Somerset in strong position after day three
Azhar Ali hit his highest Specsavers County Championship score of the season to help Somerset to a strong position going into the final day of this match with Hampshire at the Cooper Associates County Ground.
The experienced Pakistan batsman contributed 79 to celebrate his newly-awarded county cap as the First Division leaders posted 358 for eight declared in their second innings, a lead of 417.
Given an awkward four overs to bat in their second innings at the end of the day, Hampshire sent in Kyle Abbott to open with Ollie Soames in the absence of Joe Weatherley, who turned an ankle while fielding.
They closed on 12 for one, Soames bagging a pair when bowled by Lewis Gregory with the sixth ball, which jagged into him off the seam.
Tom Abell (58) and Tom Banton (70) joined Azhar Ali in punishing the Hampshire bowling after the visitors had been bowled out for 349 at the start of the morning session to concede a first innings deficit of 59.
It was a good day for all-rounder Gregory, who claimed the last two wickets, including his 250th First Class victim, before making a breezy 28 and sending back Soames.
Play began with the visitors 329 for eight in reply to 408. They added 20, Gregory removing the injured Tom Alsop, who again batted with a runner before lofting a catch to cover and Crane, caught at first slip chasing a wide delivery with just one run needed for a fourth batting point.
Alsop’s wicket brought up the 250 landmark for Gregory. Jamie Overton was unable to add to his second day victims and finished with five for 70 from 23 overs.
Azhar Ali and Abell put on an opening stand of 128 in 29 overs as the Pakistan batsman found his form and moved to a fluent half-century off 63 balls, with eight fours. By lunch he and Abell had taken the score to 110 without loss off 23 overs.
The afternoon session soon saw the Somerset captain complete his second fifty of the match, from 80 deliveries, also with eight boundaries.
Keith Barker was the pick of the Hampshire attack and forced a ball through Abell’s defences to bowl him, quickly following up by having first innings centurion James Hildreth caught at slip for two.
It was 165 for three when Azhar Ali was caught at third-man attempting an uppercut off Abbott. However, Banton confirmed his immense promise with a 73-ball half-century, including some sumptuous leg side boundaries, and at tea Somerset were 236 for three, with a lead of 295.
The final session saw George Bartlett (33), Banton, Gregory, Dom Bess and Overton perish in the quest for quick runs and a declaration. Steve Davies was unbeaten on 36 when Abell closed the innings.
An the close of play Tom Banton said: “We talked in the dressing room about what we were going to do and we were looking for a lead of 400.
“If we bowl well tomorrow, I think that we give ourselves a good chance of winning the game.
“Tom Abell and Azhar Ali played really well today, which was good to see. Obviously there is a bit of spin there now. When Crane came round the wicket there was a lot of rough.
“Our two spinners are going to play a big part tomorrow. If we put nine good balls in then we are going to give ourselves a good chance of winning.
“I’ve been working hard in the nets with Marcus Trescothick, looking to play as straight as possible. As my career in red ball cricket develops I will try to play more shots, maybe sweeping and reverse sweeping.”
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