From the despair of relegation threats to the hope of survival, it seemed as though Hampshire fans were to be treated to Great Escape II, only to be scuppered as they suffered County Championship relegation back to Division Two.
At least that’s what we thought.
The fact that, with one game to go, there was still a chance of survival gives great testament to the men from the South Coast, but with history unable to repeat itself, a season in the lower echelon was set to await before Durham’s punishment from the ECB.
A campaign tinged with draws proved the stumbling block for Hampshire, only losing four of the 16 games in the campaign – one fewer than Lancashire and two better off than Surrey – yet still found themselves in the bottom two.
Three draws against title candidates Middlesex, Warwickshire and Yorkshire suggested a positive start, but confidence was dashed as early as May, bowled out for just 109 in an innings defeat to Lancashire – the side who would finish just above them in the league table.
Wins were no stranger either though, tasting success next time out at the Ageas Bowl as fellow-relegated side Nottinghamshire fell by 69 runs in a nip-tuck four-day encounter.
But with all the work undone by another innings defeat, this time to a Middlesex side who lost three wickets in the match, and suddenly things were not quite looking so rosy down on the coast.
And for the first time in what’s seemed like an eternity, Dale Benkenstein’s side didn’t even have the success of limited-overs competition to fall back on.
Hampshire have almost been as much as a regular as Edgbaston for T20 Finals Day, winning the trophy in 2010 and 2012, part of six consecutive years where they reached the last four stage of the tournament.
However, this year saw them out at the group stage for the first time since 2008 – a heady reminder to their early, unsuccessful days in cricket’s new format. Just four wins were to come from their 14 games, finishing only above Somerset in the South Group, a side they were to beat by 83 runs in a rare highlight.
Royal London One-Day Cup ventures were to prove slightly more successful, completing a second narrow win over Sussex in the season – one run in the Blast followed by five in the 50-over contest – while Glamorgan were also on the end of a 183-run defeat as Hampshire picked up four wins.
However, that coupled with the same number of defeats once again saw them fail to escape the South Group by the tight margin of one point, scant consolation for a county that has seen limited-overs cricket become somewhat of a forte over recent years.
Strong draws against Somerset, Yorkshire and Surrey – against whom they scored 582-9dec – gave them a chance against Durham, and despite boasting a 50-run lead from the first innings, the country’s most northern side chased down 297 with six wickets remaining, and Hampshire were, at that time, sunk.
Michael Carberry was forced to miss cricket action due to his cancer diagnosis. We wish him all the best for the future.
Player of the Season: Sean Ervine
He may have been missing for four games in the County Championship campaign, but Sean Ervine was still able to attain 1,000 runs in the four-day game for the first time in his Hampshire career.
Four centuries, two better than any other Hants man, was just reward for Ervine’s 60+ average, finishing the season in absolutely scintillating form. Two hundreds in the match against Somerset was followed by 80 against Yorkshire, with more to still to come in the form of an unbeaten 158 while trying to save the game, and the season, at Surrey.
And Ervine almost did the impossible, scoring another 50 in the final game against Durham as Hampshire came close to finishing outside of the bottom two.
Breakthrough Player: Brad Wheal
Having impressed after playing just a handful of matches in 2015, we saw more of Wheal this season. The young pace bowler started to capitalise on potential, in an otherwise average season for Hants, and finished the year third highest in the wicket taking table. He took his maiden five wicket haul against Nottinghamshire in August, finishing the match with 6-51 and helping Hants to a victory that – at the time – gave the side some hope.
Could have done better: Will Smith
Despite playing in all 16 Championship games, Will Smith wasn’t able to break the 30 average with the bat at the top of the Hampshire order. The opener was only able to muster one century in his campaign – 210 against Lancashire as stand-in captain – helping his side to a huge first-innings lead.
A division in the lower echelon unfortunately awaits those at the Ageas Bowl, though there’s nothing to suggest a fight to get back is not a possibility. If they can keep hold of Ryan McLaren – resplendent with bat and ball this term – then a huge boost awaits, while Reece Topley’s return from injury will
Need to work on
Consistent inconsistency continued to be a problem for Hampshire. They coupled high-scoring draws with heavy, mostly innings, defeats. Only the completion of the double over Nottinghamshire kept them in with a chance.
LVCC: 8th, Division One
T20 Blast: 8th, South Group
RLODC: 5th, South Group
Leading run scorers:
Leading run-scorers: SSCC: Sean Ervine – 1050 @ 61.76; T20 Blast: Liam Dawson – 299 – SR: 126.16; RLODC: Liam Dawson – 358 @ 71.80
Leading wicket takers:
Leading wicket-takers: SSCC: Ryan McLaren – 32 @ 38.81; T20 Blast: Liam Dawson – 19 – Econ: 6.72; RLODC: Gareth Berg – 11 – Econ: 5.25
Win %: 26.31%
If they can keep hold of Ryan McLaren – resplendent with bat and ball this term – then a huge boost awaits, while Reece Topley’s return from injury will almost have the feel of a new player joining the ranks. Expect a solid performance in white-ball cricket too, but the main aim will be staying in the top division
Trophyless and should-have-been relegated, it doesn’t look fantastic for Hampshire, coming close to a Great Escape for a second season in a row. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, with plans looking secure for next season.