Hampshire v Yorkshire: Reigning champions left frustrated as dark clouds gather over title defence
THE skies were the colour of charcoal grey.
From time to time, light rain fell from them, as though the gods were rinsing their hands.
The floodlights at the ground were turned on in the morning and stayed on until the last of the spectators had made their way home.
It was a dull and dreary, grim sort of day, the sort where a cricket ground can seem the most depressing place on earth, and a County Championship match the most pointless exercise known to man.
That is not the case, of course, as the few hundred men, women and children dotted around the vast, soulless stands at the Ageas Bowl could have testified.
Not only are Yorkshire chasing a hat-trick of Championships, but Hampshire are chasing points to preserve their Division One status.
But after two days of mostly glorious weather, as summer briefly came back to life, the approaching autumn inched steadily closer, permitting only 19 overs in conditions in which there was no wind to blow the dark clouds away.
Yorkshire, 69-1 overnight, progressed to 143-2, thereby taking a lead of 202 into day four.
“That’s about as frustrating as it’s been all year,” said captain Andrew Gale, whose second-placed side are seeking a win to keep pace with leaders Middlesex, who have Warwickshire 74-3 at Edgbaston after setting their opponents 338.
“The forecast isn’t great for the last day here, but the way we’ve always played our cricket is to try and accelerate the game forward to get a result, and we’ll try and win the game if we possibly can.
“Obviously, we’re keeping an eye on things there (at Edgbaston), but we’re not going to throw it away at this time of year because there’s no need to take risks.
“I think there’s rain forecast in Birmingham as well, so we’ll have to see what happens.”
Yorkshire, who went into the game five points behind Middlesex, led by 128 when play began on time, albeit with the bright floodlights giving everything the feel of a football match in winter.
It was muggy, too, with an airless feel about the stadium, not least in the Arlott Atrium in the Rod Bransgrove Pavilion, to where most spectators gravitated at some stage or other.
The atmosphere was heavy, the type in which you either have a headache, or can feel a headache about to come on.
It was also one of those days when you really needed to have a coat with you, but when it was just that little bit too warm, for the most part, to actually put it on.
Such matters would not necessarily have been at the forefront of the minds of Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance when they walked out to resume the Yorkshire second innings.
Lyth, who had 37 to his name, went on to reach a fine half-century with the last of three boundaries in four balls off Ryan McLaren, while Ballance, who started the day on 17, worked the ball around in sensible manner.
They had lifted the total to 101 when Lyth fell for 56 in the day’s ninth over, caught at first slip by Sean Ervine off Brad Wheal to end a stand of 62.
Wheal then induced Ballance into a Chinese cut to the boundary before the England man hooked him authoritatively for four.
Ballance, who made a hundred last week against Notts at Scarborough, where he stood in as captain for the injured Gale, was then joined by Gale after the captain’s return from a back problem.
Gale played a delightful stroke when he eased Gareth Berg to the point boundary before bad light drove the sides off after 70 minutes, closely followed by rain which forced an early lunch with the score standing at 134-2.
When the action resumed, only 2.5 overs were possible as Gale added nine to his and Yorkshire’s score before further bad light.
The left-hander hit two sweet boundaries in so doing, rocking back to punch Wheal through the covers and then pulling him savagely.
“I felt in good nick, but unfortunately the light wasn’t great throughout the day, and I’m surprised that we played as much as we did,” he said.
“When me and Gary were out there it was dark, but the umps tried to stay out there as long as they could.
“I said to the lads afterwards, ‘Do you think there will ever come a day when we change the ball to a pink one and carry on playing?
“I don’t know, but there might come a day when that happens.”
Umpires Nick Cook and Nigel Cowley made regular trips back to the middle to see if the light had improved, before walking back each time in doleful fashion.
Their body language screamed: “Sorry, folks, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Regs are regs, and them’s the rules.”
At Edgbaston, Warwickshire closed the third day on 74-3 in pursuit of the target of 338 set by the Division One leaders when they declared their second innings at 267-7 at tea.
Half-centuries from Sam Robson (74, 218 balls, five fours) and Stevie Eskinazi (53, 108 balls) underpinned Middlesex’s batting display.