For a first season in charge, Adrian Birrell demonstrated signs of progressing Hampshire, even if the trophy cabinet remains untouched in 2019.
They were close. For a second straight year, they were finalists in the Royal London One-Day Cup but, unlike 2018, they left Lord’s with defeat. Missing two key players in James Vince and Liam Dawson, Hampshire were outplayed by Somerset.
But the 50-over quality remained, losing just one game in the group. An inability to get over the finish line will frustrate, but they have won five white-ball trophies since their last defeat in a final, in 2007. Those associated with the club will look at this as simply a blip.
Birrell’s big task was to improve performances in the Specsavers County Championship, with a particular need to arrest batting woes of recent seasons. Hampshire finished fourth last season but only avoided relegation in the penultimate week.
They never looked likely to drop this time, albeit with only one team going down, and ended third. But the position in a packed mid-table is largely irrelevant; the performances were much improved, despite a run of six draws and two defeats mid-season.
Four of their batsmen passed 500 Championship runs compared to just two in 2018, although it will be of some dismay that one of the quartet, Rilee Rossouw, is quitting red-ball cricket.
The Vitality Blast once again did not go to plan, although they would have been in the quarter-finals — at the expense of eventual winners Essex — had they beaten previously winless Glamorgan in the final fixture.
But Hampshire finished third in Division One, their best finish in the top tier since 2008. They have not won the Championship since 1973 so this progress will be welcomed on the south coast.
SSCC: 3rd, Division One
Vitality Blast: South Group — 7th
RLODC: Runners-up: South Group — 1st
SSCC: Sam Northeast, 969 runs
Vitality Blast: James Vince, 407 runs
RLODC: James Vince, 509 runs
SSCC: Kyle Abbott, 71 wickets
Vitality Blast: Kyle Abbott, 20 wickets
RLODC: Kyle Abbott, 20 wickets
Player of the Season
If his status as the club’s leading wicket-taker in every competition wasn’t enough, consider his status as the leading wicket-taker in the country across the three competitions in 2019. Kyle Abbott has 271 competitive wickets since joining in 2017, with 182 in the Championship. Yes, the 17-wicket-haul against Somerset went some way to bolstering his tally, but it is that sort of bulldozer-like destruction which makes him so valuable to Hampshire. He missed just one game; talismanic is an understatement.
After making his first-class debut back in 2017, Felix Organ was given a sustained run in the latter half of this season. He was impressive: a century against Kent in his second appearance of 2019, with two subsequent half-centuries against Surrey. Organ, who hails from Sydney, even took five for 25 in the second of those games with his part-time off-spin. The 20-year-old has the capability to grind an innings but also an aggressive mindset, and his displays this season should earn him a regular place next season.
Could have done better
James Fuller did not provide the impact that would have been expected of him. He passed 50 just twice in all competitions and took only 16 wickets — just two in the Blast at an eye-watering economy of 13.33; no one to have bowled more than his six overs conceded more per over. Fuller appeared surplus to requirements in the Blast with Chris Morris around. Gareth Berg’s departure opens the door for more Championship appearances next season, but Fuller will need to do more.
Need to work on
The winless run of eight Championship games between late May and early September prevented any type of title challenge. Skipper Vince played just six red-ball matches, missing six of the barren run, so his increased availability will help in 2020, but Hampshire need to be able to win games without him.
Hampshire used six frontline seamers in the Championship and, with Berg departing, could use another. Losing Rossouw means Hampshire may look to add another batsman, although with Tom Alsop, Aneurin Donald, Joe Weatherley, James Fuller and Oli Soames battling it out for two spots, that might not be necessary. The club are interested in signing Nathan Lyon as an overseas player.
There are still holes, certainly, but Hampshire look a more capable side than last season. Another appearance in the One-Day Cup final is a positive, and they weren’t a million miles away in the other two competitions. More of the same but with improvements, and 2020 could be a successful year.