By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid) & David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu)
Last Season: 10th Division 2. W2 L10 D2.
Last five results: Lost v Warwickshire (H), Lost v Derbyshire (A), Lost v Gloucestershire (H), Lost v Kent (A), Won v Leicestershire (H).
2018 leading run scorer: Chris Cooke, 606 @ 24.2 (0x100, 4x50, HS 69).
2018 top of batting averages: Usman Khawaja, 420 @ 52.2 (3x100, 0x50, HS 126).
2018 leading wicket-taker: Mike Hogan, 45 @ 22.5 (BBI 5-49, BBM 8-102)
2018 top of bowling averages: Tim van ter Gugten, 43 @ 21.8 (BBI 7-42, BBM 8-71)
Glamorgan had big wins in their first and last game of the season. In between, they lost ten of the remaining twelve matches and finished bottom by a distance. While there are some big changes in the backroom staff, the playing staff are largely the same as in 2018, which makes one fear for their chances in 2019. The form of the new Captain, Chris Cooke was one of the biggest worries. When your top run-scorer averages under 25, you know that the team has big issues. In the opening game, against Gloucestershire, centuries for Marsh and Lloyd set up a total of 526-9d and a big win but, even then, a collapse from 51-0 to 67-4, chasing 83, produced more than a few nerves in the closing stages. Lloyd and Marsh managed just two more fifties between them in the rest of the season and just twice more did Glamorgan pass 300.
Glamorgan will be waiting on Shaun Marsh’s fortunes. He is expected to be in the Australian World Cup squad, thus making him unavailable for the first half of the season. Whether or not he is selected in the Ashes squad is less certain. Marsh has dropped out of Test XI but, as a batsman with experience of English conditions, he will be hoping to have one of the batting reserve slots. If Marsh is again unavailable for much of the season, Glamorgan will be scrambling for a replacement who can hold together a flaky batting line-up. Aneurin Donald has rejected a new contract and left for Hampshire, for whom he played on loan after saying that he wanted to leave Cardiff, while Joe Burns, who has only played T20 for Glamorgan, has gone to Lancashire. They are replaced by Billy Root, signed from Nottinghamshire and Queensland batsman, Charlie Hemphrey. While neither is a big-name signing with stellar statistics to back him, both are solid players who management hope will solidify the batting. Two Youth signings join them – Callum Taylor and the delightfully named, Devon-born, Kazi Szymanski – and by MCC Young cricketer, Jamie McIlroy. Szymanski had some impressive 2nd XI performances, while Taylor has come through club cricket and is reckoned to be probably the best player in the South Wales Premier League, although all are on a Development contract and none of the three is expected to be a 1st XI regular this season.
Chris Cooke will have the massive job of being Captain, wicket-keeper, dominant batsman and One Day captain. No new Head Coach has been named since Robert Croft left in mid-October, with Matthew Maynard doing the job on an interim basis and Mark Wallace as Director of Cricket and Hugh Morris dedicating himself exclusively to the position of Chief Executive. It is hard to avoid the sensation that there is some turmoil at Sophia Gardens.
Prediction: Glamorgan are likely to struggle again. Their chances of success may rest on the availability of Shaun Marsh, but anything better than bottom three will require a significant turnaround in fortunes.
Last Season: 5th Division 2. W5 L4 D5.
Last five results: Won v Leicestershire (H), Drew v Middlesex (H), Won v Glamorgan (A), Drew v Northants (H), Won v Derbyshire (A).
2018 leading run scorer: Chris Dent, 851 @ 34.0 (1x100, 4x50, HS 214*).
2018 top of batting averages: Kieran Noema-Barnett, 323 @ 35.9 (0x100, 2x50, HS 73*).
