MIDDLESEX captain James Franklin backed Hampshire to challenge his side for this year's Specsavers County Championship title after their Ageas Bowl draw.

Kyle Abbott's latest five-wicket haul was not enough to force victory as the champions stretched their unbeaten run to 17 matches.

But after starting their season with a win and a ten-point draw, second-placed Hampshire will not be short of confidence when they host a Yorkshire side including England captain Joe Root at The Ageas Bowl on Friday.

Franklin said: “Hampshire will be challengers. They have beaten Yorkshire at Headingley, which has been a very hard thing to do in recent years, and they have come here and played a strong game of cricket against us.

“They have made some good additions. It’s looking like a tougher summer - Essex have gone and won at Taunton, Lancs were under the cosh on day one and have probably ended up on the stronger side of that game.

“It’s going to be a very tough division to win this year.”

Hampshire began the final day aiming to start the season with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2004.

An outstanding first six overs with the second new ball gave them a chance.

But a ninth-wicket partnership of 37 and an unbroken tenth-wicket stand of 27 saw the champions reach 278-9, a lead of 195, when hands were shaken at 4.50pm, with a possible 24 overs remaining.

Middlesex began the final day on 111-4 and lost only nightwatchman Steve Finn, caught at mid-wicket following after trying to fend off a short ball from Brad Wheal, during the morning session.

But Hampshire took three wickets for one run with the new cherry.

Abbott struck twice in three overs to see off Adam Voges and Middlesex captain James Franklin.

Voges (92) edged an attempted cut against the third delivery with the new ball and left-hander Franklin, who tried to play defensively on the back foot, got a thick edge to Jimmy Adams at second slip to a ball angled across him.

There had been no addition to the score when Gareth Berg, bowling from the Hotel End, found some extra bounce outside the off stump to make the next breakthrough with a beauty that the left-handed John Simpson nicked to McManus.

A diving catch by Jimmy Adams at mid-wicket gave Hampshire faint hope after Toby Roland-Jones miscued a pull against Wheal.

But tenth-wicket pair Ollie Rayner and Tim Murtagh ensured Middlesex have not lost since September 2015.