Hampshire’s last two wickets quickly and then try to explore options to push for the win.
The first part of the gameplan was achieved quickly, just one wicket needed in fact thanks to Edwards’ absence in hospital and Hampshire effectively all out for the addition of only three runs after Chris Wood flashed a catch behind off Ryan Sidebottom (4 for 80) to end his stand with McLaren (55no).
Good solid draw for us this week. Credit goes to Hampshire for their fight back. Still lots of positives for us. Move on.
— Andrew Gale (@GaleyLad) April 20, 2016
By the time Yorkshire then stumbled to 43 for four in the 18th over, all realistic opportunity for anything other than a stalemate had receded dramatically.
Captain Andrew Gale tried to set the right example with a determined 46 from 97 balls.
But no home batsman could impose himself on a pitch showing just a little more help for all bowlers – and at tea, with Gale and Adil Rashid gone to edges off pace and Jack Leaning done in the air by Will Smith’s off-spin, it was merely a matter of time before the draw was confirmed.
The moment arrived shortly before 5pm when Yorkshire declared on a desultory 183 for eight, 323 runs in front.
They could be relieved perhaps to pull stumps on a patchy first outing of the summer – while Hampshire must have mixed feelings too, having recovered their composure but in the knowledge that injuries mean they will be badly short on numbers over the coming weeks.
Gale said: “I thought we dominated the first two days but our bowling was a bit short at times and their bowlers did well today and made us play some false shots.
“A lot of credit to Hampshire who didn’t lay down and die. I felt it was a good decision of theirs to bowl first on a pitch which flattened out a bit. I didn’t think that there was enough time to set a game up after we had lost a few wickets and we had to concentrate on a solid draw.”