A record ninth wicket partnership for Somerset against Hampshire was the highlight of an intriguing third day of this Specsavers County Championship match at the Cooper Associates County Ground.
Things looked bleak for the visitors when the home side extended their first innings total from an overnight 324 for seven to 506 all out, James Hildreth making 184 and Dom Bess 92, his highest score for Somerset.
That gave Somerset a lead of 275 and they pressed home the advantage by reducing Hampshire to 39 for two in their second innings. However, Hashim Amla and James Vince gave the visitors a fighting chance with a stubborn third-wicket stand.
By the close they had added 139, Amla unbeaten on 86 and Vince 63 not out.
The day began with Hildreth on 125. With only three added to the total he lost partner Jack Leach, who was bowled by Fidel Edwards shouldering arms for 22.
Hildreth progressed serenely to his 15th 150 in First Class cricket and was outscored by the positive Bess, who reached his half-century off just 61 balls, with 10 fours.
The pair took Somerset to maximum batting points, bringing up the 400 in the 95th over and had added 145 in entertaining fashion when Hildreth fell in the final over before lunch, miscuing a full toss from Tom Alsop to mid-on.
The 33-year-old batsman had faced 253 balls and hit 22 fours. Bess was unbeaten on 84 as lunch was taken with the score 472 for nine.
Tim Groenewald (25 not out) helped Bess take the total past 500 before his partner fell just eight short of a second First Class century, bowled off stump by a good ball from Berg, who had toiled away in a Hampshire attack again deprived of Kyle Abbott because of injury and claimed five for 130.
Hampshire looked to be heading for defeat when Jimmy Adams, on 11, slashed at a delivery from Lewis Gregory and edged a catch to wicketkeeper Steve Davies.
Joe Weatherley followed for the same score, caught at square leg by George Bartlett who had just been positioned there, off a short ball from Groenewald. At tea Hampshire were 70 for two, still 205 behind.
But the ball was not swinging under clear afternoon skies and when Somerset skipper Tom Abell turned to Jack Leach and Dom Bess, they were unable to extract any significant spin.
Vince settled in to bat with few other alarms, while Amla demonstrated his class at the other end.
Amla was first to his half-century off 101 balls, with six fours, and Vince followed from 160 deliveries, also having struck six boundaries. By stumps they had reduced the deficit to 97.
At the end of the day Dom Bess said: “It was really good fun batting with James Hildreth. When I went out there he was on about 130 so I knew that they were going to attack me, which left me with opportunities to score.
“I’m delighted to have made my highest score for Somerset and wanted to prove a point about my batting, having gone in at number ten. All the players in our lower order can bat, which is great for the team and I want to get as high in the order as I possibly can.
“The new ball will be key in the morning. There’s still a bit in the pitch for the bowlers and if we can take an early wicket things will look different again.
“We’re still right in the game and I’m confident we can press home the advantage tomorrow.”
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