In the lead up to the 2016 domestic season, ecb.co.uk is running a series of features with all 18 first-class counties. Hampshire are expecting much from England players James Vince, Reece Topley and Liam Dawson, according to director of cricket Giles White.
James Vince may have been otherwise engaged with England for the last few weeks, but he has still been playing an active part in the preparations for his first full season as Hampshire’s county captain.
“Vincey’s been on What’s App a lot recently, asking how the boys are doing,” explained Giles White, Hampshire’s director of cricket. “He’s been very involved in pre-season without being here.”
Vince, who took over from Jimmy Adams midway through last summer having previously led the team in white-ball cricket, has been joined in his long-distance planning by Liam Dawson and Reece Topley, giving Hampshire a treble representation in England’s World T20 squad.
The trio also linked up with England Lions in Dubai before Christmas, and White is hopeful that all three are primed for a big year.
“The way things are going I suspect they’re all going to come back and be ready to go,” he added – which should hand Hampshire a treble boost ahead of their Specsavers County Championship opener at home to Warwickshire, a game that is set to feature a first head-to-head between Vince and another of the contenders for Test batting places this summer, the Bears’ newly-appointed four-day captain Ian Bell.
“Liam’s done exceptionally well this winter, to get to the point where he is now – he’s obviously impressed a lot of people. With his batting and all-round ability in four-day cricket he’s going to play an important part for us – as an all-rounder he’s the heartbeat of the team, he helps us balance the side and means we can play an extra seamer.
“Him and Vincey grew up in Wiltshire together, they joined our academy at the same time and they’ve come through the Hampshire system together. They bounce off each other and I think James being captain can only help bring the best out of Liam. We’re really pleased at the way they’ve developed.”
Even more than the other two, Topley has become known as a white-ball specialist. But White still sees the former Essex man playing a big part in Hampshire’s four-day campaign.
“When we sat down with him and talked things through, one of his goals is becoming the first English left-arm seamer to take 100 Test wickets. Obviously his white-ball stuff has taken over recently, but we reckon he’s got huge potential in red-ball cricket, with his height and the fact he can swing it.
“As a package I think he’s going to be excellent for us, and we’re really looking forward to getting him in with our other seamers.”
They will again include the experienced overseas campaigners Ryan McLaren and Fidel Edwards, who both made a significant contribution to Hampshire’s great escape from relegation in the closing weeks of the 2015 season – supported superbly by Gareth Berg.
“They were all great for us last year,” added White. “Fidel was an unknown quantity when we signed him. It was probably a bit cold for him in his first game at Headingley, but he got into it slowly and by the end he was flying. Just as important he was a great guy to have in the dressing room – he’s a very intelligent bowler, there’s much more to him than raw pace.”
Edwards will again depart in mid-season for the Caribbean Premier League, but Hampshire will welcome two high-calibre arrivals of their own during the NatWest T20 Blast in Shahid Afridi, who is available for the whole competition, and Darren Sammy.
Rod Bransgrove, the county’s long-serving chairman, set his cricketing staff from White down the challenge of “having a real pop” at winning Hampshire’s third County Championship title (the others were in 1961 and 1973) when the Ageas Bowl pavilion was named in his honour last September. But they are also determined to retain their reputation among the most consistent white-ball teams in the land.
Fuelling the optimism of both Bransgrove and White is the young homegrown talent that has started to emerge over the last 12 months.
In addition to providing Vince and Dawson to the Lions in the winter, Hampshire also had a strong representation in the ICC Under-19s World Cup in Bangladesh, where England were led by the off-spinning all-rounder Brad Taylor and also included Mason Crane, the leg-spinner from Worthing in Sussex who made such an impression in his first taste of senior cricket last summer.
Tom Alsop and Joe Weatherley, two batsmen who also played for England’s Under-19s in 2015, were both in the runs on the recently-completed pre-season trip to Barbados, and the 21-year-old wicketkeeper Lewis McManus will be hoping to challenge Adam Wheater after a baptism of fire against Yorkshire at Headingley last season.
“All those young players are ready to go in the first team,” White concluded. “And the fact that Daws and Vincey have made it to the England set-up can only inspire them, showing them what’s achievable. We’ve got a fairly strong first eleven with some senior players but we will have to manage carefully how we make sure this young crop of players are allowed to develop. It’s a very healthy place for us to be as a club.”