Hampshire hoping new signing Mohammad Abbas will be a ‘potent force’ with Kyle Abbott
Giles White is hoping overseas pair Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas can be a ‘potent force’ in Hampshire’s bid for County Championship glory.
The Ageas Bowl director of cricket hailed Abbas as ‘an outstanding performer’ following the news of the Pakistan record-breaker’s arrival on a two-month red ball contract.
Abbas - 31 next week - will be available for the seven Championship group games Hampshire will play in April and May.
If the county end up qualifying for Division 1 in a remodelled first class structure for 2021, they will look to bring him back for the four games taking place in late August and September.
Hampshire had been due to welcome Australian Test spinner Nathan Lyon for the whole of the 2020 Championship season.
That plan was dashed by the pandemic, and the ending of the Kolpak era helped bring about a change of thinking.
Both Abbott and Fidel Edwards, a mainstay of Hampshire’s attack in recent years, saw their Kolpak status erased due to Brexit during the winter.
With Edwards having celebrated his 39th birthday last month, the county have instead brought in a younger seam bowler still playing Test cricket regularly.
Crucially, Abbas is no stranger to English conditions, having had two fine spells with Leicestershire in 2018 and 2019 and also producing a man-of-the-match display in a Lord’s Test three years ago.
In May 2018 he took 19 wickets in successive Tests. After bagging 4-44 and 5-66 in Pakistan’s win against Ireland in Dublin, he claimed 4-32 and 4-41 in a nine-wicket victory against England at headquarters.
Those performances helped him become the fastest pace bowler to reach 50 wickets for Pakistan, an achievement he reached in his 10th Test - not bad for someone who didn’t make his Test debut until he was 27.
‘Mo has played county cricket over here and he’s played Test cricket over here, and he’s an outstanding performer at both levels,’ said White.
‘We feel the early season conditions will suit him well, and we are hopeful that along with Kyle Abbott they will be a potent force.
‘We’re expecting Mo around March 21 so he will have a nice lead-in to the first game.’
That will be against Abbas’ former county, Leicestershire, at Grace Road on April 8.
He will also be available for trips to Surrey and Middlesex as well as Ageas Bowl matches with Gloucestershire, Middlesex and Leicestershire.
That last game, starting on May 20, will be the only time spectators will be allowed in to watch Abbas playing for Hampshire.
The county need to finish in the top two to qualify for Division 1, which will see four more first-class games at the back end of the season. From there, the top two will contest the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s.
‘There was some uncertainty around Nathan Lyon coming over, so we thought about it and decided to go for a high-quality seamer who should suit the early season conditions,’ said White.
‘Mo fits that bill.
‘It hasn’t been easy, it’s been a challenge with Covid and a lot of international cricket being played.
‘Boards are looking to fit in as much international cricket as they can to fill their quota of games
‘Mo will give you control, he’s a very accurate bowler, and if there’s anything in the wicket he will extract it - not dissimilar to Kyle Abbott.’
The pair certainly promise wickets. Abbott bagged 122 in 27 top flight Championship games in 2018 and 2019 while Abbas claimed 79 in 19 matches in the same period in the second tier for Leicestershire.
‘We’ve got seven Championship matches in April and May, that’s a heavy workload,’ White continued.
‘The bowlers will have to work hard and we will have to manage them, but Mo is capable of putting in the hard yards.’
That is true - he bowled 345 overs in his 10 Championship games in 2018.
Abbas will certainly be arriving in England feeling fresh - he has only played a handful of 50-over games in Pakistan in January since his last Test outing against New Zealand over the Christmas period.
Looking further ahead, White said: ‘We’ll see how things pan out.
‘If we qualify for the top division, we’ll look to see if we can get Mo back.
‘If we don’t get through to Division 1, we’ll go with the group we’ve got and give some opportunities to the younger players.’
Hampshire could well field a third experienced seamer, Keith Barker, in their Championship XI.
The 34-year-old missed the last month of the 20202 campaign with a knee injury that required an operation.
‘We are hopeful Keith will be available to start, but that’s by no means certain,’ revealed White.
‘Liam Dawson is another coming back from a long-term injury. He’s taking it slowly but surely at the moment, but he was out running this week.
‘If they’re not available to start, we feel we have the depth in the squad to fill their roles.
Top order batsman Aneurin Donald, though, is definitely fit after missing the whole of 2020 following an ACL injury which required surgery in December 2019.
‘He’s fit to go, there’s no issues with him,’ confirmed White.
Looking at his squad overall, the director of cricket added: ‘We have a nice balance, I really do feel that.
‘The batting is strong - the fact James Vince turned down the chance to be involved in the IPL auction speaks volumes for him.
‘His motivation is high and the captain is keen to get us off to a good start.
‘We feel we have a strong Championship squad, but we’re in a tough group - Somerset and Surrey are two sides historically up there challenging.’
Hampshire’s players have been training in small groups over the winter, but White is hopeful that at the back end of next week they will start training outside.
Under coaches Jimmy Adams and Alfonso Thomas, the squad will be split into two teams with a view to stepping up training.