Middlesex 79 and 208 for 4 (White 73*, Gubbins 67, Abbas 2-14) need another 323 runs to beat Hampshire 319 and 299 for 4 declared (Holland 146*, Northeast 118)
This weekend’s cricket lay spread out for Hampshire, as inviting as the Saturday papers on the kitchen table with time aplenty to leaf through the supplements. Mohammad Abbas had cast a bewitching spell on Middlesex’s first innings, and having chosen to bat again rather than enforce the follow-on, they returned to the Ageas Bowl on this third morning with eight wickets standing, two batsmen in the 90s, and a lead approaching 450.
James Vince, the home captain, was at liberty to do pretty much as he pleased, with the luxury of time and scoreboard pressure bearing down on the opposition. None but the greediest of Hampshire fans would have expected another Middlesex implosion, and sure enough this time around the visitors brought a stiffened resolve to their batting. Three quick wickets in the afternoon session raised Hampshire tails before Nick Gubbins and Robbie White lashed together a century stand from the flotsam and jetsam bobbing around them.
Set a notional target of 531 to win or, more realistically (though still on the improbable side), five-and-a-bit sessions to survive, Middlesex finished the day on a doughty 208 for 4, White still ensconced after almost three-and-a-half hours at the crease. The draw remained on the table, tucked away somewhere between the business and travel sections, though Hampshire will feel they have the tools to take six more wickets and start the season with back-to-back wins.
There is a distance left to run in this game then, but it has already been a memorable one for Ian Holland. The USA-born, Australia-raised allrounder, winner of the Cricket Superstar reality TV show almost a decade ago, has become a valuable cog in Hampshire’s side but you might reasonably have suggested he had hid his superstardom under a bushel for much of his five seasons in England. First-class batting and bowling averages of 23.18 and 26.94 going into this game hinted at all-round usefulness but not a great deal more.
That said, Holland’s record since being promoted up the order in 2019 is quietly impressive, and his second first-class hundred here ticked his average as an opener above 40. There were a few nervy slashes as he made his way through the 90s, slipstreaming senior colleague Sam Northeast to the landmark in the first few overs of the day, but he was soon thumping the ball about with gusto and walked off with a career-best 146 not out when Vince finally called a close to the innings.
His day got better during the evening session, as Hampshire sought a way through the Gubbins-White roadblock. Holland was on the mark with his right-arm seam-ups straight away, keeper stood up to keep the batsman honest, and with the final ball of his first over, he coaxed enough lateral movement to draw Gubbins forward and clip the outside edge, Liam Dawson throwing himself to his right to snaffle the chance at slip.
Holland charged off in celebration, star of the moment without doubt, while Gubbins held the pose and then began to trudge for the dressing room, thumping his bat in frustration as he went. A lengthy evening session, following the break around the country to observe Prince Philip’s funeral, had developed belatedly into an engaging contest as the fourth-wicket pair produced Middlesex’s most-substantial partnership of the season so far.
Gubbins, who began the second innings on a king pair after being the filling in the sandwich of Abbas’ second-day hat-trick, provided a glimpse or two of the class that saw him elevated to the England Lions set-up several seasons ago, having played such a vital role in Middlesex’s 2016 Championship success. His footwork was sharp, defence compact, and he unfurled his cover drive with a sense of curled-lip disdain. Brad Wheal’s short ball was dispatched with a flourish, though the left-arm spin of Dawson induced one or two moments of uncertainty.
His partnership with White, after Middlesex had slipped to 33 for 3 in the face of another examination from Abbas and Kyle Abbott, ensured that Hampshire would have to shelve any notion of a three-day win. White’s half-century, only his third in first-class cricket, was a characterful response to his own first-innings duck. Middlesex’s deputy wicketkeeper, his place in the side was perhaps under most scrutiny with club captain and overseas signing Peter Handscomb set to be available for the next round of games.
White will return hoping to convert an overnight 73 to his maiden hundred – he fell agonisingly short when making 99 against Kent in last year’s Bob Willis Trophy – and give Stuart Law and the Middlesex coaching set-up plenty to ponder ahead of the London derby against Surrey. White and Martin Andersson kept Hampshire at bay until the close, adding another fifty stand, though the target, 323 runs away, still appeared as distant as the South Downs visible away beyond the Hilton Hotel.
Though the surface has settled down appreciably, Hampshire’s requirement looks altogether more gettable – with Abbas currently sitting on pristine match figures of 8 for 25, Dawson finding some turn and Mason Crane’s legspin a potential gamebreaker. Whether it turns into a Sunday stroll or one for the headline writers, well, that remains to be seen.
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick