It may well be that when we reflect on the Rod Bransgrove era at Hampshire County Cricket Club, we consider it one of the most prolific of the club’s proud 152-year history.
Since his appointment as Chairman in 2000, Hampshire have won the List A competition – in its various guises – three times, and the t20 trophy twice.
And while “Success in one day cricket is non-negotiable” around these parts, as all-rounder Chris Wood told us in his first blog of the new season, Hampshire proved their Championship pedigree last year by securing the Division Two title, following a nail-biting victory at Glamorgan in the final game of the season.
Jimmy Adams’s men won seven and lost just once in Division Two last year, with James Vince the highest run scorer across both divisions with 1,525 runs. And after a careful winter recruitment policy headed up by Director of Cricket Giles White, Hampshire will feel they can more than just survive in Division One this year.
Bowlers Jackson Bird, Yasir Arafat, Andre Adams, and Fidel Edwards have all been signed for stints this season, while all-rounder Gareth Berg joined following Matt Coles surprise return to Kent. Bowling, as always, is the discipline Hampshire worry about most, but if this eclectic mix can gel, this squad will be a threat in all forms of the game.
Their batting meanwhile looks as competitive as ever. Owais Shah will return for his second year at the Ageas Bowl in the t20 Blast, while the likes of James Vince and Michael Carberry have already registered first-class hundreds this season against the nominal challenge of Loughborough MCCU.
It all augurs well for a good campaign for Hampshire. Rod Bransgrove will hope to add the County Championship to his list of achievements while serving this club. As Hampshire continues to be overlooked for an Ashes Test, the Division One title could be the next best thing.
Ins: Andre Adams (Nottinghamshire, available for the first three months of the season as player-coach), Yasir Arafat (Sussex, available for the Royal London One Day Cup and NatWest t20 Blast), Gareth Berg (Middlesex), Jackson Bird (Overseas, available for the first three months of the season, across all formats), Fidel Edwards (KolPak contract, available from 27 July 2015 across all formats)
Outs: David Balcombe (Surrey), Matt Coles (Kent), Michael Bates and Ruel Brathwaite (both released)
The key question about Hampshire’s key player this season is, just how much will he actually play for his side this year?
James Vince, the 24-year-old right handed batsman from Sussex, will face the same opposition in Hampshire’s opening match of the season, knowing that this could be a life-changing one personally for him. Already has Vince been named England Lions captain in the past six months. He has now also been made Hampshire’s one day skipper, following his t20 Blast appointment 12 months ago.
It’s clear both Hampshire and England think a great deal about the batsman, whose cover drives are so good
they should be framed and placed in the Tate Modern. For he is a modern cricketer. His career strike rate in List A cricket – a superb 94 – is exactly what England could have done with in the World Cup. Alas they neglected to entertain his name in their squad.
But they cannot afford to ignore it for much longer. If the Lions captaincy is a sign of the ECB’s interest in a player – and it usually is – then Vince will surely be on his way to an England squad before too long. Hampshire will hope they get plenty of runs out of him beforehand.
Player to Watch
Hampshire’s academy might not be as prolific as Yorkshire’s has been at producing England players in recent years, but in Vince, Danny Briggs, Chris Wood, Michael Bates and co. there is a clear success of nurturing youth.
With that group all entering their mid-twenties, focus is switching to the next group along the conveyor belt, and one name that is mentioned often is that of young wicketkeeper-batsman, Tom Alsop.
The 19-year-old left-handed batsman had something of a breakthrough year last year. Having signed a two year deal at the Ageas Bowl at the start of 2014, Alsop then hit a century for England under-19’s against South Africa, form that earned him a call-up to Hampshire’s first-class team at the back-end of the season. And while his returns in the first team were modest, Alsop was part of the XI that secured promotion, and the Division Two crown, in that eventful final game at Cardiff.
Part of the reason the superb glovework of Michael Bates was allowed to leave Hampshire over the winter was because of the calibre of player coming through the ranks at the club – one of which was Alsop. It’s time for Alsop to prove he is worthy of the hype.
Giles White has bulked up his bowling ranks with overseas names this year, with Jackson Bird and ex-West Indies quick, Fidel Edwards signed up for stints in Southampton in 2015.
Tasmanian Bird would have been hoping to impress in England conditions ahead of the Ashes later this summer, but his omission from Cricket Australia’s already-announced squad has put paid to that. Nevertheless, Bird will want to show Australia that he is up to the task if required, in conditions that should suit his ability to extract swing and seam movement.
Fidel Edwards meanwhile is something of a wild card. Spotted by Hampshire’s coaching staff after a blistering spell which yielded 8-40 against Nottinghamshire in a pre-season match in Barbados in March this year, Edwards has been signed up to fill the latter stages of the summer. Edwards, who hasn’t played for the West Indies since 2012, is capable of bowling 90 mph and beyond, has signed on a KolPak contract.
Yasir Arafat, who represented Champions Perth Scorchers alongside Michael Carberry in Australia’s Big Bash competition this year has also joined on a KolPak, and will be available all season in both one day competitions.
How they’ll fare
Hampshire traditionally go into new season’s with high expectations in the one-day competitions, but their return to Division One after a three year absence should see them compete on all fronts in 2015.
It remains to be seen whether Jimmy Adams’s men will compete with heavyweights Yorkshire for the title itself, but Hampshire are coming to the boil nicely. With minimal disruption envisaged this season in terms of overseas availability and England commitments – only James Vince represents any significant flight risk – Hampshire should be able to call on all of their carefully assembled squad in 2015.
Matt Coles has left, but the experienced Gareth Berg has joined from Middlesex, bringing with him a proven pedigree in this division. Kyle Abbott will not return – certainly not for the first half of the season, anyway – but another overseas quick made for English conditions – Jackson Bird – has been recruited. Meanwhile t20 specialist Yasir Arafat has been signed, while Owais Shah is also on board again for another tilt at the NatWest Blast.
Hampshire are traditionally strong with the bat. If the new signings in the bowling department can hit the ground running, complimenting James Tomlinson – last season’s leading wicket taker in Championship cricket – and Chris Wood, the Ageas Bowl outfit could will indeed push for honours, with a tilt at the Championship and a one-day trophy realistic targets for the club.
v Sussex, Sunday 12th April at The Ageas Bowl
Season Odds (via SkyBet)
LV County Championship Division One: 9/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 10/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 6/1