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Hants on course for victory at Bristol
10:07pm Wednesday 8th August 2012 in Sport
Hampshire are on course to return to the LV= County Championship's promotion positions, by beating Gloucestershire at Bristol tomorrow.
That is depsite the home side's spirited recovery, which saw them bowl Hampshire out for 276, a negligible first-innings lead of five runs - only to themselves suffer a mini batting collapse during the evening session.
Their top order undermined by Hampshire's seam bowlers, Gloucestershire reached the close on 102 for four, just 97 runs to the good.
With the weather set fair for the fourth day, promotion-chasing Hampshire will fancy their chances of forcing victory to keep up the pressure on leaders Derbyshire.
Responding to the home side's 271, Hampshire looked set to establish a meaningful first-innings lead when advancing to 218 for four shortly before lunch.
But South African batsman Neil McKenzie was bowled by David Payne six runs short of a hundred to spark a collapse in which Hampshire lost six wickets for 58 runs and were dismissed for 276 in 87 overs.
A Gloucestershire recovery appeared unlikely when Australian batsman Simon Katich and veteran McKenzie continued to pile on the runs after Hampshire resumed their first innings on 104 for two but Gloucestershire enjoyed a much-needed stroke of good fortune when Katich was run out by Ian Saxelby in pursuit of a single.
Nicol then had Liam Dawson held in the covers, but the real breakthrough came when Payne uprooted McKenzie's off stump in the final over of the morning session.
The 36-year-old, a replacement for the injured Michael Carberry, had plundered 94 from 170 balls and taken advantage of some wayward bowling to accrue 14 fours and a six, sharing in stands of 79 and 50 with Bilal Shafayat and Katich.
Gloucestershire's seam bowlers stuck to their task after lunch and made further inroads, Liam Norwell bowling Michael Bates and Dimitri Mascarenhas edging Howell to first slip before as the visitors slumped to 262 for seven.
Saxelby and Payne then used the second new ball to good effect to wrap up the tail in the space of 6.2 overs.
Having advanced to 44 without offering so much as a sniff of a chance, Sean Ervine fell to a loose shot, steering a short delivery from Saxelby to first slip.
David Balcombe slapped the same bowler to mid-off as Saxelby finished with three for 44 and Payne had Kabir Ali caught at second slip flashing at a ball outside off stump.
Howell and Nicol made the most of improving conditions and a flatter pitch to raise 51 for the first wicket as Gloucestershire continued to prosper in the final session.
But Hampshire evened things up before the close, Balcombe locating Nicol's outside edge and Katich taking a fine catch at second slip before Howell wasting his earlier good work by driving loosely at a wide delivery from Ervine and being snaffled by McKenzie at first slip for 36.
Clearly a man with a point to prove after being released by Hampshire last winter, new Gloucestershire recruit Howell will no doubt be disappointed at missing out on a half-century that appeared to be his for the taking.
Experienced campaigners Alex Gidman and Hamish Marshall then departed in quick succession, both falling to Balcombe, as Gloucestershire slipped to 72 for four.
Thereafter, Dan Housego and Ian Cockbain negotiated 12 overs without further mishap and much will depend on the fifth-wicket pair when play resumes tomorrow.
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