County previews: Hampshire March 30, 2017

Hampshire's reprieve can bring upturn in fortune

ESPNcricinfo previews Hampshire's prospects for the 2017 season
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Reece Topley will be hoping for better injury fortune © Getty Images

Last season:
Championship: 8th Div 1 (avoided relegation thanks to Durham's ECB sanction); NatWest Blast: 8th South Group; Royal London Cup: 5th South Group
In: Kyle Abbott (Kolpak), Rilee Rossouw (Kolpak), Asher Hart (Durham), Fraser Hay
Out: Adam Wheater (Essex), James Tomlinson, Andy Carter, Gareth Andrew (all retired), Tino Best, Yasir Arafat, Joe Weatherley (Kent, season's loan), Ryan McLaren (Lancashire)
Overseas: George Bailey

2016 in a nutshell
Desperately disappointing. Unable to progress beyond the group stages in either white ball competition (only Somerset won fewer T20 games in either division; a huge disappointment for a team which had made Finals Day every year since 2010). Hampshire were also only reprieved from Championship relegation by Durham's financial troubles and their consequent demotion; an ironic lifeline for a club which have cost their benefactor, Rod Bransgrove, £10m he knows will never see again. They were hindered by events beyond their control: Michael Carberry (eight Championship matches) was ill; Reece Topley (one Championship match in which he wasn't able to bowl) was injured, as were Fidel Edwards, Chris Wood and Ryan Stevenson, while James Vince (eight Championship matches) was required by England. Bowling sides out was desperately tough. Ryan McLaren took the most wickets, a modest 32, but they cost him 38.81 a time. And, while the batsmen found form as the season progressed, only Sean Ervine made 1,000 Championship runs.

2017 prospects
A combination of recruitments and returns means Hampshire go into the season with realistic hopes of a sharp improvement in fortunes. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Kolpak registrations, the addition of Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw strengthens Hampshire considerably. The return of Topley, Carberry, Edwards and Vince, alongside the addition of Bailey, effectively provides a new spine to the team. They should prove especially competitive in white ball cricket, where Rossouw and Topley may prove especially valuable, but with much greater strength in depth, improvement in the Championship is also well within their grasp. There have been departures, though, with McLaren's all-round contributions a substantial loss and Adam Wheater's return to Essex potentially having some knock-on effects. His replacement, Lewis McManus is not, at this stage, as good a batsman, though he has potential. With depth in batting and variety in bowling, though, Hampshire could be the surprise package of this season.

In charge
While Giles White remains as director of cricket, it is perhaps the appointment of Craig White as head coach that is most relevant. While White took over from Dale Benkenstein midway through the 2016 season, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to shape the team or control the environment at the club and it does seem his more relaxed approach marks a noticeable difference with that of his predecessor. Vince, somewhat jaded by the disappointments of 2016, remains as captain of the white ball teams, but Bailey will lead in the Championship when he is available. Given a bit of luck with fitness, Vince's job should be considerably easier than it was last year.

Key player
Liam Dawson batted at No. 4 for much of the time and delivered more than 300 Championship overs last year. While he may move two or three places down the order this season, his all-round skills will become, in the absence of McLaren, even more vital. He may well be the side's only spinner on early-season wickets and, as a batsman, he has the versatility to defend for hours in red ball cricket and thrash with the best of them in white ball cricket. England may come calling but, when he's available, he will be an important player.

Bright young thing
Mason Crane's development will continue to be watched with great interest. A decent English legspinner is a rarity in itself, but one good enough to earn a game for New South Wales is pretty extraordinary. He endured a tough season in 2016, but such things are probably to be expected for a teenage legspinner and he recently enjoyed a starring performance for The South on the pre-season trip to the UAE. His most immediate worry may simply be finding a place in the side. With Dawson likely to cope with the spin demands in the opening weeks and the reduced Championship schedule cramming a disproportionate number of games into the early weeks of the season (Hampshire play five Championship matches before the end of May), Crane may not always have the opportunity he requires. Tom Alsop is another worth keeping an eye upon.

