No relegation concerns
Two games in and Hampshire have proved that this side will be highly competitive in Division One. Kyle Abbott will surely strike fear into every batting eleven up and down the country. With a whopping 16 Championship wickets at an average of 15.68 after just two games; he has been the catalyst for Hampshire’s remarkable beginning to the season. A win against Yorkshire and a draw at home to the Champions is not a bad way to open your summer account.
Brad Wheal is an exciting prospect with raw pace and a cracking short ball. He is the kind of man that every county side could do with for mopping up a pesky tail. Though he was found wanting when it mattered against Middlesex there is a lot of promise for the 20 year old.
In terms of batting, Hampshire have relentless grit. Michael Carberry has the patience and determination to forge out a mammoth innings as demonstrated this weekend. He is the heartbeat of the south coast side. As for Rilee Roussouw, he played an absolute blinder despite his disappointment on missing out on a first century for his county. Batting with a chipped bone in his finger, he turned on the panache and power.
He was cute with Ollie Raynor to begin with, dinking him round the park with a clever paddle sweep before teeing off and belting him into the stands. The quicks targeted his injured hand. Tim Murtagh and Steve Finn whacked his gloves twice with deliveries that reared up nastily. By the end of the innings he looked in agony. Nearly every shot he played one handed with a wince and yet his innings was pure steely-eyed determination. He fought fire with fire. Punching drives back at Murtagh and lashing at any width on hand. His 99 was the impetus that dragged Hampshire into a winnable position. The unnecessary run-out was perhaps testament of his desire to end his suffering – we can all forgive him for that.
A major talking point from the match has to be the absence of Mason Crane. On a pitch that had turn and a bit of bounce, Hampshire could have done with a bowler that could attack both edges of the bat as opposed to a put-it-on-the-spot type bowler (ie Liam Dawson).
While Hampshire may not openly agree, they almost certainly picked a Fidel Edwards who was far from 100% match fit. He pulled up in just his sixth over of the match, and this misfortune became cruel irony when Hampshire were seemingly one bowler light in their bid to bowl Middlesex out on day four and chase a very gettable target.
Edwards is surely in his final season for Hampshire and at this stage needs to be used more sparingly. Indeed, it could be argued that you only need two of Edwards, Wheal and Gareth Berg in a match eleven. Hampshire will now surely be without their West-Indian fast bowler for a number of weeks.
Perhaps it is a little far-fetched to be discussing a spin duo for a four-day game but come June I wouldn’t be surprised if they were producing a few bunsens to give Dawson and Crane a proper go at causing havoc. (Warkwickshire will be coming to the Ageas Bowl Jeetan Patel-less.
Champions don’t lose
One of the reasons that Middlesex are so hard to beat is that their line up is rather England-esque. They bat all the way down. Some of the shots that Toby Roland-Jones produced were beyond an old fashioned number nine. And while Murtagh arrived at the crease with a horrible Dilshan scoop attempt off Wheal and a few wild, pirouetting heaves, he later frustrated an attack that had lost its spirited gusto.
Middlesex had recovered from 215-8 to 278-9 at the close, pushing their lead beyond a gettable total. When the 8th wicket fell, Hampshire would have been chasing 140 in 50 overs. By tea, they needed 196 with only 26 overs left.
Middlesex weren’t great and so it’s fair to say they got away with one. But their attack is frighteningly good: Stevie Eskinazi scores even when he looks hopeless. Adam Voges on the other hand still oozes that Test class that will see him run amok in the games to come. It’s a good sign when you draw games you should probably have lost.
Odd tactics detrimental to Hampshire’s progress
Hampshire had given themselves a fighting chance of a second straight victory, which would have equaled their number of wins throughout the entire 2016 County championship season. But they really didn’t look like they were desperate to win in certain passages of the game.
Tossing the ball to Dawson and Sean Ervine, who instead of his usual medium pacers was bowling off spin, Hampshire tried to kill off five overs in the lead up to the new ball in the afternoon session on day four.
Considering the fact that Middlesex were leading by over 120 with five wickets in hand, it appeared wasteful to write off a handful of overs.
The same happened in the lead up to tea when Hampshire only required one more wicket before they could start chasing what was an already sizeable target. Soon after Jimmy Adams and Carberry were both turning their arms over to confirm that the game was up.
Hampshire almost allowed the game to lull itself into a comatose state after it felt like the work of the new ball fast bowlers in the middle session was creating a booming crescendo to what had been a fascinating few days.
What was bizarre was the aimlessness of their plans to wangle out the final wicket. Murtagh was given chin music and then when they moved everyone behind square for the catches off a hoick, Wheal bowled length, allowing Murtagh to slap three consecutive fours.
South African’s bring the spice
Vital though his innings was, Carberry could not be accused of attracting bums to seats at the Ageas as he painstakingly compiled his runs on a very dour day’s cricket on Day Two. This was in stark contrast to the delights that awaited spectators on the Sunday afternoon.
Roussow and Abbott produced some spectacular razzmatazz as for a few hours after lunch, the players could well have been wearing coloured trousers amongst a sea of amateur cheerleaders and booming fire cannons.
Abbott had a vintage Trescothick-style punch down the ground that he seemed hell-bent on perfecting throughout his flashy nightwatchman’s knock, while Roussouw made fun of the four day format, with his go for broke swinging and flashy improvisation against Raynor. Middlesex in turn, played their part in a pretty awful fielding display that saw Abbott dropped on 0, 34 and 50. Roussouw was also reprieved when he offered a dolly to cover that was put down.
Though they have only played two games, the ex South African internationals seem to be the engine room of this Hampshire side. The only fears could be that they are slightly too reliant on their brilliance thus far. Without Abbott, they would have lost to Yorkshire last weekend; without Roussouw, Hampshire wouldn’t have got so close to winning their second match on the spin.
By Luke Flannigan