Dale Benkenstein believes Hampshire can achieve a miraculous relegation escape after they sealed a crucial victory over Warwickshire.
The Ageas Bowl outfit have been woeful in the four-day game for much of the campaign with just the win at Sussex to their names from their previous 11 matches.
It would be miraculous to stay up but it’s not impossibleDale Benkenstein
But they were transformed in this clash and looked like the side that stormed to the division two title last season again with a strong batting display and an attack that looked capable of bowling the opposition out.
In the end, they completed victory by 216 runs before lunch on the final day of a contest which they dominated and deserve real credit for the fact they they have not thrown in the towel after so many dispiriting results this season.
Although they are still bottom of the table, they have now closed the gap on their relegation rivals ahead of the final four fixtures and have momentum behind them.
The club’s first-team coach insists his side have now given themselves a realistic chance of avoiding the drop back to division two – something that looked distinctly unlikely before this game.
Benkenstein said: ‘It would be miraculous to stay up but it’s not impossible.
‘My feeling is that a lot of teams are starting to fade a little bit with injuries to a few key players.
‘I feel we are getting stronger and we will now add Ryan McLaren into the team with Jackson Bird returning to Australia.
‘Fidel (Edwards) is here for the rest of the summer and to find someone like Mason (Crane) gives you real wicket-taking options. The batters are starting to find a bit of form as well, so we are getting stronger.
‘If we can finish strongly, that is the key.
‘It’s like running a marathon and we are still in the pack.
‘We’ve got a few wounds and been shot in the leg a few times but we are still going and if we finish well, we can still find a place on the podium.
‘It’s a huge win. It gives us a massive lift and a realistic chance of staying up.’
Needing four wickets to finish the job and with some worrying showers forecast, Hampshire were wary of being denied a deserved victory.
But Rikki Clarke (55) fell to the fourth ball of the day as Jackson Bird (two for 50) signed off his Hampshire stint with a win.
Fidel Edwards (four for 55) ended up with nine wickets in the match as he rattled off two quick victims, pinning Keith Barker (nought) lbw and then forcing Jeetan Patel (10) to fend off a short delivery to Will Smith.
Hampshire then had to wait for the final wicket with rain clouds moving ominously overhead and number 11 batsman Boyd Rankin (16 not out) hanging around for the best part of an hour.
But just moments before a heavy shower, Smith then got the final wicket as Chris Woakes (42) chipped up to Mason Crane to complete the victory.
The great escape could yet be on.