By Rob Wildman at Portsmouth
First day of four: Hants (191-3) lead Essex (141) by 50 runs
LAST summer the two championship matches at Burnaby Road produced an aggregate of 1,600 runs and two draws. This season the United Services wicket is distinctly green, helping the Hampshire pace attack to beat Nottinghamshire last month while this commanding start could set up a second success.
Essex, bottom of the table and without a host of regulars, were firstly bruised by Nixon McLean and Peter Hartley and then left red-faced in the hot conditions as Robin Smith and Giles White raced Hampshire ahead.
At least Essex topped Nottinghamshire's opening effort of 121 by scrambling to 141 and did not lose a player on the way, unlike the luckless Tim Robinson, who broke his wrist when struck by a delivery from McLean.
Yesterday McLean had Essex hopping from the start, when Darren Robinson fended a rising delivery to Will Kendall at third slip in the third over. Seven overs later the West Indian had Tim Hodgson edging to conclude an opening spell of two for 11 in seven overs.
McLean returned before lunch to join in a collapse prompted by the guile of Peter Hartley. He trapped Paul Grayson and Graham Napier leg before to leave Essex 104 for five at the break. Afterwards, once the attacking Ronnie Irani ballooned McLean to Hartley at long leg for the top score of 34, Essex folded, losing five wickets for 37 to give Hartley a return of four for 42 and McLean five for 37.
A perfect day for Hampshire, which started when Smith won the toss and asked Essex to bat, continued merrily into the evening.
White and Smith put on 80 in 24 overs before the former fell leg before for 58 to Danny Law who found, like Hartley and McLean before, that the Railway End had the sharpest bounce.
Smith made a fine undefeated 78, his fifty coming off 57 balls. The gloomy bit for Hampshire is the ankle injury which sidelined Shaun Udal. He will have a further scan before a decision about an operation is made.
Day 2: Hampshire fired by Mascarenhas
By Rob Wildman at Portsmouth
Essex 141 & 50-2 v Hampshire 490
DIMITRI Mascarenhas is fast becoming the Hampshire player whose all-round play makes boys abandon their games on the boundary edge and members to leave bar-room perches.
Mascarenhas's all-action approach grabbed the attention yesterday at the United Services Ground, when he first made 53 in a Hampshire total of 490 in reply to a stumbling 141 by Essex.
When Essex started their second innings, the London-born Sri Lankan struck again after tea by swooping from cover to run out the dawdling Andy Hibbert, who had backed up too far.
The sharpness of Mascarenhas - who was man of the match in the NatWest Trophy semi-final on Tuesday - and the pace of Nixon McLean had Essex, the bottom-placed team, floundering for a second time. The West Indian followed up his five wickets on Friday by skittling Tim Hodgson as Essex finished on 50 for two, 299 behind. Earlier, Robin Smith had completed his third century of the season to remind the England selectors of his prowess. The Hampshire captain lunched contently on a pint pot of ice cream still believing that a Test return, after two years out, is a realistic aim.
Smith, 34, started out on an overnight score of 78 and fell 60 runs later when Neil Williams had him caught at slip. His innings included 17 fours and came off 166 balls. Smaller contributions came from Matthew Keech (61) and Kevan James (49 not out).
Keith Fletcher, the Essex coach, had plenty of mitigating evidence for a dismal display. Injuries and international calls meant seven regulars were sidelined. He was also dismayed by the standard of the green, pacy wicket. ``The idea of four-day cricket was to develop Test players, but we are wasting our time on pitches like this,'' he said.
Day 3: Essex have no answer to seamers
By Paul Newman at Portsmouth
Hampshire (490) bt Essex (141 & 238) by an innings & 111 runs
IT IS a question which guarantees both endless and heated debates. Can a county who could well win two of the four major trophies on offer really consider their season to be a success if they finish bottom of the championship, the true test of ability? Essex may soon have to come up with their answer.
Hampshire's resounding victory, completed yesterday well inside three days at the United Services Ground, showed their own relative progress towards a satisfactory summer of transition while throwing the plight of their visitors into stark perspective. Essex, the Benson and Hedges Cup winners and leaders of the AXA League, look increasingly likely to finish bottom of the championship for only the second time.
It is not the first occasion a county have found it is impossible to thrive in both first-class and one-day cricket. Kent, indeed, 'enjoyed' a strikingly similar campaign to Essex in 1995 when they triumphed in the Sunday League and were beaten in the B & H final but hit rock bottom in the table that really counts. Their members were not happy and, while the Essex following is probably not as stringent in its respect for tradition as the Canterbury faithful, a number of disapproving letters have landed on the desk of Essex secretary Peter Edwards. Consistency and the application of a disciplined approach to all cricket, it seems, is an elusive mix.
Yesterday's predictable conclusion was thoroughly satisfying for Hampshire. Their fledgling captain, Robin Smith, was the earlier rock around which a match-winning response to Essex's feeble 141 was compiled and now their two contrasting recruits from Yorkshire proved their respective merits as a barely better second effort left Essex contemplating their seventh defeat of the season.
Peter Hartley and Alex Morris could not be more different, having only the white rose in common. The former is the epitome of the experienced English seamer, again putting the ball in the right place on a green surface often enough to add three more victims to his first-innings four. Morris, meanwhile, is more extravagant, not being afraid to pitch short on his way to figures of four for 39 and a tally of 32 wickets in seven championship matches. Together they sent Essex packing.