Onlookers might wonder whether there is a divine being at Hampshire in the last three years, whisking them away from relegation at the last possible moment. In 2015, they were just two points clear of the drop, while last year they would have fallen from Division One but for Durham’s financial infringement.
This time around, it was their own studious batting on the season’s final day that sent Middlesex down but their previous two innings had put them in deep strife to begin with.
All out for 76 against champions Essex, who won at The Ageas Bowl having been made to follow on, before their failure to take any batting bonus points against Warwickshire – or, indeed, take a first-innings lead against just 188 – left survival in the balance.
It should not have been this difficult. In Kyle Abbott they possess the third leading wicket-taker in the division yet on a Southampton wicket often tough to bowl on beyond the new ball, producing results on home turf proved rare – five of seven matches ended in draws.
Their start was ideal: three wins in the first six games had propelled them to the top but that was it in the way of victories. An innings defeat at Lancashire followed before falling two scalps from beating Somerset in the day/night round.
The break to switch formats in July probably came at the wrong time for them, signing off with a high-scoring draw at The Oval, in which they had been dominant. Three straight Specsavers County Championship games affected, in one way or another, by rainfall came next and prevented positive results; the last of those, at Uxbridge, was almost completely washed out.
By the time it came to hosting Essex, relegation looked an unlikely eventuality. Had the top order conducted themselves with the willow in the manner that James Vince, Ian Holland, and Gareth Berg did to save the game at Edgbaston, perhaps Hampshire would have been looking at the top end of the table rather than the bottom.
Perhaps, too, things may have been different without losing wicketkeeper Lewis McManus and Kolpak Rilee Rossouw in August, both to finger injuries. 2017 also saw them lose batsman Michael Carberry, departing to join Leicestershire – he only played nine Blast matches after that Lancashire defeat.
Last year marked Hampshire’s first Blast group exit since 2008 and their first absence at Finals Day since the following year. Calling this year’s quest a return to dominance would be an overstatement, but a semi-final appearance suggests the bubble hasn’t quite burst.
Three wins from three provided a strong start, but two victories from the next eight matches meant that qualification was not going to be as straightforward as it had initially appeared. Again, it was often complacent batting that made life tricky.
Eventually earning an away quarter-final, Shahid Afridi’s absurd 101 at Derbyshire sent Hampshire to Edgbaston. But Afridi could not replicate his heroics – holing out first ball of the innings – and they succumbed to eventual winners Nottinghamshire.
Since List A cricket shifted back to 50 overs in 2014, Hampshire have escaped the group just once; 2017 was another mediocre campaign, picking up three wins and ending mid-table. Vince’s 178 against Glamorgan was a high point, though it perhaps typifies their year that they still lost that game.
Specsavers County Championship: 5th, Division One
Natwest T20 Blast: Semi-finals (3rd, South Group)
Royal London One-Day Cup: 6th, South Group
SSCC: James Vince, 626 Championship runs
T20 Blast: James Vince, 542 runs
RLODC: James Vince, 463 runs
SSCC: Kyle Abbott, 60 wickets
T20 Blast: Mason Crane, 18 wickets
RLODC: Mason Crane, 14 wickets
Player of the season: In spite of the naysayers, the Kolpak signing of Kyle Abbott has proved to be an inspired one. His lines and lengths were probing and his pace hostile, and he was usually the best bet when his side needed a wicket. He dismantled Yorkshire in the opening fixture, taking seven for 41, and skittled Essex in that home defeat, picking up six for 20.
Breakthrough player: To call all-rounder Ian Holland a Cricket Superstar would be no exaggeration – he won an Australian cricket-based reality series by the name in 2012. Picked up for the club’s second XI in 2015, he made his senior Hampshire debut in 2017 and impressed. Figures of four for 16 with the pink ball represented his best return and although he struck just one fifty in all forms, he showed promise, especially in that final day survival.
Could have done better: 16 Championship wickets at 44.68 does not exactly inspire Test selection, yet Mason Crane will be on his way to Australia later this month. He played just seven games, and while it’s true that playing half of the red-ball season in April and September does little to develop spinners, his performances upon inclusion did not set the world alight.
Need to work on: Consistency, both in cricketing disciplines and – as a direct result – winning matches. It sounds simplistic, but better application with the bat and tighter bowling (home wickets a touch more bowler-friendly might help, too). Doing so regularly this season would have produced plenty more positive outcomes.
What’s next? An opening batsman is desperately needed; Carberry’s exclusion and subsequent departure left a makeshift attempt to fill that gap. Another middle-order batsman may not go amiss, either.
Season rating: A good Blast run and last-gasp Championship survival may well paper over some of the cracks in this Hampshire side. It has more potential than it is currently showing – and the luck won’t last forever.