It was a while coming, but wasn’t it worth it! After a year and a half of waiting, Shahid Afridi finally made his Royals debut at The Rose Bowl, and what better way to announce his arrival than with a stunning 5-wicket haul to repay all those who had shown faith in him during his time away.
So enthralling was the sight of one of the best all-rounders in world cricket at his peak that the fact that Hampshire fought back following a tricky first innings to record a 16-run victory against Gloucestershire was somewhat eclipsed.
But the team’s mettle in rallying to snatch victory in a match that was interrupted by rain twice should not be underestimated. Nor should a valuable contribution of 47 with the bat from Jimmy Adams to give them the platform from which to build a score of 139.
Gloucestershire, in reply, managed to keep up with the Duckworth Lewis rate until rain forced them off (only an Afridi wicket giving Hampshire the edge going in). But once they were back at the crease their innings was reduced to 17 overs with a target that was always way out of their reach.
The win – Hampshire’s sixth of the competition – takes them top of the table again on run-rate, leap-frogging Monday’s opponents Sussex in the process.
The misty rain that plagued the match was already around to greet the captains for the toss, where visiting stand-in captain Kane Williamson putting the Royals in first in difficult early conditions. A solid start from Hampshire saw Adams and Benny Howell working the ball into the gaps, putting on 35 before Howell (10) was caught off Ian Saxelby’s bowling.
Adams kept the runs flowing in the light drizzle as the home side continued to build an innings, bringing up the team’s 50 in 7 overs with 35 of them from the opener’s bat. Before long the persistent haze from above was too much for the umpires and the players left field for a short delay.
On return, Hampshire found themselves in a spot of trouble in the trying conditions, losing Adams (47), bowled by Muralitharan (4-0-15-2), followed quickly by James Vince (11), Sean Ervine (4), Neil McKenzie (8) and Shahid Afridi (5) as Hampshire lost 4 wickets for 24 runs.
A closing-over cameo from Dimitri Mascarenhas gave Hampshire a boost as he plundered 25 runs from 13 balls. Nic Pothas ended unbeaten on 13 as the home side set the Gladiators 140 to win.
The Royals again looked towards the three-pronged spin-attack of Afridi, Danny Briggs and Imran Tahir to base their bowling unit around and the move paid dividends almost immediately as the England Lions star trapped Hamish Marshall in the second over. Meanwhile, Irish international Kevin O’Brien edged one off Mascarenhas to Pothas to have the visitors 15-2 after 3 overs.
Williamson and Ian Cockbain came together, putting on 39 runs until Afridi struck in his first over, bowling the latter for 24 before saluting the West Stand crowd with his arms raised in trademark pose. The Pakistani live wire was at it again in his next over, having Chris Taylor stumbling out of his crease before Pothas took his bails off.
And with the rain starting to fall more rapidly, Afridi grasped his third wicket in as many overs, clean bowling Gidman, and the umpires then asked the players to leave the ground for a second time. At this stage so close were the teams that that wicket – taken off the last ball before the break – swung the balance of power from the visitors to the hosts. Were they to have gone in on 80-4 after 12 overs and never come back on, according to the Duckworth-Lewis method, Gloucestershire would have won. As it happens, having gone in on 80-5 it would have been Hampshire who would have triumphed had the rain had its way.
In the end, the weather relented but the revised Duckworth-Lewis total of 124 off 17 overs looked a steep mountain to climb – especially for a team struggling for confidence like the Gladiators.
And Afridi took maximum advantage seeing off Richard Coughtrie with a quicker ball for his fourth wicket and Saxelby who was caught wafting at a cunning slower ball in the same over. Afridi finished with figures of 5-20 off 4 overs.
Williamson tried to keep his side in it with a hard-fought 50 but he didn’t have enough in him, being caught by Ervine off Tahir. Muralitharan (3) followed shortly after, becoming the final wicket to fall at the hands of Dominic Cork.
This report was on behalf of the Hampshire CCC, the orginal can be found here.