Simon Harmer continued his prolific wicket-taking form

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Essex 214 (Bopara 59, Lawrence 57, Abbott 4-54) beat Hampshire 118 (Harmer 5-23) and 88 (Harmer 7-38) by an innings and eight runs

The debate over whether Simon Harmer is the finest spin bowler in Essex"s history has sounded premature for a player contesting only his third Championship season, but the evidence is growing at a rapid rate. Twelve more wickets, at a cost of only 61 runs, dispensed of Hampshire before tea on the second day at Chelmsford. Harmer was irrepressible, but in considerable part that was because Hampshire were dire.

No county can host a result within five sessions and feel entirely comfortable about the outcome and a post-match conversation between the Essex groundstaff and the ECB"s cricket liaison officer, Stuart Cummings, a former Rugby League referee, was inevitable, but there was no sense whatsoever that they saw anything too untoward about a surface that had also been used for a women"s ODI between England and the West Indies last Thursday.

During that match, a West Indies player was reportedly sick on the pitch. Presumably on a length. For a spin bowler operating from the River End.

Hampshire"s two innings spanned only 63.5 overs as Harmer rushed Essex towards victory as inexorably as a river flows to the sea. He is now the leading Championship wicket-taker with 42 and the Chelmsford pitches do encourage him, as did the rough created by Hampshire"s left-arm seamer Keith Barker.

But as well as he bowled, Hampshire"s supposed Championship challenge - they began the round in second place - should surely be categorised under Fake News. They met Harmer with an air of defeatism disguised as counterattack. Even Harmer felt obliged to politely chastise them, saying: "There was turn and bounce with the new ball. They needed to be more patient before taking me on. When it flattened out it would have been easier."

Joe Weatherley, showing the circumspection Harmer advocated, batted through the second innings for 29 from 80 balls. The India international Ajinkya Rahane made a pair and lasted only three balls in the match, twice edging Jamie Porter to the wicketkeeper; decisive breakthroughs because he might have had the wherewithal to play Harmer with aplomb. As for Rilee Rossouw, he succumbed to two of the wildest slogs imaginable.

Adi Birrell, Hampshire"s coach, summed things up fairly enough. "Harmer bowled fairly well but the ball wasn"t turning square, it wasn"t impossible to bat," he said. "Joe Weatherley batted through. He applied himself and needed someone to bat through with him.

"It is a painful and hurtful result. Hopefully it is a defeat in isolation. We can"t afford to let this affect us. It was a very bad two days."

Essex had begun the day on 147 for 3 but were themselves bowled out before lunch, as they lost seven wickets for 67 runs, seven to lbw decisions with Kyle Abbott the main recipient as he jagged the ball back sharply.

Observe Harmer from behind the arm and he flows into the crease. Watch him from side-on, however, and he is a more unprepossessing sight. Dare it be suggested, his run is little more than a gentle waddle, but the snap of his fingers fills his action with energy.

He was on by the fourth over, initially because pace bowler Sam Cook had limped from the field. In the time needed to sneak off for a cheap haircut close to the ground, Hampshire"s second innings had been snipped back. When Harmer is bowling, do not attempt this if you have a luxuriant head of hair.

Facing a first-innings deficit of 96, Hampshire lost seven wickets for 32 in only 13.5 overs before finally coming to grief 15 minutes before tea. They were in danger of registering their lowest score against Essex - they made 54 at Southampton in 1931 - but at least that ignominy was avoided.

Harmer began by having Sam Northeast stumped; advancing down the pitch he contrived to let the ball squeeze between bat and pad and his ponderous efforts to regain his ground allowed Adam Wheater enough time to stretch to his right to gather and complete the stumping.

In the same over, Rossouw paddled his first ball for four then tried to slog over long-on and edged a simple catch into the off side. Aneurin Donald slog-swept a non-turning delivery to midwicket before Harmer took two wickets in his seventh over, having James Fuller lbw, leaving a ball that turned out of the footholds, and finding gentle turn as Barker, reaching forward, edged to first slip.

Harmer rounded off the victory as Mason Crane was caught in circus-trick style with the edge running down Adam Wheater"s chest at which point he expertly volleyed it, left-footed, to forward short leg. Never criticise all those pre-match football kickabouts ever again.

This was Harmer"s third 10-wicket haul for the county, and fourth of his first-class career. He has taken four five-wicket hauls in his six innings bowling at Chelmsford this year. Essex, who have comfortably won all three of their Specsavers County Championship at home, have moved within seven points of Hampshire, and boast a game in hand.

If they beat the leaders Somerset at Chelmsford next week, they will begin to believe a repeat of their title triumph of 2017 is not beyond them. When Harmer has the ball in his hand, anything is possible, but surely Somerset will play him better than this.

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