Hampshire need to lift Championship game
Last year4th, CC Div 2; Lost in semi-final, FLt20; Lost in semi-final, YB40.
2013 in a nutshellAfter winning four trophies in four years, for Hampshire to end a season empty-handed was something of a disappointment. Their limited-overs cricket remained impressive, however. No team lost fewer games in the FLt20 - their semi-final defeat was only their second loss in the campaign with Michael Carberry, with four 50s and a hundred, prolific throughout - and they also finished top of their YB40 group, only to lose to Glamorgan at the semifinal stage. Again Carberry was prolific, with Jimmy Adams also enjoying an excellent competition.
Only in the Championship was their form disappointing. While the batting remained reliable, with both Liam Dawson and James Vince passing 1,000 runs, the bowling lacked bite and was overly reliant on James Tomlinson. On pitches offering them little, the seamers David Balcombe and Chris Wood endured a tough season, while Danny Briggs' spin continued to look more suited to limited-overs cricket. He was the most economical of any bowler to deliver more than 40 overs in the FLt20, but his strike-rate in the championship left Hampshire looking toothless at times. For a club of Hampshire's ambition and resources to finish mid-table in the second division and spend another season fighting for promotion will sting.
2014 prospectsWhile a couple of prominent senior players - Dimitri Mascarenhas and Neil McKenzie - have departed and will be missed, Hampshire have underlined their ambition by strengthening in the off-season. Matt Coles, who has joined from Kent, and Kyle Abbott, a South African quick who is the primary overseas player, should add some bite with the ball, while Will Smith, who has arrived from Durham, will add some experience with the bat. Glenn Maxwell will join them for the T20 Blast.
With Carberry unlikely to retain a place in the Test side, it may well prove that Hampshire are largely unsettled by England call-ups and will enjoy the benefit of a settled line-up. The spin bowling still looks one potential area of concern, but with an experienced opening pair anything less than promotion will be a disappointment and there is no reason why they should not continue to push for limited-overs success.
The challenge off the pitch remains just as important. The building of a hotel - which will also contain the new media facilities - has run into yet more trouble and, at the time of writing, there remains doubt whether it will be ready for the Test against India.
Key playerA great deal is expected of Kyle Abbott. The 26-year-old South African seamer has signed for most of the season with the hope that he will add potency to the bowling attack. He may well: he has an exceptional first-class record and something of a point to prove having earned his way to the fringes of the national side. But he has never experienced anything like the volume of cricket he will face in England and, at some stage, could be recalled by Cricket South Africa with a view to managing his workload.
Bright young thingJames Vince is fast developing into one of the most exciting prospects in the English game. As the national side looks to rebuild, he could well find himself involved in any of the formats, though it was his first-class batting that excelled in 2013. He not only scored heavily - passing 1,000 Championship runs for the first time - but scored at such a rate - 64.16 runs per 100 balls in the Championship - that his side were given more time to bowl out the opposition. He is not the finished article and may have to curb some of the looseness if he is to prosper at the highest level, but, at 23, Vince has the class and the range of stroke to suggest he could be a valuable player for Hampshire and England for much of the next decade.
Captain/coachDale Benkenstein has joined the club from Durham, where he did a fine job, as first team coach. Giles White remains as director of cricket role and will oversee cricket at all levels throughout the club. Jimmy Adams continues as captain, with Vince promoted to vice-captain.
ESPNcricinfo verdictHampshire are strong promotion candidates and contenders in both limited-overs competitions. But doubts remain about the depth of the bowling attack - particularly the spin bowling attack - which could remain an issue in the Championship.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo