With the changing of the clocks comes the start of spring, and more importantly for cricket fans, the dawn of the domestic season. England’s abysmal Ashes performance will draw lovers of the game back to the British Isles, where they can see some cracking county contests.
Whilst every team is looking for success in 2014, one side that has a good chance of achieving promotion and will be in contention for silverware, is Hampshire.
After falling short in each of the last two seasons, the South coast county will be hoping that the coming Championship campaign is more fruitful. Ascension to Division One of the four-day format of the game is the main aim for the side, which is compounded by captain, Jimmy Adams.
“The last few years we’ve spoken about trying to get promoted back into Division One, but it’s proved to be pretty tough. There’s a lot of sides who will have a similar aim so it’s a tough one,” said the skipper, speaking to GiveMeSport on the Ageas Bowl outfield during the club’s official press day.
“Certainly we don’t look at one and give it higher priorities but – just for the members – we are keen to make sure we don’t neglect four-day cricket by any stretch.
“It’s just sometimes the balance of the side means you go well in a certain competition but fingers crossed we’ll be able to have some success in September and one of them is in four-day."
One area where Hampshire could improve is in their wicket taking capabilities. The side have previously struggled to capture 20 wickets in a game, denting their chances of drawing fewer four-day games.
But they have bulked up their bowling department with the acquisition of new seamers, Kyle Abbott and Matt Coles. The South African played in the final Test of the Proteas’ recent series against Australia, whilst the former Kent all-rounder has played at the Ageas Bowl before as a loanee.
Adams added: “Last year we found that taking 20 wickets was hard, especially here – not just our guys but opposition bowlers found it hard here, so we have to find a method on our wickets come later in the summer when they get a bit flatter, batters like it but the bowlers find it trickier.
“We’ve added to our bowling, we’ve got Matt Coles now and we’ve signed a high quality overseas in Kyle Abbott so we feel really confident that we’ve got the weapons to take 20 wickets.”
Last year was only the second in five that the side finished a season empty-handed – something they will look to rectify over the coming months. One-Day formats have proven to be very prosperous for the Royals, who made it out of the knockout stages in both the T20 and YB40 competitions in 2013.
Assisting the bowling unit will be England spinner, Danny Briggs. After winning seven caps for his country in T20 cricket and one in the 50-over format, the 22-year-old has had a taste of playing internationally, and is now craving the honour of donning the three lions kit more regularly.
Briggs – also at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl home – stated: “I think any game you play for England drives you on and not being involved recently drives you on as well.
“It also makes the start of the season a lot more important, performing consistently for Hampshire is the aim really and we’ll see what happens from there.”
Hampshire’s intimidating batting line-up will have opposition bowlers quivering at the start or their run-up. Michael Carberry is back from England duty down under, whilst vice captain, James Vince, has also spent time with the Lions squad.
Vince and opener, Liam Dawson, both scored over 1,000 runs last season, form which they – and Jimmy Adams alike – are looking to replicate in 2014.
The 33-year-old captain added: “I’d liked to have gone better the last couple of years. 1,000 runs is what people see as a benchmark but really if you play every game and you’re batting every game – as hopefully I will – you want to go a bit more than that.
“If the team’s going well, hopefully I’m going some way to helping the team do that and we’ll have a good year hopefully.”
However, run scoring wasn’t even an issue in limited overs cricket last year, when Carberry scored four fifties and a century in T20s. This year sees the YB40 evolve into the Royal London One Day Cup – a 50 over competition.
Hampshire are the most recent winners of an English domestic 50-over tournament, so they will be seen as a favourite. Last season’s semi-final appearances in both the T20 and YB40 contests will be benchmarks for the coming campaign.
Limited overs cricket has been the core of the Royals’ success in recent times, including the 2012 double. But now it seems that their attentions are keenly focused on the target of returning to Division One of the County Championship, a tier they have been below since 2011.
Dale Benkenstein has arrived from Durham as first team coach, and his County Championship-winning exploits will go far towards helping Hampshire raise their four-day game. If the bowlers can back up the consistent batting unit on a more regular basis, then there is no reason why Jimmy Adams’ side can’t achieve promotion this season.
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