Sunday, 25 September 2016

What Went Wrong and What’s Next for Hampshire Cricket?

by Oliver Wright

Hampshire CC has been relegated from County Championship Division One after suffering a 6-wicket loss against Durham. This failure, accompanied with their not qualifying for the latter stages in the limited overs competitions, capped off a fairly dismal all-round season for Hampshire. However, Director of Cricket Giles White has stated that he believes his team can battle back next season in Division Two, and that there are still a number of positives to look forward to.

The defeat to Durham ended their slim hopes of survival, which were slightly encouraged by Warwickshire’s beating of Lancashire at Edgbaston. Hampshire had left themselves in a strong position on the final day, and with a win being the only result that would preserve the hosts’ tenure in the top tier, they declared in the morning session, setting the strong Durham unit a target of 296 to be chased down in a minimum of 78 overs. Unfortunately, a second-wicket stand of 162 between Mark Stoneman (137) and Scott Borthwick (88) cemented Hampshire’s fate, leaving the squad to contemplate a season that yielded only two wins in the longer format.

This disheartening campaign could in part be blamed on a plague of injuries and absences that have affected the county. Opening batsman Michael Carberry being diagnosed with cancer and Coach Dale Benkenstein having to leave the club due to family reasons were just some of the problems Hampshire faced in 2016. Furthermore, Captain James Vince and all-rounder Liam Dawson were away on international duty at different points over the summer, and, although it is brilliant to see our young players progress to play at higher standards, the absence of these key members of the team was felt, with White commenting that when a league is as competitive as the County Championship was this season, ‘the amount of injuries we’ve had would stretch us, whatever squad size we might have.’

However, every team in the Division has to cope with situations like this on a yearly basis, with injuries just being a by-product of a busy schedule. In all, you could argue that Hampshire simply did not have enough strength in depth for the top division, as this was the second consecutive season they had needed a win off the final day to survive. In 2015 they managed to pull off an improbable escape, and although they battled hard to repeat these heroics this year, the urgency came to their performances far too late. It was almost like they did not realise the danger until it was virtually inescapable, as the better of their performances came in the latter part of the season.

In addition to the poor showing in the County Championship, our usually stronger limited overs side also found difficulty. This resulted in, for the first time since 2009, Hampshire not qualifying for the quarter-final stage of the t20 competition. Admittedly an end to this incredible run had to arrive eventually; however, coming in such a disappointing season for Hampshire, it merely added emphasis to their shortcomings. They also didn’t progress any further in the 50 over competition.

Fortunately, as Giles White asserted, there are some positives to be taken from the season. Partially due to the varied injuries and issues hitting the squad, a number of young players have been given opportunities, and have provided some hope for the future of the club. Brad Wheal, a South African born 20 year-old has shown his worth in his first team appearances, most notably in his taking 6-51 against Nottinghamshire. Dale Benkenstein’s finding of him could prove to be extremely useful, certainly when you consider Hampshire’s shortage of fast bowlers. Spin bowler Mason Crane is also settling himself into a regular position in the First team, along with Batsmen Tom Alsop, Lewis McManus, and Joe Weatherly. This new talent gives Hampshire a platform to rebuild, potentially meaning that there will not be as much reliance on the more experienced players to hold the team afloat. The foundations are laid, now all that is needed is for Hampshire to act upon them through next season.

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