It’s been an eventful winter for English red-ball cricket. The disastrous Ashes campaign in Australia has once again thrown up many questions about the suitability of the county game, and particularly, its preparation of Test quality players for England.
There will be many devout county fans anxiously awaiting the findings of a high-performance review of the English game, which are due to be released towards the end of the season.
For now though, supporters can simply look forward to the return of the LV= Insurance County Championship this week, which reverts to the more traditional two-division format of the pre-Covid years.
Hampshire take on Somerset in the opening round of Division One at the Ageas Bowl, two sides who have come very close in recent years to red-ball glory. Hampshire came one wicket away from ending their 48-year wait for a title last season while Somerset fans will be hoping this will finally be their year after several near-misses over the past decade.
The two sides will be well acquainted with one another having met five times last season across the formats. They were paired against each other in Group 2 of the County Championship and both progressed to Division One for the second phase of the competition.
The West Country outfit prevailed on the south coast after Hampshire collapsed to 79 all out on day one whilst the return fixture in Taunton ended in a high-scoring draw.
There will be added incentive for the home side after last year’s defeat at the hands of Somerset in the T20 Blast semi-final but they will have their work cut out against a strong Somerset side containing some of the biggest names on the domestic circuit and plenty of international experience.
Pre-season has seen both sides in action on their home grounds – Hampshire have faced Worcestershire and Gloucestershire in two-day games whilst Somerset completed a three-day fixture against last season’s winners Warwickshire at the weekend.
Felix Organ and new signing Ben Brown impressed for the hosts while Somerset will be encouraged by half-centuries for Ben Green and youngster Lewis Goldsworthy. With both sides possessing formidable bowling attacks, the outcome may rest on which batting line-up hits the ground running quickest.
While perhaps not as glamorous a name as overseas bowlers Kyle Abbott or Mohammad Abbas, Keith Barker’s vital all-round contributions will certainly be needed if Hampshire are to achieve a positive result in this game. The left-arm seamer took 41 wickets at 18.41 last season and played some vital roles with the bat, most notably a 75 in a win against eventual champions Warwickshire at Edgbaston. Captain James Vince will need all of the 35-year-old’s consistency and expertise for this one.
After a highly promising debut campaign in 2020, last season was a relative disappointment for talented young opener Tom Lammonby. One century in 22 innings represented a disappointing return and the 21-year-old will want to remind everyone (including the England selectors) of his undoubted ability this year. Lammonby has been ear-marked in the past as a potential England prospect and a prolific start to the campaign could see him in line for a call-up for the series against New Zealand in June.
Team news (probable)
Hampshire have included spinner Mason Crane in their squad although it is expected he will miss out with all-rounders Liam Dawson and Felix Organ covering the spin department. Mohammad Abbas missed Hampshire’s pre-season games but if he is deemed fit enough he will lead the attack with overseas stalwart Kyle Abbott. James Vince spent last season batting predominantly at no.5 but with a lack of seasoned middle-order batsman in the Hampshire squad, it is feasible he may decide to promote himself up the order.
Somerset will be without Craig Overton and Jack Leach who have both been made unavailable by the ECB following their exploits with England in the Caribbean. Tom Banton is also sidelined after revealing he has suffered a fractured finger. It is likely South Africans Marchant De Lange and Roelof Van der Merwe will play, the veteran spinner taking 3-27 against Warwickshire in pre-season. De Lange returns to Taunton for a second successive season and may well up vying with fellow overseas signing Peter Siddle for a place in the side once Overton returns.
Weather and conditions
A rather mixed forecast is predicted at this stage so unfortunately interruptions look likely. Temperatures won’t quite be as low as they were last week (which had several Somerset players donning woolly hats in the outfield) but strong winds are predicted for day one, and so any supporters would be advised to prepare for the unpredictable April elements. As is often the case in the early weeks of the season, conditions will be in favour of the bowlers.
Date: 7th – 10th April 2022
Ground: Ageas Bowl
Odds (Sky Bet): Hampshire 5/6, Somerset 5/6