Final day set up for a thriller

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Sam Northeast during the press conference at the Ageas Bowl on Friday. Picture:

Northeast: I can realise my dreams with Hampshire

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Just when we thought teams weren’t actually that bothered about winning games in the Championship, they go and surprise you.

Hampshire’s opponents have not exactly painted themselves as daring mavericks in recent weeks, with both Lancashire and Northamptonshire batting out tedious draws – apparently too frightened at the prospect of defeat to even think about having a dart at a win.

So huge credit must go to Kent and their skipper Geraint Jones for declaring their innings at 321 for seven – 134 runs behind Hampshire in a bid to get the game moving towards a positive result.

And Hampshire skipper Jimmy Adams deserves praise for the way he pestered the former England wicketkeeper into a decision that should hopefully force a result on the final day and ensure an entertaining contest.

To be fair, it caught plenty by surprise as Jones (24 not out) led his side off after Darren Stevens (60) and Ben Harmison (63) successfully negotiated the follow-on figure of 306.

While others would have batted on to try to reach Hampshire’s 455, Kent realised it would have taken precious time out of the game and effectively killed it as a spectacle after the morning session was washed out by the heavy showers.

With the visitors resuming their innings on 149 for four, wickets were again hard to come by as Brendan Nash (27) was snared by James Tomlinson via Liam Dawson’s sharp slip catch.

Stevens and Harmison then added 102 before James Vince made the breakthrough, trapping Stevens lbw.

Harmison guided Kent to within touching distance of the follow-on figure before he picked out Danny Briggs from David Balcombes’s bowling and Jones ensured it was surpassed as spectators’ hearts sank in unison as yet another draw looked likely.

But they didn’t bargain for the kind of attacking declaration made famous by Shane Warne during his stint at Hampshire, who would always try to find a way to win when a draw looked a certainty.

The Hampshire second innings got off to a dreadful start, though, as both Jimmy Adams and Michael Carberry were dismissed with just 12 runs on the board.

First-innings centurion Neil McKenzie (27) steadied the ship but when he chopped on to his own stumps, it left Dawson (35 not out) and James Vince (23 not out) to guide the home side through to 98 for three at stumps – a lead of 232 runs.

Hampshire will want something in the region of a 320-run lead with 80 overs or so left to bowl before they pull out and then try to dismiss their opponents.

It may yet backfire on either side as to who happens to come out on the end of a defeat but it was still refreshing to see two teams finding a way to make a game of it.

The competitive instincts may have dwindled among some of the other division two sides but it appears Hampshire and Kent quite fancy the chance to taste victory.