HAMPSHIRE are back in the LV County Championship’s top two after maintaining their unbeaten start to the season.

James Vince and Sean Ervine both hit half-centuries on the last day against Gloucestershire at The Ageas Bowl, as Hampshire closed on 213-6.

Gloucestershire began it on 446-5 - a lead of 149 - and added a further 58 for the loss of three wickets before declaring at 504-8 – a lead of 207.

When Will Gidman (119) was caught behind, former Hampshire duo Adam Rouse (16) and Benny Howell (38) soon followed, promoting the declaration.

Hampshire were given 80 overs to survive but hands were shaken when they erased the deficit.

Gloucestershire trialist Rouse, who was released by Hampshire at the end of last season, took another four catches, beginning with two in ten balls as Hampshire lost Michael Carberry and Will Smith in the opening nine overs.

Jimmy Adams (31) put on 68 with James Vince before he was given caught at short-leg off the slow left-arm of Tom Smith, a decision that infuriated Hampshire’s normally mild-mannered captain.

Adams kicked his gloves over the boundary rope as he walked off in frustration and in the last over before tea Joe Gatting (11) was caught behind.

Vince reached his fifty in hitting three fours against Will Gidman in the first over after tea. But he was soon caught at the wicket for 63 (95 balls) after attempting to cut the slow left-arm of Tom Smith.

No matter. As he did against Surrey last week, Sean Ervine hit a last-day half century, his unbeaten 57 coming from only 81 balls. His partnership of 74 in 21 overs with Adam Wheater (29) all but secured the draw.

Captain Adams lost the toss for the fifth successive Championship match but in the end Hampshire were grateful for an unlikely century partnership between last-wicket pair James Tomlinson and David Balcombe in their first innings and the loss of more than two sessions to the weather. Otherwise the loss of seven wickets for 38 runs on the first day would have cost them the game.

Adams said: “It would be nice to win the toss at some point but that’s probably an excuse. We’ve had to battle hard, Gloucestershire outplayed us for three or so days. We were in a good position on day one [at 144-2] but threw that away with a mad hour that changed the context of it all.”

Hampshire are a point clear of Surrey, who have played a game more. “It’s nice to know we’re up the top, we’ve got five games left and need to win two of them, if not three,” added Adams. Hampshire are now preparing to take on Essex at Colchester, where Liam Dawson is expected to play after recovering from a groin injury.

“Colchester has a history of spinning and with Dawson back that could be perfect, it strengthens the batting and gives us a bit of spin,” said coach Dale Benkenstein , who wants an improvement in Hampshire’s first-innings batting to fend off pressure from Surrey.

“People say the problem is getting 20 wickets but the key is runs,” he said. “Surrey’s strength now is every innings they’re getting 500. If you’re getting those runs the wickets tend to be quite easy to get because that creates pressure.

“Getting runs has been our strength and that’s the key for me, to get our batters hungry enough to make big innings rather than the forties and fifties we’ve been getting.

“When you get runs on the board things tend to go your way.”