Hampshire host Somerset at the Ageas Bowl in what could turn out to be a decisive battle in both sides’ efforts to avoid relegation this season.
Somerset leapfrogged Hampshire by recording their second win of the season against Nottinghamshire, and the south coast county remain outside the drop zone at Notts’ expense on fewest defeats. As the season’s halfway point approaches there is still everything to play for, but the psychological benefits of a mid-table position at the end of June could give one of these struggling sides a much-needed boost.
Somerset have largely failed to find adequate replacements for Nick Compton and Craig Kieswetter, who moved to Middlesex and retired through injury respectively. Jim Allenby has turned his season around well, recording important half-centuries in both of Somerset’s County Championship wins after a difficult start. Alex Barrow was dropped after averaging 13 with the bat in six games, and Tom Cooper has endured a horror run in his first season with the club. He has failed to reach even double figures in eight of his last 11 innings, including seven of his last eight.
Hampshire recorded their first win of the season at Hove thanks to a magnificent all-round performance from Gareth Berg and a century from Adam Wheater. They have emerged as the draw specialists so far this season, with four. When these two sides meet again at the County Ground, Taunton in September, the Division One table could look very different for these two teams; but right now, they are prime relegation candidates, so both sides will be fighting hard for the 16 points.
As Hampshire look to build on their maiden first-class win of the season, the contribution of their overseas seamer Jackson Bird will be crucial. Hampshire have drawn four matches this season, and although they have a good batting line-up they have struggled for wickets. Bird claimed five wickets in the victory over Sussex, and his skills and experience could help his side force a result against a troubled Somerset batting line-up.
James Hildreth’s County Championship batting average this season is nearly 17 runs higher than his nearest Somerset colleague, which goes some way to illustrating his importance to the side. When Somerset were beaten by Middlesex at Taunton, Hildreth scored 187 and 86, while captain Marcus Trescothick made 140 and 76. Together, they scored 68% of Somerset’s runs in that match. Hildreth has been spoken of as a possible outside contender for an Ashes spot if Ian Bell’s poor spell continues – but, like his captain, Hildreth appears content to hold the fort for Somerset for now.
Hampshire’s team is weakened in both the batting and bowling departments for this match: limited-overs captain James Vince misses out after being called up by England for the T20I against New Zealand, and Fidel Edwards is away at the Caribbean Premier League. This will provide an opportunity for Liam Dawson to return to the Championship side, while Brad Wheal, James Tomlinson and Chris Wood all vie for a bowling slot.
Hampshire squad: Jimmy Adams (c), Gareth Berg, Jackson Bird, Danny Briggs, Michael Carberry, Liam Dawson, Sean Ervine, Will Smith, Sean Terry, James Tomlinson, Brad Wheal, Adam Wheater (wk), Chris Wood.
Somerset have, for now, given up on Tom Cooper and Alex Barrow, as new signing Michael Bates plays his second four-day game for the club. Max Waller was man of the match in their Twenty20 win over Glamorgan, and is rewarded with a place in the Championship squad if not the team. Both of the Overton twins are available for selection after carrying drinks for England in the ODI series against New Zealand.
Somerset squad: Marcus Trescothick (c), Tom Abell, Jim Allenby, Michael Bates (wk), Lewis Gregory, James Hildreth, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Abdur Rehman, Alfonso Thomas, Peter Trego, Max Waller
Weather and conditions
Rain is expected overnight between days one and two, but otherwise temperatures should be pleasant and although there will be clouds, sunny spells will never be too far away.
Date: 21-24 June 2015
Time: 11:00 am
Ground: Ageas Bowl
Umpires: Neil Bainton and Martin Saggers
Odds (SkyBet): Hampshire 4/5, Somerset 10/11