UNBEATEN South Wilts maintained their stranglehold on the ECB Southern Electric Premier League leadership race when they came out on top in an intriguing drawn match with Bashley (Rydal), their nearest challengers, at Bemerton.

A fascinating 64-overs a side duel ended all square at stumps, with Bashley 224-8 in response to South Wilts’ 239-7, writes MIKE VIMPANY.

The result leaves James Hayward’s side effectively 34 points ahead of Havant, who moved into second place with a resounding eight-wicket win over the Hampshire Academy. The top two meet in a 50- over duel at Bemerton on August 11 – the day the championship could be settled.

Apart from one period in the evening session when Richard Morris and teenager Ryan Higgins were enjoying a 131- run partnership, neither South Wilts nor Bashley looked potential winners from a nonetheless fascinating draw.

Put into bat, South Wilts held the upper ground for much of the morning, when left-hander Eddie Abel (56) and Tom Morton (45) provided a 96-run start. But by lunch, Bashley had wrestled the initiative back, with Sean Terry (4-64) taking three wickets to leave South Wilts at 139-4.

The match was at a potential crossroads at this point, but James Hibberd (36) and the emerging Jack Mynott (60) swung the initiative back again. It was the second time in six days Mynott had come to the party, having made a brave 79 in the Kingfisher Beer Cup defeat by Bridgwater.

Bashley, employing spin for 42 of the 64 overs, got through their allocation quickly, giving themselves an identical number of overs to chase down the target. South Wilts’ 239-7 (Higgins 3-75) looked as though it might be beyond Bashley’s reach when the visitors slipped to 43-3, with Terry (15), Neil Thurgood (19) and Luke Webb (0) falling in quick succession. But Morris (71) and Higgins (61) tilted the balance Bashley’s way with a fourthwicket stand of 131, which took the New Forest side into the final hour needing 67 more runs to win, with seven wickets intact.

The pair kept the score ticking along nicely – until Morris (at 154-4) was beaten in the flight and stumped off Eddie Abel, whose spell of 2-26 tweaked things back in South Wilts’ favour. Much rested on the young shoulders of the 17-year-old Middlesex prospect Higgins, who brought up his half-century with a straight six and then hoisted Hibberd over mid-wicket for another maximum. Two balls later, he attempted a suicidal single to backward cover and was run out to leave Bashley at 180-5.

Good sides create pressure in such situations and South Wilts picked up several bowling bonus points as Bashley slipped to 213-8 (Rob Franklin 3-63) before calling off the chase and closing at 224-8. Jack Mynott in action for South Wilts.