2021 was very much the season of near misses for Hampshire: narrowly missing out on qualification to the latter stages of the Royal London One-Day Cup, somehow throwing away a strong position against Somerset to crash out in the semi-finals of the T20 Blast, and most painfully, missing out on a first County Championship title since 1973 by just one wicket with a defeat against Lancashire in Liverpool. As the Championship returns to a more traditional format this year, they will once again be setting their sights on that elusive trophy.
Unfortunately, pre-season friendlies last week against Gloucestershire and Worcestershire have done little to suggest Hampshire have the kind of established batting line-up required to mount a serious title push. Over the course of four days of cricket, only Felix Organ managed to pass 50, although there were encouraging signs from new wicket-keeper batsman Ben Brown, recruited from Sussex over the winter. He will now have a major role to play with Tom Alsop going the other way on a season-long loan. Seasoned pros such as Nick Gubbins and James Vince will shoulder a large part of the burden as far as runs are concerned.
Vince, who along with all-rounder Liam Dawson and leg-spinner Mason Crane have just signed a new contract, is about to begin his 8th season as Hampshire captain. The red-ball trophy remains the only piece of major silverware on the domestic circuit he is yet to get his hands on. He will once again be looking to the overseas duo of Kyle Abbott and the returning Mohammad Abbas to provide the impetus with the ball and will hope that Brad Wheal can build on a promising campaign last year. Players’ player of the year Keith Barker will once again offer consistency as well as useful lower-order runs, while Crane will be looking to play a more consistent role after taking 23 wickets in 6 First Class games in 2021.
After returning to T20 Finals Day in 2021 for the first time since 2017, more white-ball success this summer feels like a distinct possibility. The signing from Worcestershire of the dangerous Ross Whiteley, who impressed for the Southern Brave in last year’s inaugural edition of the Hundred, looks to be a shrewd move as they seek to bolster a middle order that has struggled for several years in the shorter formats. They will also be boosted by the return of Anuerin Donald, who showed a lot of promise in his first full season with Hampshire’s in 2019 before missing the entirety of the last two seasons due to injury. Joe Weatherley’s superb knock in last year’s aforementioned semi-final against Somerset suggests he can also become a more key member of Hampshire’s one-day sides.
With the ball, Mason Crane is a proven performer at this level. Brad Wheal too, despite his costly display in last year’s semi-final, has shown great promise when bowling at the death. Chris Wood will once again be tasked with leading a youthful attack, which has gained a reputation in recent years for its ability to defend low totals (just ask Nottinghamshire fans).
While his chances of a return to the England Test side seem slim at best, the unwavering importance of James Vince to this Hampshire side cannot be understated. While there is plenty of promising young talent coming through the Hampshire academy, none can match the glorious stroke play and often nonchalant style of the Hampshire captain. Indeed there are very few in the County game who can play with the same degree of poise and elegance. Last season’s average of over 40 needs to be matched, or even bettered, if Hampshire are to contend for trophies this season.
Player to watch:
19-year-old Tom Prest offered glimpses of his undoubted talent last year, most notably with a crucial knock in the T20 Blast quarter-final where Hampshire somehow defended 124 against Nottinghamshire. This preceded a busy winter where he captained the England Under-19 side at the 2022 World Cup. England may have been beaten by India in the final, but Prest still managed to earn himself a place in the ICC team of the tournament, amassing 292 runs across 6 innings. He will get plenty of chances over the season to demonstrate his ability, particularly during the One-Day Cup where he could play a key role in the absence of more senior members of the side during the Hundred unHH.
With a lack of established senior batsman in the side, much will again depend on overseas new-ball pairing Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas, who returns after an impressive 2021 in which he averaged under 16 with the ball. Abbott is about to embark upon his 6th straight season with Hampshire. Losing him to injury for the latter stages of the 2021 season certainly did their title chances no favours. The pair will fancy their chances of running through opposition top orders in the early season conditions. Unfortunately for Hampshire, Abbas will only be available for the first two months of the season.
Hampshire have also signed Australian batsman Ben McDermott for the T20 Blast in order to give them some much needed firepower at the top of the order. McDermott earned a recall to the Australia T20 side over the winter following a scintillating Big Bash campaign for Hobart Hurricanes which included back-to-back centuries in December. Given their inexperienced middle-order, Hampshire will hope he can form a strong partnership with Vince and get them off to strong starts in the powerplay.
How they’ll fare:
A healthy mix of experienced pros and emerging talent should allow Hampshire to compete strongly on several fronts this season. In the Championship, if the batting unit comes together and can support a bowling attack that almost guarantees wickets at this level, they should find themselves near the top end of the division. Their run to the semi-finals of the Blast slightly exceeded expectations, although some shrewd signings over the winter should make them competitive this time round. The 50-over competition will once again be played against the backdrop of the Hundred but this will give a number of younger players the chance to enjoy a higher profile. Liam Dawson has not been retained by the Brave so he could have an instrumental role to play – assuming he isn’t picked up in the draft. Underestimate Hampshire at your peril.
Hampshire vs Somerset (Ageas Bowl) – 7th April
County Championship – 8/1
Royal London One-Day Cup – 12/1
T20 Blast – 14/1