Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Foundation Building

Season Review: Hampshire

Hopes were high at the beginning of the season that Hampshire were about to mount their most serious title challenge in years. While the 2006 season can not be described as a failure, the dream which all at the club share, winning the County Championship, was not realised.

However, a top three finish and an immediate return to the top division of domestic one day cricket are achievements which the club can rightfully be proud of. One only has to look to Nottinghamshire to appreciate the achievement of finishing second and third in successive seasons. There was though disappointment in the Twenty20 Cup for the second year running, with Hampshire seemingly failing to take the competition seriously, omitting John Crawley and Sean Ervine entirely from the competition and resting Chris Tremlett at times, absences which were compounded by the imposed loss of Shane Warne. Meanwhile, partly due to the questionable restructuring of the C&G Trophy and murky skies, Hampshire failed to defend their 2005 C&G title.

The main failings at Hampshire this season were again to be found in the batting department in both forms of the game, with dramatic collapses at home to Sussex and Durham costing vital Championship points and diabolical batting performances against the likes of Somerset threatening to curtail the clubs promotion ambitions. Overseas import Dominic Thornely failed to perform to the required standard in the County Championship, averaging a mere 34.5 and only picking up form during the Pro40 campaign. Meanwhile, injuries to the talented Tremlett and emerging James Bruce contributed to the bowling attacks inability to finish teams off often enough during the second innings, most notably away to Nottinghamshire. Hampshire did though garnish the most bowling bonus points of all the teams in both divisions.

Warne bowled over after over, but was seemingly not always at his brilliant best, a busy International career perhaps beginning to catch up on Australia’s finest. Still, his sheer presence and commitment are invaluable to the Hawks’ cause and it is great news that the talismanic magician will be returning to the Rose Bowl next season. Meanwhile Shaun Udal appears now to be a one day specialist, playing a wholesome part in the team’s promotion back to Pro40 Division One, but contributing little else.

If looking for a star of the Hampshire season, one can look no further than the evergreen Crawley, who contributed a wonderful 1,737 runs to the County Championship cause at an average of 66.8. The statistics will tell you that Tremlett was the most effective Hampshire bowler, the fact that he was injured for half of the season will tell you why Hampshire failed to secure the crown they yearn for. Dimitri Mascarenhas deserves special praise for his performance with the ball, but his batting in the longer version of the game still continues to frustrate. It was Warne who topped the wicket taking charts and he was surely Hampshire’s bowler of the season, but the fact that he took only half of the wickets that Mushtaq Ahmed did is an indication of the decline of the Warne Googly.

During the course of the season Hawks fans were fortunate enough to witness the emergence of three extremely talented and promising youngsters in James Adams, Chris Benham and Bruce. Adams’ career best 168no in the brilliant run chase against Yorkshire at Headingley was the making of the opening batsman and his subsequent 262no against Nottinghamshire was a joy to behold. Meanwhile Benham came to prominence with some exciting stroke play in the Twenty20 Cup in the middle of the season, those performances earning him places in both the four day and one day sides. He gradually grew into the first class side with some confident innings and brilliant slip fielding. His 158 against Glamorgan in the Pro40 playoff earned high praise from the captain, who excitingly believes that the best is yet to come from his young sage. Bruce was a revelation with the ball early on in the season in the absence of Tremlett and although himself hampered by injury, he returned in the latter stages of the season with some promising one day performances.

Michael Carberry proved to be a solid signing for the Hawks securing the second opening batting slot alongside Adams and bringing energy to the sides fielding. There is unlikely to ever be a faster fielder than he. Carberry also brought much to the one day side with some aggressively powerful shot making. Nic Pothas was his dependable self with the bat in the longer format, often rescuing the side from a perilous position, but he was strangely out of sorts with the gloves on occasions. Meanwhile he lost his position high up the order in the one day side and was forced to settle for lower order cameos in the limited overs format. Mascarenhas was his lively self in the one day game but was solid rather than spectacular which helps to explain why the England selectors continue to overlook him. Unfortunately, Ervine failed to rediscover his late 2005 form with both the bat and the ball, failing to score a single century all season. One can only assume that a serious knee reconstruction in the close season impeded on a still very promising career.

The starting eleven at the Rose Bowl is now more than good enough to match any other in the country. The problem is keeping all the players fit and in form and this is a challenge which the management must overcome if the club is to finally capture the trophy it craves most. Seen as a season of building, the foundations are now in place for a serious challenge next year in all formats of the game. With the Rose Bowl beginning to settle down into a more trusted wicket, Hampshire have a great chance of winning the County Championship next season. With the addition of a quality overseas player in Stuart Clark and the developing Michael Lumb, the Hawks will put right the title hurt of 2005 and deliver more silverware to the Rod Bransgrove Trophy cabinet in 2007.

Player of the season: John Crawley - “Creep” was the foundation of the sides title push, providing ever-dependable cover at number three, gritting out crucial innings game after game and putting his body on the line at short leg. He is the lynchpin around which the side bats and he rarely lets his team mates down. He liked batting against Nottinghamshire, as his consecutive run of centuries showed. Overall, a class act.

High: Successfully chasing over 400 in 113 overs to win on the final day at Headingley against Yorkshire in the County Championship. James Adams’ brilliant 168no was the backbone of the innings and the making of him as a solid county opener. The re-promotion to Pro40 Division One was also an important triumph.

Low: Succumbing to Sussex and Durham at home in the County Championship, both inside three days, to lose touch with the Division’s front runners.

Chris Pallett

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