Hampshire’s challenge for a place in Division 1 will go down to the wire after drawn encounter at new group leaders Somerset

Hampshire are just a point behind second-placed Gloucestershire in group 2 of the County Championship after a draw with new table-toppers Somerset at Taunton.

Sunday, 6th June 2021, 5:16 pm
Lewis Gregory of Somerset celebrates after taking the wicket of Ian Holland on the final day of the drawn Championship encounter at Taunton today. Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images.

The race for a Division 1 place will go down to the wire with the top four counties separated by just 19 points with two rounds of games left, writes RICHARD LATHAM.

Following a break for the T20 Blast group matches, Hampshire’s penultimate Championship encounter is with Surrey at The Ageas Bowl in the first week of July.

Their final game - which could easily be a winner-takes-all scenario - is against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham starting on July 11. The top two counties will progress to Division 1, alongside the other top two teams in the other two groups.

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Sam Northeast in batting action for Hampshire at Taunton today. Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images.

Somerset opened up a 10-point lead at the top of the group this afternoon as their clash with Hampshire petered out in a draw, a day after Gloucestershire had been thrashed by an innings by Leicestershire.

Set an unlikely 459 to win from a minimum of 75 overs, the visitors closed a final day curtailed by afternoon rain on 88-2 with Tom Alsop unbeaten on 23 and Sam Northeast 19 not out.

Earlier, George Bartlett had completed a fluent hundred, including 11 fours and two sixes, and Tom Banton contributed an unbeaten 51 as Somerset extended their second innings score from an overnight 323-6 to 409-7 before declaring.

Clearly feeling a draw would be more than a satisfactory outcome in their position, Somerset batted on for 75 minutes at the start of the day.

General view of the final day's play at Taunton. Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images.

Bartlett and Banton began cautiously, scoring only 14 runs between them in the first half hour before both cutting loose.

Banton moved to a 54-ball half-century with a six over mid-wicket off Ian Holland, the second time he had cleared the ropes.

Bartlett, unbeaten on 74 overnight, accelerated towards an assured century and reached it off 160 deliveries. When he skied a catch off the first ball of the following over, it signalled the declaration.

Holland and Cameron Steel began Hampshire’s second innings positively. But their hopes of batting through the remainder for the morning session were scuppered when debutant Steel fell lbw for 14, playing across a delivery from Lewis Gregory.

Lunch was taken at that point with the scoreboard reading 30-1. That became 39-2 when Holland, already dropped by Tom Abell at third slip off Davey, was bowled pushing forward to Gregory.

Northeast survived a tougher chance to Abell off the unlucky Davey, having made only four.

But from then on Northeast and Alsop batted solidly, overcoming a pacy spell from the River End by Marchant de Lange, including several bouncers.

The pair had added 49 when what started as light rain at shortly before 3.20pm quickly developed into a downpour.

Umpires Steve O’Shaugnessy and Peter Hartley ruled that play could restart at 5.05pm after an inspection.

But by then the 41.4 overs originally remaining in the game had been reduced to 19.4 and the captains decided to shake hands on a draw without further play.

Scores: Somerset 360 & 409-7, Hampshire 311 and 88-2. Drawn