County previews March 31, 2016

Ageing Hampshire need new crop to impress

Mason Crane's development will be closely monitored © Getty Images

Director of cricket Giles White. Head coach: Dale Benkenstein

Captain James Vince

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 7th Div 1; NatWest Blast: Semi-final; Royal London Cup: Quarter-final.

In: Reece Topley.

Out: Danny Briggs (Sussex), Yasir Arafat (Somerset, loan), Basil Akram, Tom Barber, Joe Gatting (all released). Sean Terry (mutual agreement).

Overseas: Ryan McLaren, Shahid Afridi (T20) and Darren Sammy (T20).

2015 in a nutshell

By winning three of their last four Championship matches - including a final day run-chase against Nottinghamshire - Hampshire pulled off a great escape that saw them finish two points above the relegation positions. Before that late run, they had won just once all season. They also made their customary appearance at T20 Finals Day - it was their sixth such appearance in succession - and made it to the quarter-finals of the List A competition.

2016 prospects

This may be a transitional period for Hampshire. With several of their senior players - Jimmy Adams, Gareth Berg and Michael Carberry are 35, Fidel Edwards is 34, James Tomlinson, Will Smith and Sean Ervine are 33, even their overseas players are 33 (McLaren) and 36 (Afridi) - somewhat nearer the end than the start of their careers, the club need to see their younger players progress. Fortunately they do have a decent crop and, in Topley, they have recruited very well. But the next crop of batsmen - Lewis McManus, who scored heavily in pre-season, Tom Alsop and Joe Weatherley - have only four first-class games between them and if they lose Vince to England - and they could well - they look a little vulnerable. They are the bookies' favourites for relegation.

Key player

Liam Dawson may not be the most eye-catching player in the side but, with bat and ball, he will be vital in all formats. Increasingly valued as much for his 'power hitting' as his bowling, he can also block for hours as required in the longer format. His fielding is also excellent. Much will be required from Vince and Adam Wheater, too.

Bright young thing

Mason Crane has only played three first-class games but, such is the excitement over his development, the club were prepared to allow Danny Briggs to leave and some thought he should have been included in England's squad for the UAE. As a leg-spinner with impressive turn and control, he is undoubtedly an exciting talent. But he is also 19. Expectations should be tempered accordingly. Brad Taylor, a 19-year-old off-spinner, may yet prove to have the more serviceable to a county under pressure to avoid relegation.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

The older players appear to offering diminishing returns and it would be a surprise to see them in the top half of the Championship table. Still dangerous in limited-overs formats but a period similar to the days when Crawley, Udal and Warne departed in close succession may loom.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 18/1; NatWest Blast n/a; Royal London Cup 8/1

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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