2018 leading wicket-taker: Craig Miles, 56 @ 21.1 (BBI 5-50, BBM 8-90)
2018 top of bowling averages: Ryan Higgins, 48 @ 18.4 (BBI 5-21, BBM 8-54)
There was a moment before rain intervened at Hove on April 29th when Gloucestershire fans could contemplate possibly going top of Division 2, with two wins from three. The season went downhill rapidly from there as a succession of poor first innings performances left the side chasing the game, time and again. Things at Bristol then went from bad to worse as, first, overseas signing Dan Worrall went home injured after just four games, then stalwarts Craig Miles and Liam Norwell announced that they would leave Bristol and head to Birmingham, leading to unhappy fans to dubbing their side “Warwickshire 2nd XI”. Although the signing of Dan Worrall had been preceded by the same scepticism that had met the signing of Michael Klinger initially some years before, he rapidly showed himself to be a fine bowler and a shrewd pick, although all-too-briefly available. With Worrall gone, Liam Norwell injured for all but one game and David Payne and Kieran Noema-Barnett all missing a lot of games through injury, the batting misfiring badly and Captain, Chris Dent, looking as if he were batting with a stick of rhubarb, the season could have disintegrated totally.
However, wins in four of the last seven matches led Gloucestershire to pass from being wooden spoon contenders to their best finish for several seasons and boast more wins than defeats. The reasons for the resurgence were not hard to find: Ryan Higgins and Craig Miles showed some excellent form; Chris Dent produced, at last, huge, match-winning innings and several of the young players such as Ben Charlesworth and Bobby Bracey had their moments. Higgins, a fringe player at Lord’s, had a wonderful season, showing himself to be a destructive bowler and scoring a century – Middlesex fans wondered why they had let him go. And Craig Miles, who has struggled since touring with the England performance squad, signed-off at Bristol with some huge performances. One cannot not mention Kieran Noema-Barnett, who has attained legendary status at Bristol: his roly-poly appearance and an attitude described as “if it were any more laid-back, he’d be asleep”, has endeared him to the fans and, before his crippling injury, he was showing some fine form in organising low-order resistance.
The end of the 2018 season at Bristol has resembled the end of 2011, then, almost all of the first-string attack left. At the end of 2018, Craig Miles and Liam Norwell went to Warwickshire. Kieran Noemi-Barnett returned to New Zealand, accepting a major job offer at home, and although he remains the nominal overseas signing for 2019, Dan Worrall has had such an injury-plagued winter that his chances of a return must be deemed slim and, if fit, may be in the Ashes squad anyway. Gloucestershire’s only signing to replace the losses has been Stuart Whittingham, brought up from Sussex, where he got few chances to bowl much. The fans are hoping that someone will be signed as cover for Worrall but, as yet, there is no news of a replacement.
Prediction: The loss of the majority of the bowling attack from 2018 could be a crippling blow, but there is some optimism around Neville Road given that a group of good, young players are showing their ability. Realistically, repeating the fifth place of 2018 would be a fine result and mid-table would be no disgrace.
Last Season: 5th – Division One: 4W, 5D, 5L
Last Five results: Lost v Lancashire (H), Draw v Yorkshire (A), Win v Somerset (H), Win v Worcestershire (A), Lost v Essex (A)
2018 Leading run scorer: James Vince 1,101 @ 44.04 – (3x100, 2x50, HS: 201*)
2018 Top of the Batting Averages: Hashim Amla 492 runs @ 54.66 ( 2x100, 3x50, HS: 112)
2018 Leading Wicket Taker: Fidel Edwards – 54 wickets @ 26.72 (BBI: 6/50, BBM: 7/112)
2018 Top of the Bowling Averages (min of 10 wickets): Dale Steyn: 30 wickets @ 19.10 (BBI: 5/66, BBM: 7/71)
Hampshire will hope a change at the top will bring much-needed success after a couple of years of disappointment. Indeed, if the Hawks had a walkout tune to the middle, it would ‘The Great Escape’ admittedly last season wasn’t as hairy as 2017 but will still be deemed a failure in the eyes of the Ageas Bowl faithful.
For a team stacked full of international experience, particularly with the ball, it is somewhat baffling that they so severely underachieved in recent years. Fidel Edwards and Kyle Abbott alone have a shed load of test wickets between, while the tweaks provided by Mason Crane (who is looking for a big year in 2019 with an outside chance of an Ashes Call-Up) and Liam Dawson should be enough to take 20-wickets regularly. So often is the case though that they fall short and that is the first issue on the whiteboard of fixes for new coach Adrian Birrell.
