Double trouble: Yorkshire looking to captain Gary Ballance as they battle to avoid another loss
IF YOU had said before the start of the season that this match would provide an early opportunity for one of the teams to complete the double over the other, you would have thought that it would be an opportunity for Yorkshire to complete the double over Hampshire as opposed to the other way round.
But after losing to Hampshire by four wickets at Headingley in the first round of games, Yorkshire find themselves under the cosh against them in the third round of fixtures too.
Not even the innings win against Warwickshire sandwiched in between would soften the blow for Yorkshire should they slip up today.
But Hampshire, who are playing Division One cricket only because Durham were demoted in their stead due to financial problems, have so far held sway against the 2014 and 2015 champions, who are embroiled in a battle to save the match.
Yorkshire head into the final day on 178-3 in their second innings, 46 behind, having been made to follow-on after being dismissed for 231 in reply to 455.
Their predicament would have been much worse but for a third-wicket stand of 150 between Gary Ballance (78 not out) and Alex Lees (70), ended shortly before stumps when Lees was caught behind off Kyle Abbott.
The second new ball is due in 19 overs and Hampshire’s hopes will probably depend on it.
But Yorkshire will expect to get out of jail on a flat pitch having created a first-innings prison largely of their own making.
As in the game at Headingley earlier in the month, when he top-scored with 120 in the first innings and with 55 in the second, Ballance has been the principal obstacle to Hampshire’s progress.
Yesterday, the Yorkshire captain turned his overnight 63 into a score of 108, his 31st first-class hundred, before closing in on another hundred in the second innings.
Ballance, who hit twin centuries for Yorkshire against Surrey at the Oval in 2013, has been comfortably their best batsman so far this season, just as Ben Coad has been comfortably their best bowler.
After losing his Test place last winter on the back of 24 runs in four innings against Bangladesh, Ballance has started the first-class season in excellent style.
Ballance and his side certainly had it all to do when play began yesterday in glorious sunshine.
It was a perfect batting day, with spectators busily slapping on the sun-cream, and Adil Rashid was straight into his stride with two boundaries off pace bowler Gareth Berg, one wristily flicked through mid-wicket, the other contemptuously caressed through the covers.
Rashid, who hit 65 in the win at Warwickshire, looked set for an innings of much-needed substance.
But having reached what would prove to be the second top-score of 34, he carelessly lofted Brad Wheal to James Vince at mid-off.
Yorkshire, who resumed on 128-6, 327 behind, slipped to 189-8 when David Willey was bowled through the gate by left-arm spinner Liam Dawson.
It was a disappointing way for the England man to depart as he seeks his first notable score for the county in Championship cricket.
Ballance reached his hundred from 190 balls with 11 fours before he was ninth out just before the scheduled lunch break. It took a brilliant catch to remove him, Sean Ervine flying to his left at slip to grab a sharp chance off Dawson.
Coad was last out 20 minutes into the additional half-hour, caught at first slip by Ervine off Reece Topley. Steve Patterson was left stranded on 22, Berg the most successful bowler with 4-62.
Despite holding a lead of 224, not every side would have enforced the follow-on in Hampshire’s position, preferring instead to increase their advantage.
Their decision was an attacking one, particularly given the unresponsive pitch and the fact that they had spent the morning in the field, and they were quickly rewarded for their enterprise.
Adam Lyth was drawn forward by Berg in the fourth over and caught behind, and then Joe Root was trapped lbw by Abbott in the ninth with one that kept low from the Pavilion End.
It has been an unhappy match for both Yorkshire batsmen: Lyth making scores of eight and six; Root eight and two.
It has been anything but an unhappy match for Ballance, however, and he picked up from where he left off in the first innings.
Lees gave him good support as they dug in against some challenging bowling.
Abbott eventually found Lees’s edge, ending a 153-ball innings that also contained eight fours as Yorkshire were pegged back to 170-3. Ballance and Peter Handscomb survived the closing moments as Hampshire huffed and puffed without further success.
The odds, you sense, are that the match will be drawn, although Yorkshire can afford to take nothing for granted.