ESPNcricinfo verdict
The bookies consider Hampshire one of the favourites to suffer relegation but, with what amounts to half a new team available to them, they should fare considerably better. Life in Division One is likely to continue to prove competitive and Hampshire have a tough start, playing the champions, Middlesex, and Yorkshire twice within their first three games, but if they can get off to a decent start and build confidence, they have the talent to compete towards the top of the table. They should be competing in the white ball formats, too. It should be a much-improved season.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship: 12-1; NatWest Blast 10-1; Royal London Cup 9-1

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan37333074 on April 3, 2017, 20:29 GMT

    Hampshire still have some very good youn english talent coming through with the likes of crane, Mcmanus, Taylor, alsop, weatherly, hart and wheal who qualifies for england i think. Ultimatley cricket is a buisness and teams need olayers from other counties and countries to be successful. No team will ever produce a side of 11 home grown players to be successful

  • Whatsgoinoffoutthere on April 1, 2017, 23:38 GMT

    I can't see Ryan McLaren as a massive loss: it may be a bad season when your best bowler has 32 wickets at just under 39, but when you're paying someone a premium to do a job then you expect more than that. Hampshire should have gone down, they were bad enough to go down and God only knows why they didn't get relegated with Kent replacing them. James Vince's return is unlikely to herald the arrival of a saviour, if historical analyses I've seen of his batting in divisions 1 and 2 are anything to go by. Further, with something like ten or eleven of their players having come from other counties or via overseas/Kolpak signings, it's hard to see how they intend to develop or strengthen their squad without the aid of a cheque book. English cricket at its very, very worst.

  • SquareLegs on March 31, 2017, 9:42 GMT

    I used to quite like Hampshire, but Rod Bransgrove's disgraceful behaviour last season has left a really bad taste. I am probably far from alone in wanting Hampshire to go down in 2017.

  • cricfan37333074 on March 30, 2017, 21:26 GMT

    Watch out for brad wheal this year, exciting young bowler who excelled last year, qualifies for england i think although currently playing for scotland

  • cricfan37333074 on March 30, 2017, 21:25 GMT

    Should be a much better year for us this year! For all those calling us kolpackshire, lots of other counties are doing it too, the only reason we get bad press is cause both our kolpacks are high quality players conpares to some of the others signed and there is definetly a campaign against hampshire

  • cricfan74822000 on March 30, 2017, 19:48 GMT

    It's impossible to feel much goodwill for Hants - one of England's more historic and (hitherto) attractive clubs - because of the combination of their unforeseen good fortune following relegation with Rod Bransgrove's gloating over Durham's demise (in two particularly nasty interviews), and their turning into ''Kolpackshire''. They played some rather bad cricket last season, whereas Durham and Kent played some excellent cricket last season, yet here we are one year later: the latter two languishing in division two; Hampshire in division one!

  • LeeJA on March 30, 2017, 12:51 GMT

    Dawson is a mediocre 4 day spinner...it would be unfortunate for Cranes development to stutter if dawson is selected instead as a main spinner... Dawson is a batsman who can bowl a bit in the longer form, like Ali. Some big players bought in...they look decent on paper...they should expect to do better than last season

  • markatnotts on March 30, 2017, 11:52 GMT

    @ALFERS, Well you have a point to an extent, however shoehorning far too many matches into early season for several years has not helped with spinner development. Notts for example have often only had to play Patel (mainly a batsmen) at home at least for most CC games. Indeed I think it may have been 2014 or 2015 where Notts went from mid July through to early Sept without a home CC game (and not many away).

  • Alfers on March 30, 2017, 11:36 GMT

    @Markatnotts - The strategy comes from the counties and leaves England with no other options. Apart from the bloke who was found to have a suspect action, there were no specialists in county cricket demanding selection.

  • cricfan16714651 on March 30, 2017, 11:03 GMT

    No not all counties have kolpak players i didnt sat that-but they do lead the way

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