Second on that list in big, bold capital letters will be runs on the board, only James Vince came out of last year with any real credit hitting an impressive 1,101 runs as he continues to carry the load for his side. The arrival of Aiden Markram (a late replacement for Sri Lankan Dimuth Karunaratne) should help add some stability, but the likes of Sam Northeast and Rilee Rossouw need to improve on last year’s outlay of 451 and 489 runs respectively. A concern for Birrell’s men is the potential loss of James Vince to Ashes action; the Hampshire Skipper harbours hopes of opening for England in the Ashes and a long spell without the talismanic leader could prove problematic for the Hawks.
Should their bowlers fire though they could yet enjoy a solid season, and a new coach with fresh ideas could turn their fortunes but, I do not expect to see them challenging at the top, expect them to survive (again) but be in for another season of mid-season mediocracy at best.
Spring has sprung (well, sort of) and the cricket season is about to begin, suddenly everything feels right with the world again. Twelve County get underway in the Specsavers County Championship on Friday all daring to dream of a memorable season ahead.
Yorkshire v Essex
Reigning Champions Essex travel north to face Yorkshire at Headingley looking to continue their momentum from last season and get their defence of the title off to a good start.
The White Rose suffered an early season blow losing three front-line bowlers weeks before the season opener. Both David Willey and Liam Plunkett were late call-ups to the IPL and young Ben Coad, who burst onto the scene last summer is a doubt for the season opener with a hip injury. They have also lost the mystery of Adil Rashid, who has become one of a number of players to focus on his white ball career.
They will though, be boosted by the re-arrival of Cheteshwar Pujara, the Indian batsman will have a point to prove ahead of India’s tour of England this summer and he will add much-needed stability to a line-up that was prone to collapse last summer.
It will be interesting to see how the hosts go in the opener with much relying on their senior pros like Adam Lyth, Tim Bresnan and Gary Ballance who will all be looking to get one over their former teammate Anthony McGrath.
For McGrath, who is taking charge of the Eagles for the first time, it is perhaps fitting that it takes place in his old backyard. He will be met by familiar surroundings as he looks to continue where Chris Silverwood left off with victory over Yorkshire. His first squad selection includes new signing Peter Siddle fresh from his Big Bash success with Adelaide Strikers in the Australian summer. Siddle, alongside Wisden Cricketer of the year Jamie Porter, youngster Sam Cook and Simon Harmer will be looking to make use of what is sure to be bowler-friendly conditions on the opening morning after the north of England was hit by horrendous weather in the weeks leading up to the curtain raiser.
The Eagles will have fond memories of playing Yorkshire having completed the double over the White Rose last summer, comprehensively beating them in both encounters. A good start at Headingley will negate any nerves of ‘doing a Middlesex’.
How they line up:
Yorkshire: Ballance ©, Bresnan, Brooks, Coad, Hodd (w/k), Leaning, Lees, Lyth, Pujara, Shaw and Waite.
Essex: Ten Doeschate ©, Foster (w/k), Bopara, Browne, Chopra, Sam Cook, Harmer, Lawrence, Porter, Siddle, Walter, Westley and Wheater
Day one: Early morning drizzle, which will clear and remain dry with highs of 11 degrees
Day two: Clear with sunny intervals with highs of 16 degrees.
Day three: Light rain and breezy, clear in the morning with rain showers in the afternoon with highs of 15 degrees.
Day four: Clear with sunny intervals with highs of 16 degrees.
Hampshire v Worcestershire
Newly promoted Worcestershire will be glad their season opener is away from New Road given the current status of their home of cricket. Instead, they face the tricky looking task of facing new look, Hampshire. The Southampton based club have further strengthened their squad with the arrivals of Hashim Amla and Sam Northeast – both of whom are in line to make their Hampshire debuts at the Ageas Bowl tomorrow.
