By D J Rutnagur at Southampton
First day of four: Hants (47-1) trail Durham (203) by 156 runs
THE pitch was greener and grassier than any seen at Northlands Road for a long time, but its appearance was deceptive. Undistiguished batting was the true cause of Durham's collapse for a score that vindicated Hampshire's decision to bowl first.
Early on, while the ball was new and hard, the pitch offered some bounce at the pavilion end. But any bowler hoping to exploit this transient advantage had to run in against a strong wind.
Of Durham's top order, three got settled in but none flourished. John Morris, going in first again, survived two good balls from Peter Hartley which left him during the opening overs and stayed in for 25 to play some sturdy strokes while making 48, his highest score of the season, before John Stephenson got one to nip back and have him caught behind off the inside edge.
But Hampshire had made inroads before Morris's burgeoning innings was ended. Michael Gough was bowled by Alex Morris after a stoppage for rain, and Nick Speak, near to completing a full hour at the wicket, played on driving at a ball of full length from Kevan James. Morris's dismissal at 98 ended a partnership that was full of promise, for Jim Daley was batting with aplomb and fluency.
Daley, who made 36, could not be counted among those who brought about their own doom. Morris, who took four wickets in an innings for the third time in successive matches, raising his tally from five matches to 23, got one to leave him and induced a catch to second slip.
For Durham, the blow was all the heavier for David Boon had been brought to book by Morris 15 runs earlier by a ball that was an innocuous long hop and playing a shot that was always one of the Australian's greatest strengths - the square cut. He smashed the ball straight to point.
Wickets now fell at regular intervals, but none to Nixon McLean, for whom this verdant pitch would seem to have been tailor-made. Paul Collingwood pulled another ball of short length to midwicket. Michael Foster played on off Dmitri Mascarenhas and Martin Speight, the last of the recognised batsmen, was run out.
Steve Lugsden, whose last-wicket partnership with Melvyn Betts had conjured up a consolation batting point, made the breakthrough when Hampshire batted, yorking Jason Laney, who had been missed off his first ball.
Day 2: Smith plays to audience
By D J Rutnagur at Southampton
Second day of four: Durham (203 & 4-0) trail Hampshire (396) by 189 runs
ROBIN SMITH, out of the England side since the 1995-96 tour of South Africa, played a stirring innings of 134, off 126 balls, to hasten Hampshire to a lead which could well prove to be the springboard to a second successive win and the county's first over Durham.
For the degree of dominance Smith achieved and sustained, and the blasting power he packed into hitting 24 fours and a six, this innings must rate as his best in a long time.
``I love batting on a big occasion and today was one such occasion because Goochy [Graham Gooch] was here. I was certainly encouraged by his presence. It's always nice to impress Goochy. I enjoyed playing with him. He's a good friend and it's nice to play well when he's watching.''
Smith, 34, has not abandoned hopes of playing for England again. He said: ``The criterion for getting into the side today or for being recalled is to score a lot of runs. I haven't done so this year and therefore have no complaints or bitterness about not being picked. But I also know that if the selectors decide to throw a wild card and pick me, I wouldn't let them down.
``I was delighted with the way I played today. Runs were hard to come by at the start of the season because the pitches weren't very good and because of the weather, there was no continuity. I'm a rhythm player and I like to be playing all the time. I was disappointed that just when I was beginning to bat well and string a few good scores together, I got injured. It was also a matter of settling into the captaincy, something that was absolutely new to me.''
Smith added: ``I still feel I have something to offer at Test level but I have no complaints. I didn't do enough to remind selectors about the fact that I'm still only 34 and have plenty of cricket left in me.''
Thanks to a fluent 40 by John Stephenson, compiled in the face of a testing, though unavailing, opening spell by the hefty John Wood, Smith had a reasonable platform from which to launch his spectacular innings. The luckless Wood was tiring after bowling 10 overs in a row and Smith tucked into him with three fours in rapid succession to pick up momentum immediately.
Durham's attack wilted quickly under his assault, overpitching as often as dropping short, and Smith drove off both front foot and back and, given the slightest width, cut imperiously.
Runs came in a torrents and the first hundred of Smith's partnership of 159 with Adrian Aymes, who survived him to get 54 and lengthen his run of useful scores, came in only 19 overs. It took a good one-handed catch by Martin Speight off Melvyn Betts to remove Smith.
Steve Lugsden, playing his first championship match since May, claimed Aymes for his third victim, at 292. But Durham's agony was not ended. Kevan James batted steadfastly and Dmitri Mascarhenas took time to get into stride but then dealt some telling strokes before missing a slog. Wood mopped up the tail to gain well-deserved compensation for being denied in the morning.
Day 3: Speight holds up Hampshire
By Rob Wildman
HAMPSHIRE devotees divided their time yesterday between collecting autographs of old heroes, returning for the annual county reunion, and keeping a watchful eye on a team seeking their highest championship finish since 1991.
