2007 in a nutshell:
Disappointment on all fronts pretty much. Hampshire failed to significantly challenge in either the County Championship, the Pro 40 League or the Twenty20 Cup (again). The highlight was of course reaching the final of the Friends Provident Trophy, although the ultimate defeat to Durham was representative of a sub-standard season for the Hawks. Michael Carberry continued his rise towards full England honours, following in the direction where Dimi Mascarenhas and Chris Tremlett had gone for a large part of the season.
Well, it may get worse. Leaderless for in excess of two thirds of the season Hampshire may well also find themselves without an overseas player for the opening part of the season, courtesy of Shane Bond’s involvement in the rogue ICL. The arrival of Shane Watson for the Twenty20 Cup should signal the beginning of a Hampshire challenge for the crown for the first time since the formats’ inception though. In the County Championship it is hard to see Hampshire finishing above midway again. The bowling will be worryingly thin in the absence of Warne, replacement Bond and James Bruce, who had been developing into a very dangerous opening bowler over the last two years. Furthermore, it is hard to see how Chris Tremlett, between injury and international duty, will be available for more than half the season. Factor in Dimi Mascarenhas’ absence with England for a substantial part of the season and the Hawks will be relying on the youth of David Griffiths, James Tomlinson and Liam Dawson, who will be the prime spinner in Warne’s absence. Greg Lamb could also find himself involved a lot more this year in both formats for a change. Don’t expect any silverware this year Hawks fans.
Carberry averaged in excess of fifty in the county championship last season and Hampshire will need more of the same this time around. Evergreens John Crawley and Nic Pothas will once again be the rocks around whom the others bat. Michael Lumb will look to improve on a solid first season, whilst James Adams, Michael Brown, Sean Ervine, Chris Benham, Greg Lamb and possibly Kevin Latouf will be vying for the remaining spots. Latouf and young wicket keeper Tom Burrows should both see some more action this year in a side whose batting is too often frail. With the absence of runs from the tail of Mascarenhas, Warne and Udal the top order will have to take responsibility, but it is a real doubt as to whether they will be up to it or not. Watson will carry the Hawk’s hopes in the Twenty20 Cup when he arrives.
As already touched on above, Hampshire are thin on the ground in the bowling department this year. What used to be the county’s strength is now perhaps its biggest weakness. How ironic that Shaun Udal chose to join Middlesex during the one season he could have captained his side for the majority of. Youth will be the order of the day and they may well be up to the task. Griffiths impressed last year when involved, as did James Tomlinson. David Balcombe is also lurking on the periphery and Billy Taylor will be hoping for more than one day cameos. Sean Ervine and Greg Lamb may well also be charged with more responsibility with the ball in the allrounder’s role when Mascarenhas is on England duty. Liam Dawson will be the premier spinner and after his promising performances at England U19 level it will be fascinating to see if he can make the step up.
Benham (Watson upon arrival)
Mascarenhas (c) (Tomlinson/Griffiths/Lamb in his absence)
Bond (Griffiths/Tomlinson when he leaves)
List A / Twenty20
Watson (Benham/Crawley when unavailable)
Tomlinson/Griffiths (Bond early season)
Hampshire will likely play a very different side in limited overs cricket to that in four day cricket. There should be plenty of opportunities for the likes of Benham, Latouf, Griffiths, Tomlinson and Dawson, whilst young wicket keeper Tom Burrows should gradually gain more exposure to first team cricket in the place of elder statesman Nic Pothas. Brown and Adams will be fighting it out for the second opening birth and along with Crawley will be limited more often than not to four day cricket. The focus this year will be the Twenty20 Cup I feel and Watson will be core to this aim. Along with Carberry, Ervine, Lumb, Pothas, Benham and Mascarenhas Hampshire should have the batting power to mount a serious challenge, but they may well fall short in the bowling department, with Dawson and Lamb the only spinning options.
It will not be Warney for once! With three overseas players split across the season it is likely to be a domestic player. Whilst I believe that Shane Watson will play a key role in the sides push for the Twenty20 Cup my key man for the season is Michael Carberry. He will be looking to break into the England squad for limited overs cricket, although Andrew Strauss’ mini revival may have delayed his entrance into the Test squad.
Liam Dawson is the man I am going for. Many a young bowler will turn out for Hampshire this season, but none will be as important as Dawson, the leading spin bowler in the side for years to come we hope. His slow left arm bowling has been effective at England U19 level and he showed some glimpses of his talent at the end of last season. In Warne’s absence, both now and in the future, the club will need Dawson to step into the breach and I believe he will do so and with able aplomb. He can also bat to a reasonable level and will be a decent number eight.
Captain and Coach:
Well I don’t know quite how good Warney is at poker so it is hard to pass comment! John Crawley is the most obvious candidate to take the role on, although Nic Pothas volunteered last season on more than one occasion with varying degrees of success. Chris Benham has been touted by Warne himself as the long term candidate. As for Paul Terry, he is desperate for the County Championship but better Hampshire sides than this one have fallen short. His best hope and focus I believe will be in limited overs cricket, starting with the Twenty20 Cup for a change.
Edit: Dimitri Mascarenhas has been appointed captain to replace Shane Warne. Mascarenhas captained the club during the Twenty20 campaign last year, however, he will miss the start of the season because of commitments in the IPL and will undoubtedly go on to make more appearances for England over the summer. He inherits a young and fairly inexperienced side, especially in the bowling department and it will be interesting to see how his attacking instincts translate over into his captaincy style.