DANNY Briggs celebrated his first LV County Championship appearance of the season with his best return for three years to fire Hampshire back to the top of division two.

The slow left-armer has been surplus to requirements until now due to Liam Dawson’s all-round skills and the seam-friendly conditions of early season.

But with the sun out (and Dawson out for six weeks with a groin strain), Briggs took his chance to shine as Hampshire beat Leicestershire by 278 runs at Grace Road.

Briggs bowled beautifully in both innings as Hampshire bowled out their hosts for 96 to complete their biggest win by a runs margin since 1973, the year they last won the County Championship.

This victory ensured they returned to the top of the second division, albeit having played a game more than Saeed Ajmal-inspired Worcestershire.

Matt Coles also impressed, with the bat initially after Hampshire resumed the final day on 306-8 – a lead of 342.

Coles, 55 overnight, plundered a quick-fire 83, his highest Championship score since the beginning of his penultimate season with Kent.

Then he shrugged off a heel injury to claim 3-24 as Leicestershire, having been set 375 in a minimum of 91 overs, collapsed from 71-4 to 72-7 on a deteriorating wicket.

Kyle Abbott (2-17) took the first two wickets with the new ball before having to go off when he was struck on the shin by a shot from Ramnaresh Sarwan.

His absence at least gave Hampshire the chance to show off the all-round strength of their attack, which helped them maintain their unbeaten start to the season with a third win in six games.

Hampshire are enjoying early-season form comparable with the promotion-winning campaigns of 2001, which they started with an eight-match unbeaten run, and 2004, which saw them win four of their first six games under Shane Warne.