Amla joins up with plenty of familiar faces with a smattering of South Africans amongst the Hampshire ranks with Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott also in the squad to face the Pears. It is a squad packed with international pedigree with Fidel Edwards, James Vince and Liam Dawson all set to feature in the season opener.
Despite the strength in depth of this Hampshire side, Hampshire coach Craig White was quick to remind his players that there are no easy games in Division One ahead of their clash with their newly promoted visitors.
“ The Competition is extremely strong and Division One cricket is fantastic cricket with some very good teams out there – we’re aware of the challenges Worcestershire present us with and we’re not taking them lightly”. White told Ageasbowl.com.
Worcestershire will have to brush off a 14-year Ageas Bowl hoodoo if they are to get off to a dream start in Division One having snuck promotion back to the top flight on the final day of the County season last year.
New coach Kevin Sharp is feeling confident ahead of the County Season though after taking over the reigns at New Road. He has made some shrewd winter signings and has urged his side to play fearless cricket. It is a motto that served Essex well last season as they took everyone by surprise if the Pears can be half as successful as the Eagles were last year they’ll be happy.
The arrival of Travis Head will bolster their batting ten-fold, although he is more known for his white-ball career, Head will offer some much-needed aggression down the order for the visitors as they look to attack a talented, but ageing looking Hampshire bowling attack.
Joe Leach is a wiley cricketer and he is sure to find seam movement on a pitch that will offer plenty early season. He and the experienced Steve Magoffin will play a huge role in deciding how their return to the top flight goes over the next four days.
And Leach has reiterated his excitement of pitting his wits against the international stars that ply their trade in Division One Cricket.
“We are raring to go and can’t wait. It’s been a long winter and we’ve been back from tour (in Abu Dhabi) for three weeks so we are all ready to go.
We want to test ourselves against people like Hashim Amla and, looking at the release dates of the England players as well, it looks like we will be facing all of them and that’s what we want to be in the top flight for.
We need to go toe to toe with these guys and hopefully beat them and that’s how the group is going to go from strength to strength now.” He told WCCC.co.uk.
How they line up:
Hampshire: Vince ©, Adams, Wood, Dawson, Berg, Amla, Northeast, McManus, Rossouw, Weatherley, Wheal, Edwards and Abbott.
Worcestershire: Not yet announced
Day One: Light cloud with highs of 13 degrees.
Day Two: Sunny intervals with highs of 15 degrees.
Day Three: Light cloud with highs of 13 degrees.
Day Four: Sunny intervals with highs of 15 degrees.
Lancashire v Nottinghamshire
Fellow newly-promoted Nottinghamshire face a trip to Old Trafford to tackle Lancashire in a clash of Test Ground playing counties.
Despite being newcomers many are expecting Nottinghamshire to fair well on their return to the top flight with a number of experienced heads mixed in with some young up and coming talents it feasible that the Outlaws could repeat Essex’s heroics from last year.
A look down the team sheet for their opening day encounter with the Red Rose shows just how strong this Midland club is. Opening up with a top three of Chris Nash, Jake Libby and Ross Taylor is enough to send shivers down any opening bowler spine, and the depth in the line-up continues to run deep with the likes of Samit Patel, Steven Mullaney and Rikki Wessels sure to add plenty of runs this season. With the ball, they are blessed with the likes of Mark Footitt, Jake Ball, Luke Fletcher and Harry Gurney it is little wonder why many of tipping them to be the surprise package this summer.
You’d have to think that that bowling attach will cause problems at Old Trafford in April, only a fool would choose not to take the new cherry on the opening morning of this encounter.
Ahead of the clash, new skipper Mullaney has spoken of the excitement of taking to the field as skipper for the first time against his former county but has stressed he doesn’t feel any extra pressure.
“I don’t think that this match and situation being against my old county puts any extra onus on it for me, because it would have been a proud and privileged moment whoever it was going to be against.
This will be my ninth season at Trent Bridge now so I’m firmly an Outlaw, but it will be nice going back and leading the team for the first time at my old ground.