Among the prized signatories spotted yesterday were Richard Gilliat, the man who led Hampshire to their second and last championship in 1973, and Derek Shackleton, the former England bowler, who at 73 is the subject of a new biography launched yesterday.
Since those days Hampshire have enjoyed infrequent success, though supporters reckon a greater team ethic this season is showing signs of paying off.
This theory was proved by Tuesday's sweeping NatWest win over Middlesex at Lord's and further vindicated yesterday by unified accurate bowling. Shaun Udal led the way, taking three for 80 from 19 overs, which propelled Hampshire to the verge of a fourth championship victory of the season and the prospect of a top-eight finish for the first time in seven years.
Durham provided sterner resistance than in their first innings when they mustered 203. They finished on 288 for nine, a lead of 95.
Painstaking contributions by John Morris (50) and David Boon (54) uplifted Durham for two spells before they were both unhinged by Udal. Morris fell on the stroke of lunch when well caught at short leg by Giles White and then Boon, shortly before tea, was stumped at the second attempt by Adrian Aymes.
Aymes personified the Hampshire spirit, especially before lunch when diving to catch Jimmy Daley for 33 off Kevan James.
Durham staggered along until the arrival of Martin Speight, who was unbeaten on 55 when rain intervened 10 overs from the finish.
Aymes in push for Ashes place
By D J Rutnagur at Southampton
Durham (203 & 288-9) lead Hampshire (396) by 95 runs
UNLESS his age, 34, goes against him, Hampshire's Adrian Aymes has strong claims to go as second wicketkeeper to Australia this winter.
Aymes, who has also been more productive with the bat than in any previous season - two hundreds and three half-centuries - on Saturday took the first of two outstanding catches which hastened Hampshire's progress to a win which, at the end of the day, lay in close sight.
Aymes dived to his right to hold, one-handed, a snick by Jim Daley off Kevan James which would not have reached first slip. The second stunner was held at short-leg by Giles White to end a staunch innings of 50 by John Morris, who had batted for more than 2.5 hours for his first half-century of the season.
Despite Morris's long vigil Durham, 193 behind on the first innings, were 114 for four at lunch. David Boon, newly-arrived when Morris was dismissed, and Paul Collingwood stayed together for all but three overs of the afternoon session, adding 82.
Then Boon, who had faced 122 balls in scoring 54, lost patience and charged out at Shaun Udal, who had turned the odd ball a long way. Seeing the Australian poised to pounce, Udal sent down a quicker ball to a full length and Boon, who yesterday accepted the offer of another summer at Durham next year, played over it.
The ball bounced high and struck Aymes on the throat. He seized the rebound and took off the bails. Udal and Aymes collaborated again to remove Collingwood, who had resisted for 164 minutes. He was held making a square-cut.
The quickest spell Nixon McLean had bowled in the match hastened Durham's decline, but Martin Speight, introducing a measure of controlled aggression - he hit six fours and two sixes - made an unbeaten 55. The support Speight received from Simon Lugsden and rain, which lopped off the last 10 overs, postponed the end of Durham's innings to today.
Durham batted with much more application and character than in the first innings on a pitch which afforded some movement off the seam as well as turn to Udal.
But Hampshire, performing on the occasion of their old players' reunion, enthusiastically organised by Mike Barnard, were inspired. Bottom of the table at the start of June, a win today, their fourth, would place them in the upper reaches.
Day 4: Gallant Speight leads resistance
By D J Rutnagur at Southampton
Durham (203 & 332-9) drew with Hampshire (396)
HAMPSHIRE would be justified in feeling cheated by the weather. At the same time Durham could take much pride in remaining unscathed, for their last- wicket pair of Martin Speight - not out with 97, his highest score for Durham - and Steve Lugsden resisted for the best part of 25 overs without surrendering.
With the start delayed until 2pm and the rain returning to end play 20 minutes before tea, only 21 overs and two balls could be bowled. In the circumstances Hampshire, who would have climbed at least two places in the table had they won, could only have forced home their advantage had they captured the last wicket in an over or two.
Speight, who came in at 196 for five on Saturday and batted for 171 minutes, hitting 10 fours and two sixes, was as brilliant as he was gallant. Apart from taking every opportunity to widen the gap, he skilfully kept the strike, taking a single off the fourth ball of 14 out of the 21 completed overs yesterday.
And yet, Lugsden, his ally for 88 minutes and 24.2 overs, had to face 50 balls, which he did with gritted teeth, standing his ground against Nixon McLean even when he attacked him from round the wicket. McLean bowled nine fierce overs but to no avail.
Hampshire could perhaps have been more adventurous. They strove to contain Speight with two fielders at third man for him and only one slip, while Shaun Udal's spin remained unemployed.