James Hildreth, Dom Bess set up Somerset victory push

Hampshire 231 and 178 for 2 (Amla 86*, Vince 63*) trail Somerset 506 (Hildreth 184, Bess 92, C Overton 80, Berg 5-130) by 97 runs

When you need to bat over eight hours for a draw it is useful to have a Test triple-centurion in your ranks. Such a quest will also be assisted by the presence of a batsman notorious for making flower-show forties who now needs to prove to the selectors that he is worth keeping in the national side. Perhaps, therefore, the crowd at Taunton might have expected that Hampshire’s resistance on the third evening of this game would be led by Hashim Amla and James Vince.

By close of play both Amla and Vince had made good fifties but they will be aware that their work here is not done. Having conceded a first-innings lead of 275, Hampshire must bat for most of Monday to secure the draw that would deny Somerset the leadership of Division One. Amla and Vince have so far added an unbroken 139 and their efforts were particularly necessary given that neither of their openers had exhibited the basic application required by an attritional cricket.

Jimmy Adams’ attempt to cut Lewis Gregory only edged a catch to Steven Davies and the game plumbed sad ineptitude when Joe Weatherley pulled Tim Groenewald straight to George Bartlett at deepish square leg. The fielder had been precisely and obviously positioned only the ball previously and Weatherley stood aghast before walking off. Many spectators were less reticent.

Vince and Amla eschewed such foolishness. Having seen Craig Overton drop a tough chance in the gully off Groenewald when he was only 8, the Hampshire captain played few cover drives of any sort, let alone the loose efforts which often brought his downfall in the winter’s Ashes. For his part Amla resisted the temptation to play across the line to the offspin of Dom Bess, instead relying on careful accumulation. The cricket in the final session was as tightly contested as the domestic game can offer and it augurs well for the final day of this game.

The tempo was also in the sharpest of contrasts to that in a morning session, when Somerset plundered 151 runs in just less than 33 overs. They lost Jack Leach in the third over of the day and James Hildreth to what became the last ball before the break. By then, though, Hildreth had 184 runs to his name and his indiscretion in smearing Tom Alsop’s filthy full toss to mid-on was easily forgiven. He had put on 145 with Bess, which is a ninth-wicket record for matches between these counties.

As for Somerset’s No. 10, he had batted like a No. 6 and Hampshire could view Bess’s arrival eighth wicket down as a joke in terrible taste. Rather than poking a few singles in support of Hildreth, he hit 16 fours and was eight runs away from his maiden Somerset century when he lost his off stump to a good ball from Gareth Berg. That gave the bowler his fifth wicket and it was the only solace Vince’s players could take from their brutal mauling as Tom Abell’s men sought to break their opponents on the wheel.

Yet all this suffering took place next door to paradise. The hills cradling Taunton were a chequered tablecloth of abundance and the trees in St James’ churchyard threshed softly as the cricketers went about their business. Rarely can slaughter have had such a picturesque backdrop.

Yes, perhaps it was easy to become giddy on the third morning of this game. Coleridge would certainly have been in transports. Yet giddiness is exactly what Abell and his players must avoid if they are get to the top of the table and then stay there. Hildreth made that point on Saturday and it may be even more valid on Monday evening. They held the annual church service on Gimblett Hill before play on Sunday and one wonders if any devotions tended to the secular. They will certainly be praying for a few wickets tomorrow.

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