“It actually feels like the first game as Captain has come round quite quickly, especially since Christmas. But I cannot wait to get stuck in at Old Trafford and I’m confident that we have practised really well and are ready to go.” He told TrentBridge.co.uk.
Lancashire, meanwhile, have had a little bit of a reshuffle at Old Trafford in an attempt to freshen up things after an ultimately disappointing end to last season.
The Red Rose have brought a couple of faces from Durham in Graham Onions and Keaton Jennings who have moved slightly south to Manchester. Onions will add an extra layer to the Lancashire attack with his experience sure to add to Glen Chapple’s side’s armoury. Australian overseas recruit Joe Mennie will also add some much-needed craft to what looked like a pretty one-dimensional attack last season.
With the bat, they look strong, with Jennings adding some flair to the top of the order alongside the ever-reliable Haseeb Hameed, who will look for a strong start to the season as Alastair Cook continues to struggle on the international stage. A good first couple of months for either of this pair could see a call-up for the England Test team this summer.
Shiv Chanderpaul and Liam Livingstone are also top quality batsmen. Both will add middle order runs and look to add stability to the side and they will need to be at the top of their game if they are to get the hosts off to a flier against a tricky looking opponent.
This could be the clash of the opening weekend as two top sides clash at Old Trafford. It is difficult to call; you just hope the weather won’t be the winner in this contest.
How they line-up:
Lancashire: Liam Livingstone (C), Tom Bailey, Shiv Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies, Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings, Danny Lamb, Joe Mennie, Graham Onions, Stephen Parry, Matt Parkinson, Dane Vilas
Nottinghamshire: Libby, Nash, Mullaney ©, Footitt, Wessels, Gurney, Wood, Fletcher, Patel, Taylor, Moores, Ball and Root.
Day one: Light rain with highs of 11 degrees.
Day Two: Light clouds with highs of 16 degrees.
Day Three: Light rain with highs of 15 degrees.
Day Four: Cloudy with highs of 16 degrees.
Warwickshire v Sussex:
The season is set to begin with a bang at Edgbaston, as the two hotly tipped teams for promotion face off in their first fixture. I suspect as with most games in the early season, Sussex may choose for an uncontested toss to get an early go at movement off the pitch. Both teams’ pre-season matches were disrupted by the weather, so there may be a few batsmen a bit uncomfortable with batting first. Look out for Olly Stone, the fast bowler played the 2nd half of last season after a nasty injury, but will be all the better after his first full pre-season with Warwickshire. For Sussex, it will be fascinating to see if Division Two top run-scorer from last year, Luke Wells, can repeat his magic performances, with a big test expected at Edgbaston.
How they line-up:
Warwickshire 14-man squad: Jeetan Patel, Tim Ambrose, Keith Barker, Ian Bell, Henry Brookes, Sam Hain, Adam Hose, Matthew Lamb, Will Rhodes, Dominic Sibley, Ryan Sidebottom, Olly Stone, Jonathan Trott, Chris Wright.
Sussex 13-man squad: Ben Brown, Will Beer, Michael Burgess, Harry Finch, Ollie Robinson, Phil Salt, Ishant Sharma, Will Sheffield, Stiaan van Zyl, David Wiese, Luke Wells, Luke Wright.
Jeetan Patel is captain for the first time, as the Bears look to put last season behind them. All-rounder Will Rhodes is in the match squad and could make his debut after his move from Yorkshire. Sussex also have a new club captain, as Ben Brown takes over the reins on a permeant basis from Luke Wright. Indian international pace bowler Ishant Sharma could make his debut for Sussex.
Cloudy and mild, with a chance of sunny spells later on in the match on Sunday and Monday.
Kent v Gloucestershire:
The first round of matches in 2017 also threw up this fixture. Gloucestershire will hope that history does not repeat itself, as Kent won by 334 runs, bowling out Gloucestershire for 149 and 61.
Kent have reinforced shrewdly during the off-season and have named three new signings in their 13-man squad: South Africa Test batsman Heino Kuhn, Harry Podmore (recently signed from Middlesex) and New Zealand international Matt Henry. Claydon and Tredwell are injured. They will make a late decision on the final XI, weighing different pace options, aiming to find the best balance.
