Hampshire are starting 2017 in Division One essentially by default. Relegated after finishing eighth last season, they were saved by Durham’s enforced relegation. And nothing confirms your top-flight status more than an opening round trip to Headingley to face Yorkshire.
County Champions in 2014 and 2015 under Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire are now under the leadership of Andrew Gale, who has moved straight from captain to coach following the Australian’s decision to leave Headingley.
With a raft of England stars and a power-packed lineup, Yorkshire are a daunting prospect for any side – especially on their home ground. But Hampshire head into this one with reason for optimism. An almost fully fit squad, bolstered by some impressive signings, looks ready to make more of an impression on Division One and capitalise on their good fortune of staying up.
Perhaps the main feel-good factor around Hampshire is the return of opener Michael Carberry. The left-hander, who has six Test caps for England, made a century last week on his maiden first class appearance since undergoing treatment on a cancerous tumour.
Carberry’s return to the fold, coupled with the talent of players such as James Vince and Kolpak signings Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott, mean that Hampshire are heading into the season with a spring in their step.
“I’m really excited and the boys can’t wait to get going – we’ve been ready now for a good couple of weeks now,” First Team Coach Craig White said.
“It’s a tough start, but you’ve got to look at it as a real opportunity. We’re going up to win this game and I don’t think there’s going to be any easy games this year – the guys know that and are focused on what lies ahead.”
Yorkshire will be determined to wrestle the Championship crown back from Middlesex after losing out on the final day of last season. As ever, they will enter the campaign as one of the favourites to win it.
New captain Gary Ballance has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal and Yorkshire will be keen to get up and running with a win against Hampshire.
Alex Lees is a consistent performer for Yorkshire at the top of the innings, and provides a solid base with his left-handed partner in crime Adam Lyth. Lees struck 1165 runs in Division One last season, including three centuries.
The might of Yorkshire’s batting ranks still need a platform to build on, and Lees is charged with providing that for the fluent scorers lower down the order.
James Vince deservedly got his crack in the England Test team last summer following a string of impressive performances for Hampshire over a number of years. Unfortunately for the elegant right-hander, it didn’t really happen for him. His seven Tests failed to yield a single half century and an average of just 19.27 saw him miss on out the winter tours.
He is, therefore, a man with a point to prove and will be determined to underline his quality with a strong start to the season. As captain, he will also want to ensure Hampshire fare better than they did last season.
Yorkshire have been denied the use of big names Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid by the ECB, but fellow England stars David Willey and Liam Plunkett were available though not selected in the squad. Ballance will begin his first game as captain, while left-hand pairing of Alex Lees and Adam Lyth will open once again.
Yorkshire squad: Gary Ballance (c), Tim Bresnan, Ben Coad, Peter Handscomb, Andrew Hodd (wk), Jack Leaning, Alex Lees, Adam Lyth, Steven Patterson, Azeem Rafiq, Will Rhodes, Josh Shaw, James Wainman
Hampshire are set to hand first class debuts to South African Kolpak signings Rossouw and Abbott. Liam Dawson was involved with England over the winter and will feature with bat and ball, while leg-spinner Mason Crane may miss out depending on conditions at Headingley.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Kyle Abbott, Jimmy Adams, Gareth Berg, Michael Carberry, Mason Crane, Liam Dawson, Fidel Edwards, Sean Ervine, Lewis McManus (wk), Rilee Rossouw, Brad Wheal
Weather and conditions
After a cloudy start to Friday, the weekend is looking like sunshine throughout, which should be a help to the batsmen. Headingley usually offers a bit of swing, so bowlers will want to make use of the cloud cover on Friday.
Date: 7th – 10th April 2017
Odds (SkyBet): Yorkshire 1/2, Hampshire 13/8