Hampshire will look to return to the top of LV County Championship Division Two tomorrow after Matt Coles’ unbeaten half-century put them in control against Leicestershire at Grace Road.
Worcestershire’s three-day win over Essex saw Hampshire drop to second in the table, but victory would see them move back above their promotion rivals.
On a day of fluctuating fortunes, the visitors several times appeared to be heading for a sizeable second-innings total only to lose wickets in quick succession.
But an unbroken stand of 46 for the ninth wicket between Coles and Danny Briggs before bad light brought play to an early halt could prove decisive, as Hampshire finished on 306 for eight – a lead of 342.
That looks likely to leave the Foxes with a difficult chase on an increasingly slow pitch, with visiting captain Jimmy Adams left to weigh up whether to declare overnight or press on in the morning.
Adams’s side enjoyed a perfect start to the day as Charlie Shreck held out for just two balls before an attempted heave off James Tomlinson produced an edge to wicketkeeper Michael Bates, with Leicestershire failing to add to their overnight first-innings score of 296.
That left the Foxes 36 behind, but Shreck swiftly struck with ball in hand to oust Adams lbw for eight.
Adams’s fellow opener Will Smith made brisk progress to 46, but the returning Anthony Ireland had him snared by Jigar Naik at first slip with the sixth ball of his second spell.
Joe Gatting had made just 87 runs in seven Championship innings this season, and survived a big leg-before shout from Shreck as he took 22 balls to get off the mark.
But the former Sussex man settled down and thrashed a couple of drives through the covers as Hampshire reached 89 for two at lunch – a lead of 125.
Shreck conceded 16 runs in the first over after the interval as the in-form James Vince stroked a series of well-timed shots either side of the wicket.
Vince dominated a stand of 90 with Gatting, passing fifty for the seventh time in ten Championship innings, only to fall lbw to Nathan Buck a short time later for 56.
Gatting progressed steadily to 44 before inexplicably pulling Buck straight to Angus Robson at deep square leg, and Adam Wheater was also guilty of throwing his wicket away when well set as he made 44 before driving Shreck’s first ball after tea to Robson at extra cover.
Sean Ervine fell in the same over, edging to Naik at first slip, but Bates and Coles dug in to add 41 for the seventh wicket before the former edged spinner Naik to wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien attempting to cut.
Once again one wicket was swiftly followed by another – Kyle Abbott run out without scoring in the next over when bowler Rob Taylor deflected Coles’ straight drive onto the stumps at the non-striker’s end.
Coles thumped nine boundaries in an unbeaten 53, and found a willing ally in Briggs, who made 26 not out before darkness set in.
Shreck was the pick of the home side’s bowlers, finishing the day with figures of three for 78.