Hampshire believe they can make a successful defence of their Friends Provident t20 crown after sticking to their guns to sign Pakistan superstar Shahid Afridi.
The 30-year-old all-rounder was all set to join the Rose Bowl ranks last summer, only to be unexpectedly offered the Test captaincy by his country.
While it was a short-lived stint, it meant he failed to sign for Hampshire, who also missed out on the prospective signings of Brett Lee and Ajantha Mendis.
The Royals then turned to fellow Pakistan international Abdul Razzaq and Australian Dan Christian to fill their two overseas positions as they went on to lift the title in a dramatic last-ball finish at the Rose Bowl.
This season, spinner Imran Tahir has already agreed to a full campaign and now Afridi’s capture has given the Royals a real boost.
It’s further good news for manager Giles White that he will not be racing around attempting to find late replacements this season.
Rose Bowl chairman Rod Bransgrove said: ‘It’s brilliant – Afridi is an amazing signing for us.
‘Last year we were gutted when the Pakistan captaincy came up and was unable to join us, particularly as he didn’t keep it very long.
‘But that’s not going to happen this time so we’re signing him with full confidence he will play for us.
‘Alongside Imran Tahir, we have two excellent overseas players to help in our defence of the competition.
‘We’re more than happy with the squad we’ve got now.’
While Afridi has occasionally courted controversy with disciplinary matters relating to both ball-tampering and pitch tampering during his international career, he is also a huge talent who can turn games in the blink of an eye.
Nicknamed Boom Boom for his explosive batting style, Afridi is a proven matchwinner.
Bransgrove said: ‘The truth is that he is a matchwinner – he changes games.
‘In t20 cricket, a player can sometimes win matches on his own and it can take one big performance.
‘He is that kind of player. His bowling is tricky – not too many like facing his unusual form of leg spin and as a batsman, he is explosive.
‘Two or three big overs can take a game away from other teams.’
After missing out on Afridi’s services 12 months ago, Bransgrove insisted Hampshire were determined to get their man this time around.
He said: ‘It was a shame last year but I wouldn’t blame anybody for wanting to captain their country – that would be petty.
‘He wants to play for Hampshire and he wants to play for us. That hasn’t changed.
‘This time he is absolutely determined to play and to help us win the thing again.
‘Let’s keep everything crossed, although unforeseen circumstances do happen in cricket.
‘With a bit of luck, we have got them out of our system last year.’
Afridi, who is captaining Pakistan in the current ICC World Cup, skippered the team against England at the Rose Bowl last summer and is eager to make up for lost time.
He said: ‘I was disappointed not to join Hampshire last season.
‘It would have been fantastic to have been a part of the team that made history by winning the t20 trophy on home soil.
‘Having played at the Rose Bowl for Pakistan last year, I know that it is fast becoming one of the best places in the country to watch cricket of all levels.
‘I hope very much to play a big part in the club’s success in 2011.’