Hampshire’s promotion credentials look set to face a stern examination after an absorbing first day of their County Championship division two clash with Essex where 15 wickets fell.
While victory over Worcestershire last week was built on an impressive batting display, the visitors looked set to concede a hefty first-innings deficit at Chelmsford when they were bowled out for a modest 197.
But they hit back with the ball in the final session of the day, taking five wickets to drag themselves back into a game that already looks unlikely to last the full four days.
Although the pitch had a green tinge to it and offered some encouragement, it was made to look pretty docile by England skipper Alastair Cook (25 not out) who was in cruise control in his first Championship appearance for a year.
And much will depend on when – or if – Hampshire can get him out on day two as to how the rest of the game will pan out.
But Cook was one of the few who settled into any kind of groove on a good day for the bowlers as Essex reached stumps at 72 for five.
James Tomlinson was involved in the first two wickets to fall.
He diverted Cook’s drive on to the stumps with the luckless Tom Westley (16) out of his ground.
And then trapped Aussie Rob Quiney leg before wicket soon afterwards.
Danny Briggs then struck with his first delivery to remove Ravi Bopara – also leg before wicket – and further raise spirits.
While Sean Ervine grabbed two bonus wickets in the final half hour – one of which was nightwatchman David Masters – to leave the match evenly poised.
Hampshire’s total was some way down on where it should have been, though.
Only Ervine (60) and James Vince (43) found any sort of rhythm or fluency.
Although David Masters (four for 29) bowled well, some loose strokes accounted for several dismissals as Hampshire failed to back up the impressive batting performances against Leicestershire and Worcestershire.
After winning the toss and deciding to bat, it was not the start skipper Jimmy Adams was looking for when Michael Carberry (five) was the first man to fall.
Liam Dawson (14) was Masters’ first victim and the long-serving Essex bowler turned up the heat in a fine spell to send Adams, George Bailey (15) and David Balcombe (23) on their way.
But rather than licking their wounds, Hampshire set out to put things right and have given themselves a chance of getting right back in the game on day two.