Liam Dawson’s unbeaten 47 guided Hampshire to an improbable four-wicket Vitality Blast victory over Somerset with three balls to spare in the first T20 match under the Taunton floodlights.
Somerset looked favourites for most of the evening after Babar Azam marked his home debut with an extraordinary innings of 95 from 61 balls, including 9 fours and 3 sixes, in a total of 172 for three after losing the toss.
A packed crowd of around 7,400 saw Hampshire struggle to 96 for four after 14 overs before a late onslaught from Dawson and James Fuller, who hit three sixes in scoring 28 off 12 balls, pulled off an amazing success.
After three overs of their innings, the hosts had scored just ten for the loss of Tom Banton, caught at mid-off trying loft Chris Wood back over his head.
The power-play ended with the Somerset on only 30 for one. Gradually, Azam began to keep pace with partner Peter Trego, but the halfway point of the innings was reached with the hosts becalmed on 65 for one.
That became 72 for two when Trego’s middle stump was knocked back by Wood in the 11th over with his score on 35. Hampshire still had the scoring rate under control when Azam reached a scratchy half-century from 40 balls.
But if Somerset fans were disappointed in the new overseas recruit at that point, they were soon to see why Azam is regarded among the best young batsmen in the world.
The 15th over saw him launch Chris Morris for two big sixes, while James Hildreth also struck a maximum as the over cost 22.
Hildreth reverse swept a six off Dawson in contributing a typically breezy 28 before being yorked by Morris, who bowled the 18th over for just four runs.
Azam then produced an extraordinary back-foot shot to hit Abbott for six over wide long-off. Now he was in full flow and helped Somerset add 24 from the last two overs before leaving the arena to a standing ovation.
Hampshire were well in the game, but lost three wickets in the power-play, two of them to Jerome Taylor. The West Indian seamer had Rilee Rossoux caught by the diving Max Waller at mid-off and Sam Northeast taken at short mid-wicket in bowling his first two overs for seven runs.
The key wicket of James Vince was sandwiched in between, caught at short cover for only a single off Craig Overton. At 42 for three after seven overs the required run-rate had risen to more than ten.
Donald hit a six and 6 fours before being caught at mid-off from the final ball of the 13th over, sent down by Lewis Gregory. Morris hit Overton for two sixes in the 15th over, but Somerset looked sure to win until Taylor conceded 24 off the 17th over, Fuller smashing 3 sixes.
Suddenly Hampshire looked favourites as Dawson lofted the previously economical Roelof van der Merwe over deep square for six to leave 18 needed from two overs.
Fuller was caught behind for 28 off the first ball of the 19th, bowled by Gregory, but Taylor had only eight runs to play with when sending down the last and a Lewis McManus six clinched an unlikely win.