Gloucestershire have decided to experiment with their batting order. Having opened in recent seasons with Klinger and then with Bancroft, 2018 will see Benny Howell move up from the middle order to accompany new captain, Chris Dent, with Gareth Roderick taking over the gloves. Australian paceman Worrall is expected to debut while new signing from Middlesex, Ryan Higgins is likely to make a debut. With Norwell and Payne injured, Gloucestershire will have some interesting decisions to make on the balance of the side.
Kent were on the fringes of the promotion race last season and finished fifth one place, but 28 points ahead of Gloucestershire. They will hope for another good start to the season to start the challenge for a long-overdue promotion, while Gloucestershire will hope that their re-jigged batting is more solid than it was in 2017.
How they line up:
Kent: Joe Denly (c), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Sean Dickson, Heino Kuhn, Zak Crawley, Darren Stevens, Will Gidman, Adam Rouse (wk), Calum Haggett, Grant Stewart, Matt Henry, Harry Podmore, Ivan Thomas
Gloucestershire - Dent (c), Howell, Roderick (wk), Bracey, J.Taylor, van Buuren, Higgins, Noema-Barnett, Miles, Worrall, M.Taylor, Liddle, Hankins
Weather Watch: Fair and dry with a good chance of sunny spells throughout the match.
Middlesex v Northants:
Middlesex will give a debut to Australian, Hilton Cartwright. Middlesex have captain Dawid Malan rested and Nick Gubbins and Eoin Morgan injured. Sam Robson will captain and Paul Stirling has been added to the squad named for the match against Durham UCCE. Northants announce a twelve-man squad and include former Middlesex players Adam Rossington and Steven Crook. New Zealand Test player Doug Bracewell, signed for the first four Championship matches, will debut.
This interesting fixture features two sides that feel that they should not be in Division 2. Middlesex were extremely unhappy about the circumstances of their relegation, Northants were also unhappy to miss-out due to a points deduction for slow overrate that was also suffered in strange circumstances.
In 2011, the last time these two sides met in Division 2, both sides were both in contention for promotion in the final round of matches. Middlesex ended-up going up as winners of Division 2 and, despite being runaway leaders for much of the season, Northants missed-out narrowly to fast-finishing Surrey. Word inside the Middlesex camp is that immediate promotion back to Division 1 is their minimum aim for the season, while Northants will hope to make a point against a promotion rival. This fixture is likely to offer a pointer towards the prospects of both to play in Division One in 2019
How they line up:
Middlesex – Sam Robson (captain), Tom Barber, Hilton Cartwright, Stephen Eskinazi, James Harris, Tom Helm, Max Holden, Tim Murtagh, Ollie Rayner, Toby Roland-Jones, John Simpson (wicket-keeper), Paul Stirling, Robbie White
Northants – Wakely ©, Proctor, Levi, Rossington, Cobb, Keogh, Crook, Bracewell, Hutton, Gleeson, Sanderson, Newton
Weather watch: Dry and mild for large spells, with sunny spells on the final days play on Monday.
Division One previews by David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu)
Warwickshire v Sussex by Harry Hill (@HarryHill96)
Middlesex v Northants & Kent v Gloucestershire by Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
By Hector Cappelletti
Where? The Ageas Bowl, Southampton
Ins: Chris Sole (YTH), Sam Northeast (Kent), Hashim Amla (SA, 3-month deal)
Outs: Michael Carberry (Leicestershire), Will Smith (Durham)
Key man: Hashim Amla
Last Year: County Championship: 5th, RLODC: 6th, T20 Blast: S/F
2018 Odds: County Championship: 7/1, RLODC: 11/1, T20: N/A - Odds powered by Oddschecker.com
Twelve months on and the smell still lingers. If anything it has become stronger. Hampshire continues to be the Grinch that keeps on grinching. Post copping plenty of scorn for the demotion of Durham and the whole Kolpak farrago little has changed in terms of cause celebres in the intervening period. The club managed to dodge the relegation bullet again at the conclusion of the 2017 summer, reigning champions Middlesex dropping to the second division instead, before a winter of discontent.
