Friday, 10 April 2009

2009 County Preview: Hampshire

2008 in a nutshell:

Hampshire enjoyed a respectable season in 2008 with the final results quite promising for the future. It was a season of two halves for the Hawks with relegation and woe looking likely at the halfway point, as Paul Terry parted company with a disjointed side, which was initially deprived of it’s entire bowling attack from the previous season, as well as it’s overseas player. The turning points were the promotion of new coach Giles White and the arrival of overseas player Imran Tahir. Ultimately the Friends Provident Trophy campaign was a non-starter, whilst the Twenty20 campaign was disappointing, but less so than usual as the Hawks mustered fourth in by far the country’s toughest group. From relegation candidates as they entered the backend of the season, Hampshire hauled themselves up to an impressive third place in the LVCC Division One, whilst the end of season improvement was most evidently seen in the Pro40 Division One campaign, where the club finished second to a slick Worcestershire side.

2009 prospects:

Ultimately more of the same perhaps. The start to the season should be much improved compared to last year, but one cannot shake the feeling that Hampshire will be coming from behind again by the time the summer is in full swing. Marcus North will miss the first game of the season, but should boost the batting in all formats once he arrives, after his impressive showings for Gloucestershire last year. Early season one day prospects will benefit from his involvement, but the loss of Dimitri Mascarenhas to the IPL and England will more than negate that positive. He will be a massive loss to the side early doors. Much will be expected of the country’s leading wicket taker, James Tomlinson and he should continue to improve, especially in the traditional spring weather conditions. Chris Tremlett, if fit, will be looking towards England once again, but it is a lose lose situation for Hampshire. If he is fit, he will doubtless be lost to England at some stage. The more likely scenario is that he won’t be fit. Think of him as Hampshire’s Ledley King. The “big” signing of the close season was 37 year old former England all-rounder Dominic Cork from Lancashire. He has surely been signed to cover for Mascarenhas and educate the counties younger bowlers, such as the aforementioned Tomlinson and fellow youngsters, David Griffiths, Hamza Riazuddin and David Balcombe. All eyes will though be on the arrival of Imran Tahir at the midway point, to see just how far he can propel the Hawks up the table and whether he can this year inspire them to four day or even Pro40 success, in it’s final season. Ultimately a top three title challenge and success in the Pro40 best represent the hopes and expectations for Hampshire this year. The Twenty20 Cup campaign could though be fascinating if the Hawks manage to field their two spinners (Tahir and Dawson) and top quality all-rounders (Mascarenhas, Ervine and Cork) thoughout.

Batting:

As usual the main problem with Hampshire in 2008 was the batting, although initially the bowling had looked to be the more pressing concern. In the Championship only Nic Pothas (53.5) and Michael Brown (40.86) managed to finish with impressive averages and Brown has since departed for Surrey. Michaels’ Lumb (32.72) and Carberry (28.60) frustrated many as they failed to transfer their fine limited overs returns into the Championship. John Crawley meanwhile faces a last hurrah season as his 27.73 from only 9 matches last year suggests that he is well and truly on the decline. All three will need to improve in 2009, whilst it would of course be nice to see a bit more of Kevin Pietersen at the Rose Bowl, which may just happen under the new England management team. Having mustered just 33 batting points in 2008 (7th in the division), it seemed as though Hampshire were certain to strengthen the batting for the new campaign. However, with no Brown in 2009 and no new signings (Ed Joyce surely should have been targeted), Jimmy Adams, Sean Ervine and Chris Benham will have to demonstrate their ability once again and return to their form of late 2007, when each looked like they would become county stalwarts for years to come. Marcus North will be heavily relied upon to score consistently in the first part of the season when conditions are tougher. Also, expect Nic Pothas to carry on churning out the runs, with the likes of Liam Dawson, Dimi Mascarenhas and Dominic Cork repairing earlier damage.

