August 21, 2008

Big name needed to fill big boots

Hampshire have struggled since the departure of Shane Warne and need to focus on young local talent

Shane Warne has left a hole in Hampshire © Getty Images

No county can have experienced such contrasting fortunes on and off the field this season as Hampshire. There, on the outskirts of Southampton, stands a stadium which will host Test cricket in 2011, a venue much praised after Twenty20 finals day for its improved pitches and preparedness to build a second access road that will be necessary on the big match days the club will be looking to stage in the future.

The Rose Bowl has the wealthiest chairman in the country in Rod Bransgrove and the most innovative marketing director in Stuart Robertson. It is purpose-built for concerts. Neil Diamond played there this summer and the club is after the Rolling Stones for next year. Throw into the mix an expanded golf course, new hotel and roofs on the stands and it is not hard to see why this is indeed the most futuristic of grounds. In addition, Hampshire can now boast the new England captain. True, Kevin Pietersen will not be playing for them very often but they will be looking to utilise his fame in a promotional capacity.

On the field, it is a different story. Hampshire have struggled all season in the County Championship. Last week they dispensed with their coach, Paul Terry, an unassuming man who is about as quiet as Iain Duncan Smith. Initially, they did not issue a press statement and the news was announced by Kevan James, his old colleague who now works for a local radio station. Like Jimmy Cook before him, he will slip away quietly, although after a few days off he will be staying until the end of the season.

While Shane Warne was at the club, any weaknesses in Terry's coaching attributes were well masked. And this, of course, has been the sticking point this season. The club has not been able to cope with the departure of a captain whose sheer ability, charisma and will to win have been - and will continue to be - irreplaceable.

Here is a small, personal story of the amount of the generosity of Warne, despite the fact that the demands on his time must have been greater than on any other cricketer. Last summer, my younger son played in the same junior side at Hursley Cricket Club in Hampshire as the son of the man who supervised all Warne's removals in England. He suggested that Warne would be happy to give the two boys, both budding slow bowlers, some tuition at the Rose Bowl. Alas, there was a breakdown in communications: at the appointed hour, neither removals man nor the master spinner were present. This was through no fault of Warne's. When I caught up with him, he was extremely contrite and immediately set up a session in the indoor nets on another day. "Spin it up, spinner," was his key phrase - as it always was to Shaun Udal - and needless to say, after half an hour of Warne's tutelage, my son is an unabashed admirer. Even his sledging of opponents could almost be forgiven.

One task the next incumbent should address is nurturing some more Hampshire-born cricketers. Trawl through the present side and there are representatives from Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Australia via Greece, Lancashire, Surrey, Yorkshire and, of course, in Pietersen's case, Pietermaritzburg

The one other person who had that aura about him was Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie - Ingleby-MacCrackers to Private Eye - who turned Hampshire into a Championship-winning side, something Warne could not achieve, and he, alas, is no longer with us. So the club have a dilemma. Their best remaining player, Pietersen, is not appearing for them. They made a considerable mistake in allowing to Udal to depart in the winter, admittedly at a time when it was thought Warne would be returning this summer, and could, perhaps, have done more to prevent James Bruce from retiring at a time when he was entering the age range, 28 to 32, which John Snow regards as the peak years for a fast bowler. It would be galling to see him join Gloucestershire, who would like him to play for them.

What with that, the inevitable injury to Shane Bond and the fact that Shane Watson did not fulfil his role as overseas player, it is no surprise that the club has decreed its overseas signing for 2009 must be a big name. "The difficulty is finding someone for the whole summer, especially with IPL and ICL going on," said Tim Tremlett, the director of cricket. Bransgrove, for one, will not wish to preside over second division cricket in a first division stadium. Chris Adams, who did not exactly hit it off with Warne with his Sussex side played Hampshire, has been proposed as the kind of purposeful, vibrant cricket manager who would benefit the club, although Tremlett says it is 'unlikely' he will be appointed. Other names will be mooted.

One task the next incumbent should address is nurturing some more Hampshire-born cricketers. Trawl through the present side and there are representatives from Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Australia via Greece, Lancashire, Surrey, Yorkshire and, of course, in Pietersen's case, Pietermaritzburg. Not too many from John Arlott's Alresford.

So it is important that the next generation of cricketers who should emerge from the club's academy - in particular Liam Dawson, the highly promising left arm spinner and batsman, James Vince, a batsman, Michael Bates, a batsman-wicketkeeper and Danny Briggs, another left arm spinner who has represented England Under-17s, come to prominence. Somehow the club has to atone for the departure of Warne, but it is going to be mighty difficult. Watch out for a big name signing.