Hampshire desperate for middle order to come good in T20 Blast before De Grandhomme’s arrival
For Hampshire fans raised on a feast of T20 Finals Days, the last few years have provided scant reason for cheer.
Between 2010 and 2015 inclusive, the county reached the last four in every single year. In 2017, Hampshire claimed a seventh Finals Day appearance - no county has made more since the tournament’s inception in 2003.
Between 2011-2015 Hampshire won 41 group games, out of 64, and lost just 16.
In 2011, the county’s top seven featured Michael Lumb, Shahid Afridi, Jimmy Adams, James Vince Neil McKenzie, Sean Ervine and Dimi Mascarenhas. There were some big hitters in that line-up, and some big-match experience.
Four years ago, when the county last progressed beyond their group, the top six read: Vince, Rilee Rossouw, Michael Carberry, Afridi, George Bailey and Ervine.
Those summers, those Finals Days, those top orders, now seem a long time ago.
Tomorrow evening Hampshire return to T20 action against Middlesex at Radlett. On their last outing, against Sussex at Hove on Saturday evening, Vince’s side were handed a nine-wicket thrashing - the county’s 24th group loss in their last 36 games, a dismal run stretching back to the start of the 2018 campaign.
Only Middlesex have lost more group games (25) in the same period, though 12 of them were in 2018 and the following year they at least progressed out of their group.
With the Seaaxes having lost both their games so far, tomorrow’s game represents a good chance for Hampshire to bag a second win - having already defeated Essex at Chelmsford last Friday. Another defeat, though, would heap pressure onto the team - especially with a very strong-looking Surrey XI waiting at The Oval on Thursday.
Hampshire can ill afford four losses in their opening five group games (out of 14) if they have serious ambitions of finishing in the top four and reaching the quarter-finals.
Vince knows one area where his side just have to improve.
‘We're looking for more runs from our top order,’ he stated after the embarrassing ‘El Classicoast’ loss at Hove.
‘If we can get a couple of guys making scores of 50-plus, as Sussex had, it makes things much easier.’
That much is true, and Hampshire have struggled for runs so far.
Last Wednesday they were restricted to 133-9, the lowest total of any of the eight teams playing on opening night. They only managed 12 fours in 20 overs, six of them scored by Short.
Two days, their total of 155-6 (16 x 4, 2 x 6) was the lowest score of the eight sides batting first. It was still enough for victory, though, as miserly bowling from two of Hampshire’s most experienced T20 performers, Chris Wood and Liam Dawson, kept Essex in check.
At Hove, Vince elected to bat first but his team’s score of 154-7 (14 x 4, 4 x 6) was never likely to be enough - and so it proved as opener Phil Salt and No 3 Ravi Bopara cracked unbeaten half-centuries. The likes of David Weise and Delroy Rawlins weren’t even needed.
At present, so much rests on Hampshire’s top two of Vince and Australian D’Arcy Short. That opening partnership is easily up there with the best the T20 Blast has had to offer this season so far – along with Notts’ Alex Hales and Joe Clarke and Jason Roy and Will Jacks at Surrey.
But if Vince and Short fail, the pressure is racked up on the rest of a top order very short on the half-centuries Vince is calling for.
At Hove, Vince and Short were followed by Tom Alsop, Joe Weatherley, Lewis McManus, Liam Dawson, James Fuller and Ian Holland.
Between them, those six have a total of 251 T20 innings in English county matches - but only 11 times have they reached 50. Compare that to Sam Northeast, left out for the last two matches, who has 20 half-centuries (and one century) in 116 T20 innings.
Weatherley, with 93, has the same amount of T20 runs as his skipper this season in three innings, and has actually made his runs quicker - with a 132 strike rate (per 100 balls) compared to Vince’s 119.
Overall, Weatherley has 395 T20 runs at a good strike rate of 121.16, but he still only averages 18.8 with a sole half-century in 21 innings.
Tom Alsop has replaced the far more experienced Northeast for the last two games, but has scored just 21 runs. Overall, his T20 average is 22.65 at a strike rate of 112.4.
If Vince is looking for some middle order big hitting – and his side certainly need it - James Fuller is currently his best bet. The all-rounder was the county’s top T20 run scorer in the truncated 2020 campaign, and has scored his 769 career runs at an impressive 143.2. In terms of half-centuries, however, he has just two from 54 innings.
McManus was sent in at No 5 at Hove, but he has passed 50 just once in 41 innings and averages just 15.75.
Dawson has three T20 half centuries for the county, from 81 innings, and averages 19.95. But Vince is soon to lose him as the all-rounder has been named in England’s T20 squad for the upcoming series with Sri Lanka.
Dawson can face Middlesex and Surrey but will meet up with the England party on Saturday.
Vince has a few options as he attempts to find that elusive winning T20 formula.
He could recall Northeast, who boasts 2,966 runs at 28.51, or he could even hand teenager Tom Prest a surprise 1st XI debut.
Prest is highly regarded and last month scored a triple century in a 2nd XI Championship match against Sussex.
The 18-year-old also hit 39 off 29 balls in a 2nd XI T20 game against Essex at Chelmsford early last week.
Prest was named in a 15-man squad for the Essex and Sussex matches, but was left waiting for his debut.
There is cavalry arriving soon in the shape of Kiwi all-rounder Colin De Grandhomme, whose presence cannot come quick enough.
He will link up with the Hampshire party after the World Test Championship final, which starts at The Ageas Bowl on Friday.
De Grandhomme boasts the second highest strike rate of anyone who has scored over 1,00 career T20 runs. In his 201 T20 matches the 34-year-old boasts 3,353 runs at 24.29 with a stunning strike rate of 161.20. Andre Russell, with a strike rate of 169.45, is the only batsman with a higher rate.
De Grandhomme should be available for Hampshire’s seventh group match against Somerset at Taunton on June 25. He is exactly what the county are crying out for.
It can only be hoped Vince’s middle order have managed to find more runs by then to keep their side in with a chance of a top four finish ...