Limited overs skipper James Vince was surprisingly included in the Ashes party and for almost four hours and eighty-three glorious runs, it appeared as if the West Sussex native was set to fulfil his promising potential and become the mirror image of David Gower. The calamitous run out which followed was arguably a metaphor for England’s chances and Vince regressed back to the norm, each edged drive to the slips provoking further howls of derision. Liam Dawson last winter, James Vince this and Mason Crane’s ignominious debut amid much trumpeting of his abilities seemed to provide further grist to the mill against Hampshire.
Once the England issues had subsided the non-award of an Ashes test to the ‘Bransgrove Bowl’ stirred the pot whilst Reece Topley’s decision to concentrate on white ball cricket (a sensible choice bearing in mind his injury woes) added further fuel to the fire. The club then had the temerity to deny the remainder of the first division in the chase for Sam Northeast’s signature, a boon for the club but most cricket fans will likely be less than enamoured that he has signed for Hampshire. Only signing Morne Morkel as a Kolpak player would make things worse.
On the field of play, the season undertook a rather schizophrenic sojourn. Three early Championship victories, with Kyle Abbott to the fore, prompted thoughts of a potential title challenge but as the season ventured through its fragmented median the victories dried up and only a last day ‘they shall not pass’ resistance at Edgbaston maintained the county’s top-flight status. The Royal London Cup proved a particularly damp squib but the combination of Shahid Afridi and Mason Crane, a leg-spin student and master scenario, contributed to a seventh Finals Day appearance in eight years, although the almost annual exit at the semi-final stage proved particularly disappointing.
The club, of course, carries on regardless and six weeks prior to the genesis of the new season the announcement of Hashim Amla’s signing proved invigorating. Truly world class performers are few and far between in the modern day County Championship so the prospect of the South African anchoring the batting order proves mouth-watering, if only for three months. Amla’s signing does not bode well for long-time servant Jimmy Adams or promising academy graduate Tom Alsop though. With the likes of Rilee Rossouw, James Vince, Liam Dawson, Sean Ervine, Sam Northeast and Amla forming the top six opportunities look limited for the two batsmen. Alsop may well look for pastures new to further his career but one ponders whether Adams’ long tenure at the club has reached its conclusion, a sad loss whatever the outcome. The club also said goodbye to another long-time servant in Michael Carberry as the stylish left-handed opener moved to Leicestershire to become the club’s captain.
Amla’s three-month residence at the Ageas Bowl dictates that Hampshire will need to take advantage of his presence considering the nosedive the four-day team undertook once the limited overs play began last summer. If Hampshire can avoid such a scenario again this year then a Championship challenge is not out of the question. Fifty-over cricket remains something of an enigma for the team, the club has only progressed from the group stages twice in the last five seasons, but one suspects that the T20 Blast will provide the main white ball focus, such is Hampshire’s success in recent times. Much will depend on whether Mason Crane’s discombobulated cricketing brain can be unscrambled. Post his Ashes baptism of fire the young leg-spinner appeared all at sea during the disastrous Lions tour to the Caribbean as his bowling appeared to be unravelling. No overseas signing has been announced for the Blast and one suspects that the club need to look elsewhere as signing the ageing Afridi again could prove one season too many.
One cannot deny that the general ambience toward Hampshire remains as hostile as ever, and may well have worsened over the winter, but one feels that the club could capture some silverware this summer. Kyle Abbott aside, the bowling attack remains light though and one wonders how long the evergreen Gareth Berg can keep performing at the highest levels in domestic cricket but the presence of a vastly improved batting line-up offers the strongest top six that the club has been able to call upon for many a summer. One hopes that the difficult winters endured by Messrs Vince and Crane can be filed away by the respective players as they will have major parts to play during the summer.
County Championship: 4th
Royal London Cup: 5th
T20 Blast: Champions (being optimistic!)
You can follow Hector on Twitter @YahoooverCC
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