HAMPSHIRE remain on course for their highest County Championship finish for 12 years after their penultimate home match ended in a rain-decimated draw.

They are 59 points adrift of champions-elect Essex with three matches remaining, a gap that can only be closed if the leaders lose their last three games and Hampshire win all of theirs.

Essex may well be in a position to clinch the title at The Ageas Bowl in the penultimate round of games, but Hampshire could yet pip Lancashire to the runners-up spot by making up the 23-point gap between them and the county immediately above them.

Meanwhile, Surrey are three points behind in fourth after Hampshire gained an extra bonus point at The Ageas Bowl this week.

Surrey resumed on 135-4 in their second innings, with teenager Ollie Pope scoring his maiden first-class century, after today’s morning session was washed out.

The 19 year-old reached an unbeaten 100 from 137 balls (17 fours) as Hampshire offered up some part-time bowling to force the end of the game.

He starred in an unbroken partnership of 154 for the fifth wicket with Ben Foakes, who made an unbeaten 83, before captains George Bailey and Gareth Batty shook hands at 4.30pm.

Having been 31-5 and 60-6 in reply to Surrey’s 200, Hampshire coach Craig White admitted a draw was a good result.

“We’d have a settled for a draw after the position we were in, it’s a pretty good result for us,” he said.

“We needed quick wickets [yesterday], we needed to get Pope and Foakes out. We bowled really well, we gave them nothing, but the pitch was pretty good and didn’t deteriorate too much.”

Somerset’s win against Warwickshire has closed the gap between the relegation zone and the rest to 13 points.

With a 26-point cushion above the bottom two, Hampshire should avoid being sucked into another relegation scrap.

“Every point is crucial, one or two points could be the difference between staying up and going down - but we’re looking up,” continued White.

“We’re trying to get as many points as we can, we’re aiming for a top-three finish and if we have a bit of luck you never know what might happen,”

Hampshire’s latest Championship match was notable for being the first of Tom Alsop’s 22first-class appearances asa wicketkeeper in the absence of the injured Lewis McManus.

“It balanced the team up nicely and Tom was keen to do it - it’s a talking point for the end of the season,” added White.

Hampshire play Middlesex at Uxbridge on Tuesday.

It will be only their third County Championship match there and they will be determined to improve on their defeats there in 1982 and 1983.

Middlesex will be just as determined to avoid following last year’s success with relegation.