• Specsavers County Championship 3m

    Title defence starts with hard-fought draw

    Middlesex begin their title defence with a tightly contested draw away to Hampshire after the champions' tail-enders see them to safety

    Highlights - Hampshire v Middlesex Day 4

    Middlesex begin their title defence with a tightly-contested draw away to Hampshire after the champions' tail-enders see them to safety.

    Middlesex began their Specsavers County Championship title defence with a hard-fought draw with Hampshire – after tail-enders Toby Roland-Jones, Ollie Rayner and Tim Murtagh magnificently saved them from defeat.

    Hampshire had looked set to ease to victory after three wickets with the second new ball but the visitors held on at the Ageas Bowl. Both sides took 10 points to give each an unbeaten start to the season, after Hampshire had beaten Yorkshire in the opening round.

    Middlesex captain James Franklin admitted his side had got away with an underwhelming start to their campaign: "We had to really scrap it out today. It was tight early but a few boys showed good character, and that’s what we have built a lot of our four-day cricket on over the last couple of years, showing good resilience when it gets tough, and we’ve done it again. 

    “We weren’t at our best by any stretch this game. We have shown quite a few rusty signs there in all departments and have a lot to improve on, but we’ve come out relatively unscathed. 

    "It’s looking like a tougher summer - Essex have gone and won at Taunton, Lancs were under the cosh on day one and have probably ended up on the stronger side of that game. It’s going to be a very tough division to win this year.”

    Middlesex had been in defensive mood throughout the fourth day with a slender lead of 27, with six wickets in hand, going into the day. Adam Voges and nightwatchman Steven Finn saw off the first 57 minutes of the morning in defiant style. Voges in particular looked unmovable, with a desperate lbw shout against him the closest the hosts came to an early scalp.

    Finn, who had been prolific in his blocking, was the only wicket to in the morning when he was caught out by substitute fielder Fraser Hay at mid-wicket – after a cunning Brad Wheal short-ball plan paid off.

    Voges was joined by John Simpson and the duo added an important 35, with the potential required runs for Hampshire ever chipping further from sight. The Australian moved carefree through a 115 ball half century – as Hampshire took their foot off the gas approaching the second new ball.

    The wait was worth it as they struck just three deliveries into the ball’s life – Voges chasing Kyle Abbott on the cut to edge behind. In doing so, Voges became the fifth to pass the mark and fall short of three figures and also the third batsman to fall in their 90s in the match.

    Only two more runs were scored before Franklin clipped Abbott to Jimmy Adams at second slip with a delightful delivery. Gareth Berg pulled out the delivery of the day when he managed to get one to spit off a length to send Simpson back caught behind just five balls later.

    But that is where the game ended as a contest as Roland-Jones took the sting out with a time-consuming 25. The Wisden Cricketer of the Year did depart when he clipped Wheal to Adams while attempting a slog pull.

    If Hampshire had taken the last wicket quickly there was still time for a thrilling chase but a perplexing over from Wheal, which saw Murtagh club three deliveries straight down the ground.

    But the pair added an unbeaten 26, with 63 put on for the last two stands, before hands were shaken at 4:50pm.

    Hampshire captain Vince paid tribute to his team's effort: “The way the guys fought back after they were 220 for two in the first innings to be in a position to being really close to be able to chase a gettable score on that wicket is an incredible effort.

    “Especially incredible from the bowlers after losing Fidel pretty early and putting the shift they did was outstanding to get us into that position."

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