Hampshire’s top order oozing big hitting potential ahead of 2022 T20 Blast curtain-raiser against Middlesex at The Ageas Bowl

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James Vince feels Hampshire are in a ‘more established place’ ahead of a new T20 Blast campaign than they were 12 months ago.

The skipper leads his new-look side into action in tomorrow evening’s South group curtain-raiser against Middlesex at The Ageas Bowl.

He will be hoping for a better start than the county got off to in the 2021 tournament, which saw them lose five of their first six completed matches.

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Remarkably, Hampshire then reeled off five wins in a row, jumping off bottom spot to sneak into the fourth qualifying place on run rate. An eighth successive quarter-final win took them to their first Finals Day since 2017, where they suffered an agonising loss to Somerset.

Only four English qualified players have ever hit more T20 runs than Hampshire skipper James Vince. Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images.Only four English qualified players have ever hit more T20 runs than Hampshire skipper James Vince. Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images.
Only four English qualified players have ever hit more T20 runs than Hampshire skipper James Vince. Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images.

Hampshire have two new overseas players this year in top order batter Ben McDermott and Nathan Ellis, who played in the same Hobart Hurricanes side in the last Big Bash League campaign and are current Australian international T20 team-mates.

Aneurin Donald is back after two years out through injury, while another big hitter, Ross Whiteley, has been recruited on a white ball only contract.

Hampshire’s top order certainly comes with a promise of boundaries.

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McDermott was the leading runscorer in the 2021/22 BBL, with 577 at 48.08, while Whiteley’s highest T20 score is the unbeaten 91 he thrashed off 35 balls playing for Worcestershire in 2015. The left-hander only hit two fours, but smashed 11 sixes!

Whiteley has been recruited after playing alongside Vince and Liam Dawson for the title-winning Southern Brave, based at The Ageas Bowl, in last summer’s inaugural Hundred edition.

There, he smacked an unbeaten 44 off just 19 balls - with four sixes and four sixes - in the final win over Birmingham Phoenix at Lord’s, his highest score of the tournament.

‘Ross enjoyed it here in The Hundred,’ said Vince. ‘Chalky (Giles White, Hampshire director of cricket) had mentioned his name a few times before, but he was happy at Worcestershire. When he said he was looking for a new challenge, it was a no brainer.’

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Donald, meanwhile, smote 51 off 32 balls against Middlesex in 2019 when he was opening alongside Vince.

That could well be the combination used in the opening game this year, though McDermott scored his runs for Hobart in the winter at the top of the order as well.

‘Aneurin is one of the most explosive batters around,’ said Vince. ‘And Ross Whiteley can be one of the most destructive batters in county cricket too.’

Elsewhere in the top order, Joe Weatherley enjoyed a breakthrough T20 campaign in 2021, hitting 410 runs - the county’s highest - at a stunning strike rate of 141.

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He helped Hampshire chase an improbable 185 for victory in just 13 overs in the final group game against Glamorgan, smashing 43 not out off just 13 deliveries. In the semi-final, he hit a T20 best 71 off 50 balls, with five sixes.

‘Joe had a massive year last year,’ said Vince. ‘He showed what he’s capable of. Hopefully he can carry on that form. And he collects his runs in different ways, so he’s always keeping the opposition thinking.

‘We feel like the team is in a more established place at the start of this season (compared to last year).

‘Nathan Ellis will add his ability to bowl at the death and in the powerplays.

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‘I just want everyone to go out there and express themselves, to do what we did in the second half of last season.’

Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned the crown jewel in Hampshire’s T20 batting, which is Vince himself.

It’s now 12 years since he helped the county win the tournament for the first time in his debut T20 campaign.

With 7,525 career runs, he is the 29th highest scoring batter in T20 cricket in the world. Only four English qualified players - Alex Hales, Luke Wright, Ravi Bopara and Jos Buttler - have scored more.

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Only three players - Wright, Riki Wessels and Joe Denly - have scored more than his 4,199 runs since the English county T20 started in 2003.

And no English player has ever scored more T20 runs in a calendar year than Vince did when collecting 1,390 in 2019.

He top scored with 55 in England’s last T20 international, against the West Indies at the end of January. Since then, though, there were three ducks in a six-game stint in the Pakistan Super League with Quetta Gladiators.

Vince knows T20 cricket has changed a lot since he made his debut.

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‘The white ball success England have had… if you want to get into the side, you have to play a certain way. That’s upped the skill levels.

‘There’s also less time now in an innings to have a rebuilding phase.’