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Recent Match Report – Essex vs Hampshire 36th Match 2022

Essex Beat 238 (Snater 71, Abbott 3-41) and 223 (Harmer 61, Rossington 60, Dawson 7-68) Hampshire 163 (Harmer 8-46) and 286 (Orgel 65, Harmer 7-161) with 12 runs

Simon Harmer claimed the best championship figures at 15 for 207 while Essex won a thoroughly enjoyable game by 12 runs, but Hampshire has reason to be proud. Everything was against them, not just Harmer in his element on a spinning pitch, but also some cross-border refereeing decisions and unfortunate ball changes. They came as credible challengers for the championship and despite the defeat, that status remains.

That Hampshire could actually pull off an improbable chase was possible when Keith Barker staged late-order defiance, a dignified figure infused with the essence of common sense. But as the requirement fell, his ambition increased and when he clubbed heartily to long, Harmer had his seventh wicket and Essex took their win.

Whatever the scoreboards would lead the public to believe, the real score at the time was Hampshire 113 to 1. An unlikely target of 299 was beginning to seem achievable, especially as the expected match winner, Simon Harmer, was sitting on unflattering numbers of 1 to 1. 69 in 14 left.

In reality, Hampshire had adopted Bazball the night before when Felix Organ, their lightly built opener, had swung Harmer three sixes across the stands at straight midwicket. By the third morning, two more slog sweeps had quickly followed. The only problem was that several had dived into the River Cam. Essex soon ran out of suitable replacements.

So the official exhortation on behalf of Bazball, county cricket style, happened to coincide not with an immediate run party, but with a crash of wickets with (in Hampshire’s opinion at least) the choice of a harder ball than would have been appropriate. By lunchtime Essex had put together a decisive five wicket run for 36 runs in 52 balls. Harmer had improved his numbers to 4 for 118. The ball fizzled again and his authority was regained.

“What has been the most successful pursuit of Chelmsford by the opposition since Harmer came to Essex?” was a question at the beginning of the game. The answer turned out to be 2, made by Surrey in four balls. Essentially, a victorious chase against Harmer on a Chelmsford turner was an unrealized ambition. It remains unrealized after Essex took a 12-point win. Harmer finished with seven wickets in the second inning – after eight in the first – for his eighth 10-for in Chelmsford.

It was certain that Harmer would take over the attack immediately, but it was his seventh left from the morning before he struck. Organ can draw a lot from his 65. He had stayed in the spinning ball as much as possible and also swung exuberantly to the leg side. He was bowled in an attempt to make a square drive: a good enough shot, a decent ball.

James Fuller was promoted from number 9 to number 3 with the intention of launching an attack on Harmer. Forcing him out of the attack would have been ambitious, but a quick foray could at least set an adventurous tone and reinforce Hampshire’s belief that they could win the match. Harmer dragged down one throw that was duly clubbed for six, but there was a sailor to contend with on the other end and, with 20 from 17 balls, Fuller fended off Aaron Beard to the second slip.

Beard has returned with a good heart from a rental period at Sussex. When he can finally keep fit, he can rediscover the brio of his youth. His support for Harmer was also instrumental in Essex’s win, a second wicket coming his way when Liam Dawson was caught on the wicket.

Hampshire plays belligerent, occasionally spirited cricket, and Dawson’s dismissal left them at a disadvantage. Nick Gubbins was typically a vision of courtesy as he went back to a good length ball from Harmer and was lbw. However, James Vince felt the need to check with the wicketkeeper, Adam Rossington, to see if his gloves had broken the stumps when his square cut was defeated by a lavish Harmer kick that knocked him off bail. The decision seemed reasonable enough.

Initially, Harmer’s authority after lunch was undiminished. Aneurin Donald became the third batter from Hampshire to be pitched by a big turner after playing back to cut. Ben Brown, who played Harmer as solidly as everyone else in both innings, was lbw after turning the wicket.

At 208 to 8, made at four and a half over, Bazball then relented when the side’s two elder statesmen, Barker and Kyle Abbott, took a more orderly approach. As the ball softened, two such imposing battle-hardened figures couldn’t be completely ruled out. They added 41 in 13 overs without any sense of risk. A crossword could be completed knowing that nothing outrageous would be missed. Then Beard brought one back and Abbott loved something that felt distinctly leg-sidey.

“The draw is now the second favorite result,” said a spectator in front of the media box. Were there reports of storms in Borehamwood? But the skies were clear and so was the result when Barker, encouraged by a drawn six against Snater, stepped out of the reverse sweep to take four leg byes from Harmer, then perished at long range.

So Harmer had the last word – if you don’t count the understandable grumbling on Hampshire’s journey home, that fortune would have been somewhat against them.

David Hopps writes about county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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