Bowling:

The bowling was ultimately once again the county’s strong suit in 2008, with the club acquiring 47 bowling points (1st in the division). James Tomlinson (67 at 24.76) was the top four day bowler in the country and Imran Tahir (44 at 16.68) was incredible following his arrival for the last part of the summer. Tahir will be key to the Hawks hopes of winning either the Championship or Pro40 Division One and along with Liam Dawson could form a competition defining partnership for the Twenty20 Cup campaign. Dimi Mascarenhas (41 at 23.82) looks likely to be away in the IPL or with England for much of the season, so Dominic Cork (20 at 27.6) will need to turn back the years and prove that he still has what it takes to contribute towards a Championship charge. Sean Ervine will also be relied upon to help fill the void left by Mascarenhas’ lengthy absences. Meanwhile, Chris Tremlett, who had a disappointing 2008 (27 at 37.0), due to both injury and knock backs from England, will be looking to prove his fitness and form as he bids to return to the Test team, in which he was so impressive in 2007. The major hurdle for Hampshire early season will be the absence of a proven premier spinner once again. Liam Dawson impressed towards the end of 2008 and will be relied upon, along with Marcus North, to limit the runs conceded in limited overs competitions and to offer the main spin threat in the Championship, until the arrival of Tahir in June. With youngsters Griffiths, Riazuddin and Balcombe showing promising signs in 2008 and Billy Taylor offering his dependably tight limited overs skills, the bowling at Hampshire is looking as strong as ever overall and quite youthful.

Probable Best Side:

Championship (1st Half)

Carberry
Adams
Lumb
North
Ervine
Pothas (wk) (c)
Dawson
Cork (Mascarenhas)
Tremlett
Tomlinson
Griffiths/Balcombe

Championship (2nd Half)

Carberry
Adams
Lumb
Benham/Crawley
Ervine
Pothas (wk)
Dawson
Mascarenhas (c) (Cork)
Tremlett
Tomlinson
Tahir

List A (1st half)

Carberry
Lumb
Ervine
North
Benham
Pothas (wk) (c)
Dawson
Cork (Mascarenhas)
Tremlett
Tomlinson
Taylor

List A (2nd Half)

Carberry
Lumb
Ervine
Benham
Dawson
Pothas (wk)
Mascarenhas
Cork/Adams
Tremlett
Tomlinson
Tahir


Twenty20

Carberry
Lumb
Ervine
Benham
Mascarenhas
Pothas (wk)
Adams
Dawson
Cork
Tremlett
Tahir

Hampshire look to be a batsman light in their squad with John Crawley unlikely to play any limited overs cricket and Jimmy Adams not particularly suited to it. The batting looks reasonable, with lots of stroke makers, who are perhaps better suited to the shorter formats though. Chris Benham will likely have to settle for limited overs appearances until Marcus North goes home, whilst one of the younger bowlers, or perhaps Billy Taylor, will likely benefit until the arrival of Imran Tahir later in the summer. The squad is packed with good allrounders as usual, with North, Ervine, Mascarenhas, Dawson and Cork all more than capable in both of the main disciplines. This should hopefully give the side a decent chance in the Twenty20 Cup this year, with limited overs success a good possibility. Ultimately the bowling will keep the side in the Championship hunt, but how many batting points the team can deliver may ultimately decide their fate. Expect the spin twins Tahir and Dawson to feature heavily in any success.

Key Man:

I believe that the overseas players performances will be key to Hampshire’s chances of success as will the U19’s Captain, Liam Dawson. Therefore it is hard to pinpoint just one player. However, my player of the year last season, Nic Pothas, gets my vote as he will need to lead the side early on in the season and keep up his stellar performances with the bat in the Championship to ensure that Hampshire post respectable totals and gain their fair share of batting points.

Rising Star:

Liam Dawson is the man I am going for once again. His slow left arm bowling has been effective at England U19 level and he showed at the end of last season that he was more than capable of transferring that form into county cricket, where he played consistently well following the departure of Greg Lamb from the side. His batting will be a major asset this season and he could be seen batting as high as five in limited overs cricket, in which he will be a major asset.

Captain and Coach:

Dimitri Mascarenhas will miss the start of the season once again because of commitments in the IPL and will undoubtedly go on to make more appearances for England over the summer. Mascarenhas tried to continue the Warne tradition of attacking and playing to win last year. He was however overly cautious until the end of the season, the game against Lancashire at Old Trafford a prime example of how a crisis of confidence and a mentality of safety first had set in at the club after the poor first half of the season. Hopefully this season he can go on the attack more often, with relegation hopefully not a concern for the club.

Giles White was promoted from Academy Director last year to succeed Paul Terry in the role of Team Manager. Until Terry’s departure Hampshire had looked to be a sinking ship, but White inspired the fans and players alike with his youthful enthusiasm and fresh approach. Now that he has had a whole pre-season to assess his charges, fans will be hopeful that the team can charge out of the blocks and land a trophy or perhaps even two this year with an exciting and attacking brand of cricket.

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