HAMPSHIRE are closing in on LV County Championship promotion after a second successive win - and they could yet go up as champions.
Victory over Leicestershire by an innings and 34 runs means Hampshire are only seven points behind Worcestershire after the leaders were beaten by Derbyshire.
But, most importantly, Hampshire have increased their lead over the chasing pack to 32 points following their sixth win of the season and second in as many games since the departure of Kyle Abbott.
It was feared that the absence of Hampshire’s overseas player would make it difficult to finish the season strongly, hence the re-signing of Imran Tahir for the last two games.
But Tahir’s arrival next week will mean a difficult selection decision after Hampshire followed their win against rivals Kent at Canterbury with this vanquishing of lowly Leicestershire. After declaring overnight on 497-8 - a first-innings lead of 194 - the visitors were bowled out for 160.
Matt Coles (3-67) took two wickets in an impressive new-ball spell (8-2-21-2) and Sean Ervine (3-22) claimed two in two balls as Leicestershire were skittled in 56 overs.
Only Leicestershire captain Josh Cobb put up any resistance, with an unbeaten 50. But he ran out of partners when Alex Wyatt, having hit a career-best 32 despite limping off the field on day three, sliced to backward point.
Wyatt was a deserved wicket for James Tomlinson, who bowled well without reward early on as Coles accounted for openers Angus Robson and Greg Smith, who were caught by James Vince and Liam Dawson in the slips, the latter following a brute of a delivery.
Chris Wood has been excellent in his first two Championship games of the season (nine wickets at just 13.88 apiece)and his two wickets came in the space of four overs: Ned Eckersely was bowled via an inside edge and left-hander Dan Redfern nicked a ball angled across him.
Hampshire’s catching was exceptional.
Ervine was on a hat-trick after two in as many balls from Will Smith – at gully and then in the slips – accounted for left-handers Niall O’Brien (one), a 50-over centurion on the same ground last month, and Rob Taylor.
Jigar Naik survived an excellent hat-trick ball, a good shout for lbw, before Leicestershire limped to 70-6 at lunch.
Then Coles uprooted Naik’s middle stump via an inside edge and Ervine claimed his third wicket when Charlie Shreck top edged an attempted pull.
Atif Sheikh was spectacularly caught at second slip by Dawson after trying to take on Danny Briggs, before Wyatt delayed the inevitable by helping Cobb put on 42 for the last wicket.
Leicestershire’s lack of fight came within 24 hours of confirmation that Shiv Thakor, their injured but hugely talented England Under-19s all-rounder, is off to Derbyshire, with rumours that more talent will soon be departing Grace Road.
Meanwhile, Hampshire’s young guns are developing into a handy four-day side that is well placed to win the county’s fifth trophy in six seasons following today’s results.