After years of being nearly-men, Hampshire turned around their fortunes in 2018 to emerge with silverware for the first time in six seasons.
Since winning the Pro40 and T20 in 2012, Hampshire have had two defeats in knockout games in List A cricket and four semi-final losses in T20 cricket. That all changed in June as they comfortably beat Kent in the Royal London One-Day Cup final.
It was a deserved result at the end of a campaign they had been excellent in. With five wins from eight matches, they topped the group — and it should have been six wins, but for a failure to chase six runs from two overs against Kent.
There was no such complacency when they met again. It was a commanding performance, building around Rilee Rossouw’s 125 to post the highest ever total in a Lord’s final. Kent were admirable, but couldn’t muster 330, and Hampshire had their tenth one-day trophy.
It’s strange to see the reality of Hampshire’s recent white-ball success. In the early part of this decade, they built a reputation as T20 specialists, but have now won the same number of List A titles as T20 since 2010, and twice as many since 2003.
Whatever perception of T20 domination they once had has now worn off. In the Vitality Blast this season, they seemed to be experiencing the world’s longest hangover to celebrate their One-Day Cup win.
They beat only Middlesex — the worst T20 team in the country — and Gloucestershire to accompany a tie at Essex. Hampshire had the worst run-rate and only Sussex scored fewer runs in the group stage.
It was a dismal display, and one that the club acknowledge. “You look at our history and we’ve been strong,” director of cricket Giles White said after the season’s final day. “I think this year we were poor, our batting didn’t fire – I felt our batting would be our strength – and it didn’t give our spinners enough runs to play with.”
Things were more positive in the Specsavers County Championship. They have teetered on the edge of relegation in every season since their return to Division One four years ago. At least this time it didn’t go down to the final week, with Hampshire securing their safety with a match to spare.
Their survival was largely thanks to Kyle Abbott’s contribution, with the seamer taking 30 wickets in the four matches immediately following the Blast. He suffered an ankle injury that hindered him in June and July, but prospered on his return.
Abbott’s five-wicket-haul at Essex was in vain but he followed that up with a hat-trick at Worcestershire and 11 wickets against Somerset. White was quick to praise the bowling attack speaking on the final day of the season, and it’s easy to see why. Abbott finished the season with 51 scalps and Fidel Edwards with 54, as it was the batsmen who caused their red-ball struggle.
James Vince was the only player to pass 600 Championship runs and while six batsmen did make at least 400, they couldn’t make meaningful, consistent impacts throughout the season. It speaks volumes that Hashim Amla played just five matches and was the club’s third-leading scorer.
That is a topic the club must address in the winter, if more silverware — and fewer nervy late season matches — is to follow this successful season.
SSCC: 5th, Division One
T20 Blast: Group Stage – 8th, South Group
RLODC: Winners – 1st, South Group
SSCC: James Vince, 962 runs
Vitality Blast: James Vince, 527 runs
RLODC: Liam Dawson, 289 runs
SSCC: Fidel Edwards, 54 wickets
Vitality Blast: Chris Wood, 19 wickets – economy 7.61
RLODC: Mason Crane, 15 wickets
Player of the Season
James Vince led from the front with over 1,700 runs this season, many of them timely. His 171 in the Royal London One-Day Cup semi-final saw Hampshire comfortably beat Yorkshire, while a 74 and 147 went a long way towards a Championship victory over Nottinghamshire in August. That century earned him a recall to the Test squad, too. Special mention must go to Abbott and Rossouw, too.
Joe Weatherley notched up his maiden centuries in first-class and List A cricket in 2018 as he continued his impressive rise into county cricket. The 21-year-old hit an unbeaten 105 in the One-Day Cup against Kent before scoring 126 not out at Lancashire in the Championship a month later. He has looked continually more assured since making his first team debut in 2016, and made himself an integral part of the team this season.
Could have done better
Colin Munro failed to provide the explosive power Hampshire expected from him as their T20 overseas. At 26.37, he topped the club’s Blast averages in just eight appearances — highlighting the magnitude of their struggles — and passed fifty only twice, both against bottom side Middlesex. He can hardly be blamed for their dismal campaign but those on the south coast would have wanted more runs from him.
Need to work on
Hampshire had just two opening partnerships that reached 50 — every other partnership except the sixth and tenth (two and none, respectively) had more. Both of those opening stands featured Jimmy Adams, who has now retired. They need better starts from next season’s openers, who are likely to be Joe Weatherley and Oli Soames unless a signing is made.
Already Hampshire have begun planning for 2019. Keith Barker, James Fuller and Aneurin Donald have all joined from Warwickshire, Middlesex and Glamorgan, respectively, on two-year deals. Meanwhile, Reece Topley has been released after three seasons but just 22 games, owing to injuries. Signing an opener may also be an aim.
Winning trophies is the ultimate goal in sport, and Hampshire claimed one of county cricket’s three. A woeful Blast campaign will sting, but they certainly would have taken the One-Day Cup and Division One survival had they been offered it in April.