They suffered the narrowest of defeats against a Lancashire side at Aigburth who are now favourites to lift the title, writes JAMIE BOWMAN.
As news filtered through from Edgbaston of Warwickshire’s travails against Somerset, this game turned into a potential winner takes all clash with Lancashire turning out to be the team that held their nerve on a day of unbelievable tension that could not have had a closer finish as the Red Rose scrambled over the line by just one wicket.
With Hampshire resuming the third day of a pulsating encounter on 158-7, Lancashire needed quick wickets to keep the target manageable and Tom Bailey duly obliged, trapping Felix Organ in front for eight before Keith Barker feathered one behind for four.
When George Balderson finished the innings off with the wicket of Mohammad Abbas for six, Bailey’s figures were a career-best 7-37 with the Preston-born seamer also claiming 50 wickets for the season at 16.86.
With the bowlers completing their part of the bargain in setting a target of 196, it was over to the batters. And Alex Davies, playing his final innings in front of the Red Rose faithful before a move to Warwickshire, quickly showed he meant business.
Two consecutive boundaries off Barker and a towering six over mid on off Liam Dawson’s first delivery were the highlights as the wicketkeeper batter took the game to Hampshire in typically dynamic fashion.
Balderson played his part too and when the young all-rounder was bowled around his legs by Dawson for 12, the opening pair had put on 55 and made serious inroads to the target of 196.
But as has been the pattern with this game, there was more drama to come and only two more runs had been added when Davies cut a wide one from Barker straight to Mason Crane at point and was out for 44 from 43 balls.
At 57-2 there was no need to panic and Josh Bohannon and Luke Wells brought a sense of calm to proceedings as they took the took past the 100 mark before Bohannon became Crane’s first victim off the leg spinner’s third delivery which was edged to James Vince at slip.
Wells continued to bat nicely and had struck six boundaries when he nicked one through to Vince for 39 off Brad Wheal to leave Lancashire 118-.
The hosts’ nerves were beginning to jangle but Lancashire’s two most experienced players were now at the crease.
Skipper Dane Vilas and the evergreen Steven Croft finally began to make the home crowd believe as they steered the Red Rose to 150.
Crane continued to look the most potent of the Hampshire attack and when he had Croft lbw for 20 there was another flicker of belief in the visitors.
That was quickly extinguished by Vilas and Danny Lamb’s intelligent running between the wickets.
But then, suddenly, Crane picked up two more victims when Lamb edged to second slip and Luke Wood was caught at bat pad.
The tension became almost unbearable when Crane, who finished with 5-41, ran Bailey out without scoring with just three runs needed.
Jack Blatherwick scrambled a single to keep the strike for another Crane over and the England spinner picked up his fifth wicket when the number 10 edged to Joe Weatherley to bring Matt Parkinson to the crease.
With a Hampshire crowd around the bat, the leg spinner negotiated two balls before Vilas swept a four off Dawson to claim the victory and end Hampshire’s quest for only a third Championship in 126 years.
Their hopes of appearing in the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s next week are also over.