The Ageas Bowl hosts its first Division One game in four years as Sussex visit Hampshire for the opening week of the County Championship season.
Having been relegated from the upper echelon in 2011, Hampshire have languished in the second tier since, but a dramatic final round of fixtures last year saw Jimmy Adams’ side promoted with the honour of being Division Two champions, also.
Recent years have seen promoted teams go down almost as quickly as they grace the stronger league, a theory Hampshire will need to shake off quickly with a high standard of cricket once again expected from those fighting for the Championship crown.
Whilst the Ageas Bowl side may not fall into that category, expectations remain beyond just merely surviving in the division. James Vince continues to go from strength to strength, with his 1525 runs last year the best in the longer format, and he’ll be ably supported by the likes of Michael Carberry and Jimmy Adams with the bat, whilst James Tomlinson and Chris Wood will be looking to get into the Sussex batting unit.
That won’t be an easy task, however. Sussex will be harbouring ambitions of their first title since 2007, and could have the armoury to do so. Ed Joyce and Matt Machan have enjoyed decent World Cup performances over the winter, and alongside former England players Michael Yardy, Luke Wright and Matt Prior, boast one of the strongest yet unassuming middle-orders in the country.
With Tymal Mills and Ajmal Shahzad boosting the bowling ranks over the winter, 20 wickets per match should be a frequent occurrence down at Hove.
Both sides had their opening fixtures of 2014 interrupted by rain, although Sussex were still strong enough to overcome Middlesex by an innings at Hove, whilst Hampshire were forced to settle for a draw with fellow promoted side Worcestershire.
A cliche it may be, but the key to Hampshire’s survival this year will be the ability to take 20 wickets in a match. James Tomlinson may have abandoned his beard, but the talent of the 32-year-old remains, as highlighted by his magnificent six for 48 in the last game of the 2014 campaign, with a spell of sheer brilliance to help his side to the Division Two title. His presence will be a large factor to whether Hampshire can get their season off to a strong start.
Despite batting in just 23 innings out of a possible 32, Ed Joyce enjoyed a fruitful 2014, second in the Division One run-scorers tally behind only Adam Lyth. Seven centuries in the campaign was the best in the division, with an average of 66.57 a remarkable effort from the now 36-year-old. Joyce also impressed the last time the two sides met in four-day cricket at the Ageas Bowl, making a century in the first innings in May 2011.
Hampshire have announced a 12-man squad for this game, but have been dealt a blow with the absences of overseas star Jackson Bird as well as Andre Adams, both due to injury. Gareth Berg, signed from Middlesex, and Brad Wheal could be set for competitive debuts for the Club.
Hampshire squad: Jimmy Adams (captain), Gareth Berg, Danny Briggs, Michael Carberry, Liam Dawson, Sean Ervine, Will Smith, James Tomlinson, James Vince, Brad Wheal, Adam Wheater (wicketkeeper), Chris Wood
Sussex have a welcome problem for the opening game of the season, with the signings of Tymal Mills and Ajmal Shahzad leading to a plethora of fast bowlers at Hove, although Chris Jordan is away on England duty. James Anyon, Lewis Hatchett and Matt Prior are all absent with injuries.
Sussex squad: Ed Joyce (captain), Ben Brown (wicketkeeper), Craig Cachopa, Matt Hobden, Steve Magoffin, Tymal Mills, Chris Nash, Ajmal Shahzad, Luke Wells, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy, Ashir Zaidi
Weather and Conditions
Glorious weather looks set to grace Southampton for the start of the season, with the sun expected across all four days at the Ageas Bowl, with barely a cloud in the sky.
Date: 12th – 15th April 2015
Ground: The Ageas Bowl, Southampton
Umpires: Russell Evans & Alex Wharf
Odds (via SkyBet): Hampshire 20/21, Sussex 20/23
LV County Championship Match Stats (in association with Opta):
- – Sussex have not lost to Hampshire in the Championship since 2005.
- – Steve Magoffin has taken more wickets than anyone else since the start of the 2012 season, taking 192 scalps in that time.
- – James Vince hit the most boundary fours last season, with 225.