Neil Dexter took five wickets after a delayed start but division one leaders Middlesex lost new overseas signing Joe Burns to the penultimate ball of a rain-hit second day to leave Hampshire in a marginally superior position at the close. Hampshire made 413 from 124.2 overs despite pace bowler Dexter’s gallant five for 64 and Middlesex ended in south coast sunshine at 102 for three, still 311 in arrears and with plenty of work to do if they are to maintain their bright start to the season.
Rain washed out the first session and play did not get under way until 2.15pm by which time umpires Rob Bailey and Ian Gould decided 33 overs had been lost. Hampshire resumed at 295 for five from 96 overs after Middlesex new captain James Franklin had decided to field first in overcast conditions on the first day. Toby Roland-Jones made an early breakthrough when he bowled Sean Ervine playing across the line after the Hampshire batsman had added only one to his overnight seven but that brought Gareth Berg to the crease, intent on a spot of revenge.
South African Berg, released by Middlesex at the end of last season, embarked on a hitting spree in the company of seventh wicket partner Will Smith, putting on 91 in 23 overs. Berg hit spinner Ollie Rayner for 14 from the first three balls of the 116th over and raced to his half-century with fierce intent from only 75 balls. But at 388 Dexter had Berg attempting one big hit too many, lofting a catch into the deep, and in the same over had Smith edging to wicketkeeper John Simpson.
Smith’s 93 came off 191 balls and if Berg had produced the majority of the aggression, Smith’s innings was every bit as valuable. Fidel Edfwards lobbed Dexter to Steve Finn at long-off at 393 but last-man James Tomlinson helped newcomer Brad Wheal added 20 precious runs for the final wicket before Dexter finished it off by having Tomlinson caught by Roland-Jones at midwicket for 17 which included another six off Rayner.
Dexter was comfortably the most successful of the Middlesex bowlers in terms of wickets but the Hampshire total would have been far more than Franklin, who has replaced Adam Voges, as captain, would have hoped or envisaged. Middlesex had 28 overs to negotiate and did so without ever being on top. Wheal, an 18-year-old South African fast bowler with British connections (his mother was born in Glasgow), proved an awkward proposition in his first spell and and at 17 got a sharp delivery through Sam Robson’s defences in only his third over in championship cricket.
Fidel Edwards, the West Indian pace bowler playing these days as a Kolpak, took a wicket with his first delivery when he had Robson’s opening partner Nick Gubbins beaten for pace and leg before, to make Middlesex 33 for two. Only then did Burns and Nick Compton begin the process of repairing the early damage by putting on 69 for there third wicket in 15 overs with increasing comfort. Burns in particular looked for every opportunity to attack and hit seven fours in his 38. But just when it seemed certain Middlesex, who have won three of their first four matches, would get through to the close unscathed further, Queenslander Burns, making his championship debut, was caught behind attempting to hook Ervine.
Middlesex coach Richard Scott said:
’’It has been two tough days’ cricket. We started well with the ball again, got an early wicket but struggled to keep the pressure on. mainly due to our slow overs’ rates and having to change the bowling when we did not want to.
"Smith, carberry and Adams have got stuck into this wicket for Hampshire, played well and frustrated us.
"Burns and Compo played really well. Burnsy probably did not intend to play that hook shot in the last over and will be kicking himself all night that he’s not going to be at the crease in the morning.’'
Hampshire’s Wheal said: ’’I’m just delighted even to be playing. I had no idea I was one of Hampshire’s youngest-ever opening bowlers.
"I was even happier when I got Robson out as my first wicket, an international batsman. I thought we batted well considering we were put in and there is enough encouragement in the wicket to suggest we can build on our successes with the ball in the last session.’'