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Hampshire's reprieve can bring upturn in fortune

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