Cricket: Five-star Harmer helps Essex control Hampshire
PUBLISHED: 07:57 17 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:53 17 June 2019
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Simon Harmer snared his fourth Specsavers County Championship five-wicket haul of the season as Essex skittled Hampshire out for 118.
Harmer, who has now taken 24 scalps at Chelmsford alone this season, finished with figures of 5-23 to elevate him back to the joint-top of the Division One wicket-taking charts - which he shares with Lewis Gregory and Jeetan Patel, who all have 35 wickets.
Harmer's bowling exploits were followed-up by Ravi Bopara's fifty as Essex galloped into a lead of 29 runs, albeit for the loss of Sir Alastair Cook, Nick Browne and Tom Westley.
Going into the game, Hampshire sat in second place with the second highest acquisition of batting bonus points. With that confidence and a healthy-looking pitch, stand-in captain Sam Northeast elected to bat having won the toss, although would have regretted the decision having been bowled out by tea.
Harmer may well have landed the most telling blows to the Hampshire collapse, but it was the opening seam attack of Sam Cook and Jamie Porter who landed the first hits.
After a 40-minute delay to the start of play due to rain, Porter only needed until the third over to pin Joe Weatherley lbw.
Two balls later Porter found the outside edge of Ajinkya Rahane's bat, as the India Test star handed Adam Wheater a catch on his return - the wicketkeeper had missed the last 10 weeks due to a thumb injured, which he damaged in the reverse fixture at the Ageas Bowl.
Essex brought up their first bowling point in just the sixth over when Sam Cook joined the party, as Tom Alsop offered up a catch to Dan Lawrence at gully.
Following another half an hour rain break, Northeast and the uber-aggressive Rilee Rossouw offered a glint of hope for the visitors with a 45-run stand but both faltered once Harmer entered the attack in the 14th over.
Bowling from his deadly River End, Harmer needed nine balls before his golden arm had Northeast hit on the pads while walking in front of his stumps.
South African Rossouw topped scored with 34 from 32 balls but his dismissal, stumped after wildly stamping down the track and swinging, left his side exposed as the final five Hampshire wickets fell for 24 runs in nine and a half overs.
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Aneurin Donald saw his middle stump unearthed by a wicked Sam Cook in swinger, before James Fuller deflected Harmer to Ryan ten Doeschate at short leg.
Sam Cook completed his impressive three for 50 when Kyle Abbott was leg before.
Unsurprisingly it was Harmer's off-spin which cleared out the tail as Keith Barker and Mason Crane, who had slapped a six over mid-wicket, were lbw - to send Hampshire to their lowest completed first innings score of the season.
Essex's reply had started serenely, with 53 added for the first wicket. But Nick Browne was given a life on 11 when a firm strike breached Fuller's upstretched hands at mid-wicket.
Fuller redeemed himself when he was brought onto bowl, as, with his fifth delivery, found the ball to straight up onto Sir Alastair Cook's pads, before Nick Browne was leg before to Barker in the following over.
Tom Westley quickly departed when he was bowled by Barker, but Bopara, who scored his 50 of 73 balls, and Dan Lawrence guided the hosts to the close in a strong position with a half century partnership.
Bopara said: "I would definitely have bowled first. At Chelmsford it does nip about and there was some drizzle and good overhead conditions, so it was the best time to bowl.
"Harmer shows the advantage of having such a good spinner. Even on a flat, placid, deck he usually picks up one or two. So when it is turning you know he is in for a five or six-for.
"It is not easy to be free flowing on that pitch. It sticks on a bit but if you run aggressively you can get runs.
"With any leg spinner you know you are going to get the odd loose delivery, the odd full toss and drag down, so you have to put them away.
"I'd personally like a second bat in this innings but the ideal situation is to get 300-plus and then hopefully bowl them out again.
"Tomorrow could be completely different again. We have been in these positions before and you can easily add another 50 runs quickly but lose five wicket. We have to be careful of that. The first hour is very important."
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