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The fascinating LV=CC game between Leicestershire and Hampshire continued to ebb and flow on the third day at Grace Road.
Leicestershire resumed on 296-9 in reply to Hampshire’s first innings score of 332 but there was no further addition as Charlie Shreck was caught behind off James Tomlinson (18.2-9-49-4).
Shreck then collected 3-78 from 23.3 hard-working overs and Nathan Buck (15-1-56-2) again impressed as Hampshire recorded 306-8 in their second innings.
The general batting theme of the game continued; five batsmen made scores in excess of 44 but nobody got beyond 56, which was the score that took James Vince to 657 LV=CC runs for the season.
It means that Vince’s first innings effort of 70 remains the highest score in a game where batsmen have dominated for long periods.
Matt Coles ended unbeaten on 53 for Hampshire, and his 46-run stand for the ninth wicket with Danny Briggs (26*, 28b) extended the visitors’ lead to 342 by stumps. The game has been tight throughout and an intriguing final day at Grace Road now lays in wait.
County’s first innings came to a conclusion after two balls on the third morning. When it was Hampshire’s turn to bat, Will Smith (46, 65b) drove the last ball of the first over down to the third man boundary while Jimmy Adams clipped through mid-wicket in the second over.
Smith then cut and pulled to the ropes, and Adams drove behind square as Hampshire continued their bright start. Shreck put paid to that as he pinned Adams (8, 21b) in front at the end of the 7th over.
Smith kept picking up boundaries; the opener drove a full toss through mid-on, an attempted leave flew off the edge, and a couple of delicate glances also raced down to long leg.
Gatting took a while to get off the mark but he pulled Shreck down to fine leg between the Smith clips, and the number three also punched through cover when Rob Taylor came into the attack.
A beautifully timed flick just backward of square brought Smith an eighth four and also took the score beyond 50. Smith then pulled Anthony Ireland (11-2-53-1) away for four before driving the next ball through the leg-side for two in the 20th over, and the lead was now into three figures.
Ireland provided a key breakthrough with the next delivery as Smith edged a good ball and Jigar Naik pocketed a low chance at first slip. That brought the in-form Vince to the wicket and Ireland sent down a testing maiden.
Gatting had driven a four before that over, and the batsman repeated that feat as lunch approached. Vince nicked Naik (23-6-56-1) away for four before producing an exquisite cover drive. Hampshire went in on 89-2 with Gatting unbeaten on 23 and Vince 11.
Four boundaries came in the over after lunch as a set of leg byes was followed by three nice pieces of timing by Vince. The batsman also drove through mid-on and extra in the 34th over as he continued to stamp his authority and the stand was now worth 50.
Gatting struck back beyond Naik to pick up his fifth boundary while a deft glance by Vince off the off-spinner also ran away. Further fours arrived as Gatting drove pleasantly and Vince hooked down to fine leg before striking Naik over mid-off.
Vince moved to another beautifully crafted half-century from 62 balls (10x4). If you also take into consideration his form at the end of last season, this was the 12th time Vince has passed 50 in his last 17 Championship knocks.
But the batsman was trapped on the back foot by Buck (15-1-56-2) after adding 90 with Gatting. The seamer nearly struck for a second time in the over as Wheater drove back to him but it was travelling at a fair rate of knots.
Wheater scored his first four through the covers before having another close shave after an edge off Naik was dropped by Smith at slip. The bowlers continued to apply pressure and Gatting (44, 146b) fell as he pulled Buck to Angus Robson in the deep.
County were made to rue giving Wheater the opportunity to settle as he struck two off-side fours in the 52nd over. Sean Ervine punched a drive to the fence, and Wheater hit a further quintet of boundaries as Hampshire’s lead reached exactly 250 by tea.
But just like yesterday, a wicket went to the first ball after tea as Wheater (46, 57b) drilled Shreck to Robson in the covers. Shreck continued his brilliant start by enticing Ervine (9, 46b) to nick and Naik took a superb low catch at first slip.
County had their tails up but a stand of 41 developed between Coles and Michael Bates. They each hit aerial boundaries through mid-wicket early in their innings, and Coles then hit three boundaries in an over as he looked to impose himself.
A quiet period followed before Coles launched down the ground for his fifth boundary. Another wicket then came as Bates edged Naik to Niall O’Brien and Hampshire were now 256-7.
It was now all-action and after Coles flicked Taylor (12-1-51-0) away for four, Kyle Abbott (0, 2b) was then unfortunately run out at the non-striker’s hand after Taylor got a hand to a fierce Coles drive.
Leicestershire would have been hopeful of ending the innings but they met further resistance. Briggs played a back foot drive off Naik to take the lead beyond 300 and a similar shot off Taylor also raced away. Shreck and Buck took the new ball immediately but Briggs kept unleashed two fine cover drives.
Coles collected three more fours and he then moved to a 55-ball 50 (9x4) by picking up a single through the off-side. Briggs drove through mid-wicket to record his fifth four before umpires Jeremy Lloyds and Steve Gale took the players off for bad light.
Other bowling figures for Leicestershire: Josh Cobb 2-0-6-0.
* Thanks to Ed Melia for the photo of Charlie Shreck.