County Championship 2021: Hampshire Preview
What happened last year?
A mediocre red-ball season for a Hampshire side who were hit hard by injuries and COVID-related absentees. To end up fourth in the toughest group was a fairly good achievement considering the sides they had to select.
To be the only team to avoid defeat by eventual champions Essex is some solace, however, this was mainly due to the rain causing less than a day’s worth of overs to be bowled in total.
Hampshire’s success was predominantly down to their bowlers as with the exception of Joe Weatherley, none of the other batsmen were able to average over 26 (min. 5 innings). Mason Crane had his best season for a while and in doing so threw himself into contention for England’s winter tours. His 14 wickets coming at an average of just over 13 was mightily impressive.
The absence of one of the highest wicket-takers of the previous three seasons in Kyle Abbott meant the seam attack was quite light. Hampshire will be keen for him to get back into his work when the season gets underway.
Key player for 2021
Take your pick of Hampshire’s two overseas seamers. Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas. The South African has a first-class average of below 21 with the ball and having had a season without any red ball cricket will be raring to go on his return to England. There was talk of Abbott possibly returning to the national set up but is contracted with the south coast side until 2022 and at 33 still has a number of years ahead of him.
Abbas is a brilliant signing and has a first-class bowling average almost identical to Abbott. He has experience of bowling in English conditions from touring with Pakistan last summer and also a stint with Leicestershire in 2018. Between them they will be looking to the bulk of the damage and will be lethal in the early season pitches.
With a strong looking bowling attack, the questions will be more with regards to where the runs will come from. With James Vince and Sam Northeast, the senior members of the side, they will look to provide a solid platform for the others to bat around.
Mason Crane had a brilliant Bob Willis Trophy campaign last year and was rewarded with a touring opportunity with England, albeit in the reserves. He will be hoping to kick on and try to force his way further into the setup with the England spin department not fully settled yet. Crane’s first-class record does leave quite a bit to be desired so will be hoping a good season will keep him right in contention for England squads.
Both Vince and Northeast will continue to be in the England conversation especially as the batting order is still not fully stable. I don’t see them getting a call-up personally, but funnier things have happened. A large volume of runs at the start of any season is a good target though.
The target for this year?
Hampshire have the players to challenge should they be able to avoid the injuries that really held them back last season. With Vince, Crane, Abbott, Abbas and Dawson to come back they have a really strong core of players with international recognition. The challenge then comes when trying to stitch that all together.
Somerset will be strong favourites to win the group and could even go all the way. Hampshire, Surrey and Middlesex will probably be scrapping for the second position to make it into Division One after the initial double round robin section. If they fail to make it into Division One, Hampshire should target a strong finish in Division 2. Considering they finished third in 2019 behind Essex and Somerset, a similar result could be on the cards if they hit the ground running.
Overseas players: Kyle Abbott (South Africa), Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan)