JAMES VINCE lauded a gritty rearguard action as Hampshire preserved their County Championship division one status in nail-biting fashion.
A draw with Warwickshire was enough to ensure survival on a second year of final-day drama, as a display of outstanding defensive batting did the trick.
Vince led the way with an obdurate 30 after his England Ashes call-up, which helped Hampshire over the line on a day when nerves jangled.
The Hampshire captain saluted his side’s fighting spirit to cling on to their division one status.
Vince said: ‘It was another narrow escape for us but it has been different this season, we have played some much better cricket.
‘Unfortunately, it came down to this last game in the position we were, but the lads showed a lot of fight and determination to get through it.
‘Our mindset was to bat normally and the runs would probably come before the end of the day, but we lost those three quick wickets after lunch and they were bowling pretty well so Daws (Dawson) and I shut up shop.
‘They got another sniff after tea but Bergy (Berg) and Dutch (Hollands) saw it through really well. The delayed start to the day helped us but then the guys were excellent.’
Hampshire began the final day facing a simple equation: Defeat would send them down, while a win or draw would make them safe and condemn Middlesex to division two along with Warwickshire.
And it was Middlesex who plummeted after Hampshire survived a couple of scares, at 68 for four and 124 for six, to reach the close on 195 for seven.
After the loss of the first hour due to a wet outfield, they never showed any interest in chasing a victory target of 259 and when a flurry of wickets straight after lunch sent them dipping to 68 for four it got edgy.
But James Vince’s 30 was key to a result which means he will fly out with England for the Ashes with first division cricket to look forward to again next season, after Ian Holland and Gareth Berg calmly added 61 in 19 overs to keep the Bears at bay.
Hampshire resumed on the final morning on 20 for one and reached lunch without further loss. But the loss of three wickets for 16 balls meant their first division status was looking precarious - but Vince and Liam Dawson knuckled down diligently.
Vince started positively then retreated into total defence while Dawson started in total defence and remained there.
The fifth-wicket pair hoovered up a vital 30.3 overs (in which came 41 runs) before Dawson edged the impressive Ryan Sidebottom to the wicketkeeper.
That left Hampshire 113 for five and they suffered another wobble when Vince (30, 124 balls, four fours) nicked a superb ball from Sidebottom.
But Holland and Berg kept their nerve to see their side to safety.