Essex 238 (Snater 71, Abbott 3-41) and 223 (Harmer 61, Rossington 60, Dawson 7-68) beat Hampshire 163 (Harmer 8-46) and 286 (Organ 65, Harmer 7-161) by 12 runs

Simon Harmer claimed Championship-best figures of 15 for 207 as Essex clinched a thoroughly enjoyable match by 12 runs, but Hampshire have reason for considerable pride. Everything was tilted against them, not just Harmer, in his element on a turning pitch, but some borderline umpiring decisions and unfortunate ball changes. They came as credible Championship challengers and despite defeat that status remains.

That Hampshire might actually pull off an unlikely run chase was possible as Keith Barker organised late-order defiance, a dignified figure imbued with the essence of commonsense. But as the requirement fell, his ambition rose and when he clubbed heartily to long-off, Harmer had his seventh wicket and Essex had their victory.

Whatever the scoreboards would have the crowd believe, the real score at that juncture was Hampshire 113 for 1. An unlikely target of 299 was beginning to look gettable, especially as the expected matchwinner, Simon Harmer, was sitting on unflattering figures of 1 for 69 in 14 overs.

In actuality, Hampshire had adopted Bazball on the previous evening when Felix Organ, their slightly built opener, had swung Harmer for three sixes over the stands at straight midwicket. Two more slog-sweeps had quickly followed on the third morning. The only problem was that several had plopped into the River Cam. Essex were fast running out of suitable substitutes.

So the official exhorting on behalf of Bazball, county cricket style, happened to coincide not with an immediate run fest, but a crash of wickets with (to Hampshire’s mind at least) the choice of a harder ball than might have been appropriate. By lunch, Essex had put together a decisive sequence of five wickets for 36 runs in 52 balls. Harmer had improved his figures to 4 for 118. The ball was fizzing again and his authority had been regained.

“What is the highest successful run chase at Chelmsford by the opposition since Harmer came to Essex?” was one query at start of play. The answer turned out to be 2, made by Surrey in four balls. Essentially then, a victorious run chase against Harmer on a Chelmsford turner was an unrealised ambition. It remains unrealised after Essex completed a 12-run win. Harmer finished with seven second-innings wickets – following eight in the first – for his eighth 10-for at Chelmsford.

That Harmer would immediately take up the attack was a certainty, but it was his seventh over of the morning before he struck. Organ can draw much heart from his 65. He had stayed inside the turning ball whenever he could and also swung lustily to the leg side. He was bowled attempting a square drive: a fair enough shot, a decent ball.

James Fuller was promoted up from No. 9 to No. 3 with the intention of launching a blitz upon Harmer. To force him out of the attack would have been ambitious, but a quick foray might at least set an adventurous tone and strengthen Hampshire’s conviction that they could win the game. Harmer dragged down one delivery that was duly clubbed for six but there was a seamer to contend with at the other end and, with 20 from 17 balls, Fuller fended Aaron Beard to second slip.

Beard has returned from a loan spell at Sussex in good heart. If he can finally retain fitness, he can rediscover the brio of his youth. His support for Harmer was also instrumental in Essex’s win, a second wicket coming his way when Liam Dawson was adjudged to have been caught at the wicket.

Hampshire are playing combative, occasionally testy cricket, and Dawson’s dismissal left them aggrieved. Nick Gubbins, typically, was a vision of politeness when he went back to a good-length ball from Harmer and was lbw. James Vince, though, felt the need to check with the wicketkeeper, Adam Rossington, whether his gloves had broken the stumps when his square cut was beaten by a lavish Harmer break-back that clipped his off bail. The decision looked fair enough.

Initally, Harmer’s authority after lunch was undimmed. Aneurin Donald became the third Hampshire batter to be bowled by a big turner after playing back to cut. Ben Brown, who played Harmer as solidly as anybody in both innings, was lbw after he switched around the wicket.

At 208 for 8, made at four-and-half an over, Bazball then relented as the two elder statesmen of the side, Barker and Kyle Abbott, opted for a more orderly approach. With the ball softening, two such imposing, battle-hardened figures could not be entirely discounted. They added 41 in 13 overs without any sense of risk. A crossword clue could be completed in the knowledge that nothing outrageous would be missed. Then Beard brought one back and Abbott was lbw to something that felt distinctly leg-sidey.

“The draw’s the second-favourite result now,” opined a spectator in front of the media box. Were there reports of storms in Borehamwood? But the skies were clear and so was the result as Barker, emboldened by a pulled six against Snater, got out the reverse sweep to take four leg byes off Harmer and then perished at long-off.

So Harmer had the last word – if you don’t count the understandable grumbles on Hampshire’s journey home that fortune had been somewhat against them.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps