Coles handed another chance to prove he can be part of new-look Hampshire (From Basingstoke Gazette)
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Coles handed another chance to prove he can be part of new-look Hampshire
Matt Coles will today get another chance to prove he can be part of a new-look Hampshire in 2014.
The Kent loanee followed up match figures of 1-109 on his debut against Lancashire at Southport by taking 2-99 against Northants last week in a drawn Championship encounter at The Ageas Bowl.
And the 23-year-old retains his place for Hampshire’s Championship game at Worcestershire which was getting under way at New Road this morning.
While again showcasing their one-day abilities this season – reaching two semi-finals – the Royals have endured another frustrating first class campaign.
A season which began with promotion hopes quickly petered out and Hampshire entered today’s game only two points ahead of second bottom Kent.
They are staring at their lowest placed finish in the Championship since they ended second from bottom a decade ago.
“It’s not been an overly productive campaign in four-day cricket for the lads, but hopefully we can have a positive end to the season and get two or three wins from the last few games,” said Coles.
“I’ve settled in nicely here and hopefully I can have a good last few weeks and get some runs and wickets under my belt.”
Hampshire need 37 points from their last three games if they are to finish with more points than last season’s fourth-placed total.
Coaches cannot point a finger at either the batting line-up or the bowling department as a reason for the poor four-day form.
The truth is that both have failed to consistently perform.
Hampshire’s top runscorers in the Championship are captain Jimmy Adams and Liam Dawson.
Both have scored 777 runs in 20 innings with an identical average of 43.16.
Twenty nine batsmen in the Championship have scored more runs, though.
James Tomlinson, meanwhile, is Hampshire’s leading wicket-taker with 39 victims.
Next best are David Balcombe and Danny Briggs with 22.
Contrast that with the two teams currently in the promotion places in Division 2.
Leaders Lancashire have three bowlers who have taken more than 50 wickets – Kyle Hogg, Steven Kerrigan and Glen Chapple.
And second-placed Northants have three who have bagged more than 40 wickets – Australian Trent Copeland, David Willey and Steven Crook.
In order to win games in the Championship you need to bowl teams out twice.
Hampshire have not only struggled to do that this season, but they have regularly conceded large first innings totals that have left them with little chance of pressing for much-needed victories.
Only once this season, against rock bottom Leicestershire, have Hampshire bowled their opponents out for less than 200 in the first innings.
On that occasion, they went on to claim one of only two victories in 13 Championship outings.
All that leaves Ageas Bowl manager Giles White with much food for thought.
He knows his squad require a big injection of wicket-taking talent if the Royals are to return to the top flight, where they were between 2004 and 2011 inclusive.
Ruel Brathwaite, 28, is definitely on board for next year, having joined Hampshire after being left frustrated by a lack of opportunities at Durham.
The seamer took three wickets on his debut against Northants, but has been left out of the squad to face Worcestershire as Hampshire welcome back Danny Briggs.
White last week said Brathwaite would not be the only new signing ahead of next season.
“We will sign players,” said White.
“There will be some changes...teams evolve and there’s a need to recruit, but we’re not in a dissimilar place to any other year.”
White is right to say Hampshire need to recruit, but you could argue they ARE in a different place from previous years.
The Championship form is a cause for concern for a county who were runners-up in the top flight in 2005, and two highly experienced men might not be around next year to help out.
Dimi Mascarenhas has now played his last game for Hampshire, and even though he has not been a Championship regular for some time his experience and knowledge was a major dressing room asset.
White also said last week that Neil McKenzie might return in 2014, rather than he will definitely be back.
“We value Macc enormously but it’s whether we can get to a workable agreement,” he said.
“It’s unrealistic to think he’ll be around all season so it’s whether there’s a period that works for us and for him.”
Hampshire are obviously in the hunt for a new top order batsman after showing interest in Kent’s Sam Northeast.
Had they signed him, it would have been interesting to see where he would have fitted into a top order already boasting Michael Carberry, Jimmy Adams and James Vince – three first choice picks.
In the absence of McKenzie and/or an overseas batsman, there could well be an opening for another batter in 2014.
Michael Roberts has so far failed to shine in four Championship matches – scoring 108 runs at just 18.00.
Another young batsman, Sean Terry, has not played at all in the Championship this season after featuring briefly at the start of the 2012 campaign. Terry, though, was named in the squad to face Worcestershire.
Which direction Hampshire take regarding their overseas player for 2014 will be fascinating.
In recent times they have plumped for a batsman – Simon Katich last year and George Bailey at the start of the current season.
But would the county be better off looking at an overseas fast bowler following White’s recent comment that “we need depth in our bowling.”
Some counties have certainly had success this year with bringing in Australian seamers.
Michael Hogan is currently the leading wicket-taker in the Championship, and his wickets have also helped Glamorgan reach the YB40 final.
Sussex import Steve Magoffin, like Hogan uncapped at Test level for his country, is the second highest wicket-taker in the four-day league.
And a third Aussie, Copeland, is Northants’ leading wicket-taker in a season which could see them add a Championship promotion to their surprise Friends Life t20 success.
Hampshire have proved in recent years that they are one of the top one-day teams in the country, if not THE best.
Though they have failed to retain either the t20 or 40-over titles this year, they did at least reach the semi-final in both after topping their qualifying groups.
While that is to be applauded – and it is one-day crowds rather than Championship attendances which really help fill the coffers – the Royals must also address their continuing poor four-day form.
As always, it is easy identifying the problem.
Finding the solution, whether it comes from home or overseas, is the difficult part.
Hants (v Worcs, from): Adams, Ervine, Dawson, Terry, Roberts, Vince, Bates, Briggs, Tomlinson, Wood, Wheater, Coles, Balcombe.
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