THIS was far from an Oval classic, but come September Hampshire’s draw against Surrey may be recalled as one of their most important results of the season.
At the end of a turgid final day, Hampshire had restricted third-placed Surrey to a three-point gain on the LV County Championship’s top two.
Hampshire may lose top spot to Worcestershire in the next 24 hours.
But, crucially, they have denied Surrey the win that would have thrown the Championship’s promotion race wide open.
A disciplined batting performance means Hampshire still have a 16-point advantage and a game in hand on the pre-season favourites.
Hampshire began the final day on 167-3 and, despite twice losing three wickets in five overs, they managed to get the 325 needed to avoid the follow on, which effectively ended any remaining Surrey hopes of a third successive Championship win.
Surrey needed an unlikely 17 wickets and their chances improved when Hampshire collapsed from 226-3 to 237-6 and then from 286-6 to 295-9.
But Will Smith took up more vital time after resuming on 61.
Sean Ervine’s excellent 80 (149 balls, ten fours) added to Surrey’s frustration before a tenth-wicket partnership of 59 between James Tomlinson and Danny Briggs took Hampshire to 354.
Playing on what was effectively a seven-day old wicket (the same track was used for a recent Championship match), Hampshire were relieved not to have to contend with any significant deterioration.
There was surprisingly little in the wicket for the bowlers, which added to the frustration of the home side, particularly off-spinner Gareth Batty, who took 3-74 in 41 overs. “I was very surprised at how flat it was and they were as well, they weren’t too happy with how little it turned,” said Ervine.
But Surrey were given glimmers of hope.
Having batted for more than an hour with no real alarms, Hampshire lost Smith, Adam Wheater and Matt Coles against the second new ball.
Smith was lbw attempting to sweep the slow left-arm of Zafar Ansari after batting for nearly five hours for his 82 (257 balls, nine fours).
And in the next over, the eighth with the second cherry, Adam Wheater was out for a golden duck when a Tim Linley off-cutter dismantled his middle and off stumps.
Four overs later, Coles was caught and bowled attempting to drive Gareth Batty off the back foot.
But Ervine stood firm. The Zimbabwean faced 83 balls for his second Championship half-century of the season.
He put on 66 with Smith, whose nine fours included two clipped through mid-wicket from successive Matthew Dunn deliveries at the beginning of the final day.
Ervine was decisive off front foot and back in hitting his ten boundaries and added a further 49 with Kyle Abbott either side of lunch, when Hampshire still needed 71 to avoid the follow on. But then came another mini collapse.
Abbott became Vikram Solanki’s first victim of the season when he hit a flighted off-break straight to mid-on.
And Ervine, with his first Championship century for more than two years in his sights, sliced Tillakaratne Dilshan’s off-spin to backward point when he attempted to hit the Sri Lankan back over the top.
Hampshire still needed 31 to avoid the follow-on when 17 year-old Brad Taylor was lbw to Dilshan’s arm ball, having seen off 17 balls in only his second first-class match.
No matter. Briggs (38*) and Tomlinson (27) ensured Hampshire got there to dissipate any remaining tension, before a flurry of boundaries against Kevin O’Brien’s medium pace.
After they had added 60 in 15 overs, Tomlinson holed out before striving for striving for a wicket as frustrated Surrey went through the motions following a delayed tea.
“It was a massive effort considering the situation,” said Ervine. “We would have liked to get a few more batting points but our major concern was to bat out the game. And the good thing is we’re still unbeaten.”