THE problem with cramming one-quarter of the County Championship season into September is that matches are likely to be wrecked by the weather.
So it was as the elements won in Southampton – just as they did in Birmingham, where Middlesex’s attempt to beat Warwickshire was also ruined by rain.
The upshot after draws in both matches was that second-placed Yorkshire closed by a single point the gap on leaders Middlesex to four points.
Increasingly, it looks as though the meeting between the sides at Lord’s in the final round will decide the title – assuming, of course, that the wretched weather does not decide the title.
There were 128.2 overs lost at the Ageas Bowl, including 40.2 on the final day, which Yorkshire had started on 143-2 in their second innings, a lead of 202.
The champions hit 95 in 22 overs before declaring 25 minutes before lunch, setting Hampshire 298 from a minimum of 72 overs.
After a short shower then forced an early lunch, as well as the loss of two overs, Hampshire were 84-4 from 31.4 overs when the heavens opened violently just before tea.
It was the last action of a match that will not linger in the memory, and one which left us no closer to knowing whether Yorkshire will succeed in their quest for a hat-trick of titles.
“It was very frustrating given the position we were in,” said Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire captain.
“I felt we played some really good cricket in the game and drove the game really, and it was disappointing to lose so many overs.
“Having got them four down, I’d have backed us with another 40-50 overs to win the game.
“But, it wasn’t to be, and all we can do is focus on the next match.”
That comes against Durham at Headingley tomorrow, and is followed by another home game against Somerset starting the following Monday.
Middlesex travel to Notts and Lancashire before the showdown with Yorkshire at Lord’s on September 20.
“It’s wide open, and there’s only a few points in it,” said Gale.
“We’ve got two home games coming up, and we’ve got one of the best home records in the country over the last few years.
“We’ve got that on our side, and we know what we get with our home pitches, so it’s in our hands.
“I think if we win our next two games at home we’ll be there or thereabouts.”
Ideally, Yorkshire would not want to travel to Lord’s needing to win that game.
They have lost on their last two visits to headquarters, with Middlesex the only side to have beaten them in the Championship in the last three years.
“You want to avoid going down to the last game if you can,” said Gale. “It’s like a one-day game where you don’t want it going down to the last over.
“But, if we have to do that (win at Lord’s), then we’re well prepared mentally.
“However, if we can win our next two games, then, hopefully, we can get one over on Middlesex.”
The skies in Southampton were already grey and gloomy when Gale and Gary Ballance resumed the Yorkshire second innings on Saturday morning.
After Gareth Berg began with a maiden to Ballance, Gale fell to the eighth ball of the day without addition to his overnight 19, caught behind off Brad Wheal.
Wheal toiled hard, although never to the extent that he threatened to reinvent his surname, and he came up against a tough opponent in the form of Jake Lehmann.
The Australian got off the mark by cover-driving him to the boundary before cutting him powerfully to the backward-point rope.
Ballance, who resumed on 46, found his feet by cutting Berg to reach his half-century from 86 balls with his tenth boundary.
The England left-hander also hit two sumptuous off-side fours off Wheal as Yorkshire gradually began to accelerate.
Fluency was not easy, however, and Ballance’s stay ended on 72 when he was bowled by Berg, leaving Yorkshire 189-4.
Tim Bresnan hit 27 from 34 balls before he was fifth out at 235, well-caught low down by Berg at mid-off after an attempted pull off Andy Carter.
Gale declared one over later, with the makings of an interesting afternoon in prospect.
It got more interesting from Yorkshire’s point of view when Ryan Sidebottom struck in the third over of Hampshire’s second innings, trapping Will Smith lbw as he aimed to leg.
Hampshire never threatened to chase the target, however, and there was only one potential winner when Jack Brooks took three wickets in 12 balls just before tea to send the hosts from 50-1 to 74-4.
The pace bowler had Tom Alsop caught at mid-wicket, Jimmy Adams taken at second slip and James Vince caught at first slip before the weather had the final word.