Lancashire's bowlers were made to fight all the way by Hampshire's Adam Wheater and Matt Coles on the final day of the LV= Division Two game at Southport but the league leaders eventually completed their 122-run victory 90 minutes into the afternoon session.
A seven-man attack lacking Glen Chapple, whose hamstring injury will be assessed on Monday, failed to take a wicket in the morning session but Simon Kerrigan picked up two and Luis Reece one in the afternoon to complete a win which takes the Red Rose side nearer to a return to the First Division
Indeed, the win extends Lancashire’s lead over Northamptonshire at the top of the table to 33 points and reinforces their position as hot favourites to win the Division Two title in September.
“We didn’t want to play in Division Two but we deserve to be here,” said Chapple. “At the moment we deserve to be top of the league and hopefully we can stay there. It’s a trophy and we want to win it.”
However, even if Lancashire do collect silverware at the end of the season, the fourth day of the game will be remembered for the 191-run eighth wicket stand between Wheater, who made 140 and loan signing Coles, who contributed 68 to a partnership which frustrated Lancashire’s expected stroll to victory.
The pair’s stand established a new eighth-wicket record for matches between Hampshire and Lancashire and it also put the efforts of visitors’ established batsmen on Friday afternoon in a far from favourable light.
The morning’s play was entirely dominated by Hampshire’s eighth-wicket duo who added 145 runs in 38 overs and were not often troubled by the six-man Lancashire attack. Only when Lancashire thought that Coles gloved a catch to Andrea Agathangelou at short leg did the home side have a convincing appeal against either of the pair but umpire Neil Bainton turned down the appeal.
Wheater reached his first Championship hundred for his new side in 182 balls, having hit 19 fours, while Coles got to fifty off 101 deliveries immediately afterwards. Both batsmen played with immense composure and alarms were very few.
Steven Croft, who was skippering Lancashire in the absence of the injured Glen Chapple, opted to take the new ball as soon as it became available but his seamers enjoyed as little success as his spinners had on a still very sound Trafalgar Road wicket.
Indeed, Lancashire had to wait until nearly an hour into the afternoon session for their first breakthrough, Wheater edging Kerrigan to Gareth Cross behind the stumps. The former Essex wicketkeeper-batsman had faced 232 balls and hit 22 fours and a six in making his first century for Hampshire.
Two balls later Coles’s cross-batted swipe at Luis Reece’s medium pace resulted in the loss of his middle stump but even that dismissal did not end the entertainment for the Southport crowd.
James Tomlinson and 16-year-old debutant Bradley Taylor added 53 runs for the last wicket in just seven overs before Taylor was stumped by Cross off Simon Kerrigan for 20. Tomlinson was left unbeaten on 30 and Kerrigan finished with 4-79 in the second innings and seven wickets in the match.
“We were in a terrific position overnight and would have expected to win the game more easily than we did,” said Chapple. “I think it showed how good the pitch was and how well we had done to get ourselves in that position.
“I think it also shows what happens if you take your eye off the ball and one of your bowlers gets injured. The lads did it tough today and maybe we’ve learned a couple of things about keeping our standards as high as possible.
“From day one we’ve played excellent cricket and you should take the best things out of the game. We played really well to get in such a commanding position on a pitch like that. For three of us to get 50 wickets with three games left shows that we’re a tough team to play against, we’re scoring runs as well, we’re unbeaten and I think that’s our eighth win. Things are going well but as ever we’re looking to keep our standards high.”
Picture: Luis Reece bowls Matt Coles (c) Simon Pendrigh