James Tomlinson emerged as Hampshire’s hero as they collected a thrilling two-run victory over Essex in their County Championship division two clash at Chelmsford.
The left-arm fast bowler took five for 86, including the prized wicket of Adam Wheater – who was last out for 98 – as the hosts fell tantalisingly short of their 360-run target.
Victory also keeps Hampshire’s bid for a quick return to division one very much alive.
Wheater’s swashbuckling innings, spanning 111 deliveries, contained four sixes and a dozen fours before he holed out to Sean Ervine on the long-on boundary.
Earlier, Tomlinson seemed to have put the visitors in sight of a comfortable triumph when he roared in after lunch with three quick wickets.
Essex, who had resumed on 102 for two, reached the interval on 184 for four after losing overnight pair Mark Pettini and Billy Godleman to Dimi Mascarenhas in the first hour.
A half-century partnership between Ryan ten Doeschate and Greg Smith revived Essex and sent them into lunch with the match nicely poised.
But then Tomlinson dismissed them both for 42.
First, Smith drove to Jimmy Adams at extra cover and ten Doeschate then cut into the hands of Neil McKenzie in the gully.
Soon afterwards and with 12 runs added, Graham Napier was caught by Adams to give Tomlinson his third success, with his 22-ball spell costing only five runs.
That left Essex 222 for seven and defeat staring them in the face.
But they were to stage an exciting fightback through the heroics of Wheater and the aggression of Harbhajan Singh.
They put on 68 in 16 overs before Harbhajan was stumped for 40 – having struck seven boundaries, including a six – by Michael Bates after giving left-arm spinner Danny Briggs the charge.
That was the signal for the stocky Wheater to step up a gear.
And after David Masters fell lbw to Briggs, he scored all 40 of a last-wicket partnership with Tom Craddock.
His flamboyant show included two successive sixes out of the ground against paceman David Balcombe.
But just when a famous victory beckoned, the wicketkeeper found the hands of Ervine to leave the Hampshire players jumping around in celebration.
Wheater looked crestfallen as he made his way off the field, no doubt aware that his failure to take Essex to the winning post had dealt a severe setback to their hopes of promotion.
They came out of the game with three points, while Hampshire collected 19 to keep alive their promotion hopes.