Hildreth proves worth as Somerset suffer at start of season

Somerset's James Hildreth bats during day one of the LV= County Championship season against Hampshire

Somerset's James Hildreth bats during day one of the LV= County Championship season against Hampshire - Credit: PA

Under pressure James Hildreth and Joe Weatherley proved their worth with half-centuries as Hampshire enjoyed an impressive start against Somerset on the first day of the 2022 LV= Insurance County Championship.

Hildreth ended last season out of the Somerset side, while Weatherley averaged 18 last season and only has a single Championship century.

But the former ploughed a lone furrow by scoring 87, his 126th first-class score over 50, with absent-plagued Somerset collapsing twice to get bowled out for 180.

While Weatherley made a mockery of the potential axe above his head by seeing off the new ball to reach an unblemished 65 – as Hampshire closed on 109 without loss, just 71 runs behind.

This could be Hildreth’s swansong season. He is out of contract at the end of the year and after two lean campaigns, by his high standards, could be starting his 20th and final year on the circuit.

In fact, Hildreth had been left out of Somerset’s final fixture of the 2021 season, and there is a school of thought that he would have missed out here if there wasn’t such a lengthy absent list.

Somerset were already without seven first-team players before George Bartlett damaged his shoulder in training on Wednesday and Jack Brooks went down with illness overnight.

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Hildreth was dragged to the crease within 10 overs after Somerset won the toss and chose to bat as Ben Green edged Muhammad Abbas to second slip before Kyle Abbott produced an away jagging delivery, that wouldn’t have been out of place in his famous 17 for 86 against this opposition in 2019, to find Tom Abell edging to third slip.

Hampshire’s bowling attack was relentless. Holland had Tom Lammonby caught behind, Lewis Goldsworthy was lbw to one which straightened from Abbas and Steven Davies was castled by Keith Barker leaving the last ball of the morning.

Lunch saw Hampshire pay tribute to former captain Shane Warne, who died aged 52 last month, with a video played on the big screen and crowd members permitted on the outfield for a minute of applause.

The interval also saw Hampshire captain James Vince depart to attend the funeral of his father-in-law, with Abbott taking over the leadership. And he found Hildreth an immovable object, alongside Roelof van der Merwe.

Hildreth has recorded at least one score of fifty or more in each County Championship season since 2004, and found fluency on a decent Ageas Bowl pitch which offered springy bounce.

That characteristic saw square either side of the wicket the most profitable areas to score, with the cut shot a trademark. The shot that brought half-century, in 89 balls, was the perfect encapsulation of this, as it rocketed past point.

The Hildreth/van der Merwe combination raised the visitors from their 61 for five malaise, to a healthy 134 for six, before a second act of the collapse.

The Netherlands international chopped James Fuller onto his own off stump before Liam Dawson struck with a sumptuous loopy yorker to see off Hildreth with his first delivery of the season.

The final three wickets fell for just a single run in 13 balls, as Barker had Peter Siddle caught at first slip and Marchant de Lange bowled while slogging, either side of Kasey Aldridge bowled playing down the wrong line by Dawson.

Hampshire’s average first innings opening stand in 2021 was 26, which has led to pressure being put on Weatherley’s position in the team. Those worries about his selection felt less weighty, as he cruised through the evening session with Ian Holland.

The homegrown batter rushed to an 83-ball half-century – his first since last July and 10th of his first-class career. Holland was dropped on 33 at point but otherwise, the hosts were untroubled as they eased to the close.

Hildreth said: "You come into the first day of the season and everyone has high hopes for the season so to spend some time in the middle on a challenging surface feels great.

"I don't know [if I'm close to being back to my best]. I hit them alright today and it felt good, but I don't know the last time I felt good. I'm hoping this is the start of a good run. I've flirted with form in the last few years so it would be nice to have a purple patch.

"With the new ball it was challenging. They have a world-class bowling attack so whenever they put things in the right areas with the new ball it was hard work.

"You could see from the way they batted on it there were runs to be had. It isn't a 180 pitch."