Hampshire director of cricket Giles White ‘open minded’ about big changes to domestic calendar in 2021
Giles White remains ‘open minded’ about the latest changes to the 2021 domestic calendar.
Hampshire’s director of cricket is currently overseeing a drastically different pre-season training programme at The Ageas Bowl.
All eyes are on the county’s opening Championship game which takes place in 75 days time at Leicestershire’s Grace Road ground on April 8.
Due to the pandemic, the four-day competition has been remodelled for 2021.
There are three groups of six counties with each county playing each other twice.
A divisional stage follows - the top two in each group progressing to Division 1, the third and fourth teams to Division 2 and the fifth and sixth ones to Division 3.
Counties will play a further four games and the top two in Division 1 will progress to a grand final at Lord’s.
Hampshire have been grouped with Leicestershire - who they haven’t played in a first class game since 2014 - Middlesex, Somerset, Surrey and Gloucestershire.
‘We have always supported the two division structure, it’s served English cricket well,’ said White.
‘It’s the best long-game format in the world in my opinion, and it will be a shame to get away from that.
‘But I’m open-minded about the new format. They’re describing it as ‘the Road to Lord’s’ so there’s a good narrative around it.’
Last year, in a pandemic-wrecked sporting scene, Hampshire’s season began on August 1 - almost four months later than originally scheduled.
Counties were again split into three groups, playing each other just once, with the top two points-scorers progressing to a Lord’s final for the Bob Willis Trophy.
Hampshire struggled with the bat throughout, but managed two victories to finish fourth in their South group.
In the absence of James Vince, on England duty, Sam Northeast skippered a youthful-looking squad.
There was no Kyle Abbott, Fidel Edwards or Rilee Rossouw due to Covid travel restrictions.
Aneurin Donald was sidelined after undergoing a winter knee operation, while Liam Dawson missed the start of the Trophy season due to international commitments.
Dawson suffered an Achilles injury on his only county appearance, while another senior pro, Keith Barker, was restricted to just two Trophy outings due to injury.
That meant first-class debuts for Scott Currie, 19, Ajeet Dale, 20, and Tom Scriven, 21.
In addition, Harry Came, 21, played four Trophy games after starting the year with just one first-class match to his name.
Another youngster, Felix Organ, was a Trophy regular as Hampshire fielded their most inexperienced sides in first class cricket in their history.
Elsewhere, Ryan Stevenson returned to the first team, after just one Championship appearance in five years, while Brad Wheal - like Stevenson, another returning from a serious injury - featured after missing the entire 2019 season.
‘The Bob Willis Trophy worked well,’ recalled White.
‘At one stage I didn’t think we’d get any cricket, so the ECB did a great job in sorting something pretty quickly.
‘We had good wins against Middlesex and Surrey - two good sides.
‘Joe Weatherley did particularly well and a lot of youngsters got experience that should hold them in good stead.
‘This year they will all have to fight for their positions because we have a strong squad.
‘We have a hard-working environment where all the players are improving.
‘Everyone is extremely motivated - we’re very happy with the group we’ve got.’
After finishing third in the Championship in 2019, Hampshire had high hopes of making a strong title challenge last year.
Australian Test spinner Nathan Lyon had been signed and was due to take his place in a mouthwatering attack also comprising Abbott and Edwards.
‘We were really comfortable with the squad we had, but unfortunately we couldn’t bring it all together,’ said White.
Edwards, due to the Kolpak era ending following Brexit, won’t be returning as one of Hampshire’s two allotted overseas players in 2021. But as reported in last week’s News, hopes remain high that Lyon will return – Abbott having already signed a deal to play as one of the overseas duo.
‘Fidel has been an absolute superstar for us and he will be a hard guy to replace. Perhaps one of the youngsters will step up,’ said White.
Last time out, Hampshire claimed their highest four-day finish since 2008. On the way, they were the only team to beat champions Essex and also defeated runners-up Somerset in a remarkable game where Abbott claimed county-best match figures of 17-86.
‘We felt we were getting closer to competing with the better counties in the four-day game,’ said White.
‘For a few years we’d had a great record with the white ball but not so good with the red ball.
‘With the squad we have, we should be competing, we should be a competitive unit in four-day cricket.
‘We’re also aware that we need to raise our game in T20 cricket, we used to have a proud record there - that’s another one of our goals.’
Hampshire finished bottom of their T20 group in 2020, winning just two of their completed nine games and being outclassed in several of the defeats. It was hard to take for those who can remember the county qualifying for SIX successive Finals Days between 2010 and 2015 inclusive – winning the silverware twice.
Having been mothballed in 2020, this summer should also see the inaugural staging of The Hundred - the ECB’s controversial 100-ball an innings tournament featuring eight franchises.
At present, only two Hampshire players have been snapped up - Vince and Dawson will be playing for The Ageas Bowl based Southern Brave.
Chris Wood and Abbott had been drafted by the Oval Invincibles and London Spirit respectively in 2020, but have not yet been retained.
Abbott’s qualification status has changed this year. Following the abolition of the Kolpak status, he is now classed as an overseas player which could impact on whether the Lord’s-based franchise retain him.
Many traditionalists have been highly critical of The Hundred and vowed never to attend any of the games.
White, though, is happy to give the format a chance.
‘I’m excited about it, I’m open-minded - it’s something new and it will be interesting to see how it fits into the landscape,’ he admitted.
‘No-one thought T20 cricket would take off the way it has.
‘It (The Hundred) will attract a different audience, it’ll be a day out for the family. Let’s see how it goes and we can review it later on.’