WILL Smith admits that adapting to 50-over cricket has been a challenge for Hampshire.
Hampshire have the first of three must-win Royal London One-Day Cup games today, against Worcestershire at The Ageas Bowl (2pm start), after winning one of their first five fixtures.
After three defeats from four games, heavy rain meant Hampshire’s latest match against Northants on Friday was a ‘no-result’.
But with most sides beating each other in Group A, three wins from three should ensure qualification for the quarter-finals of county cricket’s first 50-over competition since Hampshire won the 2009 Friends Provident Trophy.
“If we lose another game we’ll be struggling so we’re probably in must-win territory now, which seems to be where we like to be,” said Smith.
“That’s been when Hampshire have played their best one-day cricket in recent years so it might not be a bad thing.
“It’s obviously not what we planned for but when we know we have to win everyone seems to be able to lift their performance by ten to 15 per cent.”
Smith admits that starting a new competition in late July has been a challenge.
“Every county’s in the same situation so we can’t bemoan it too much but the way the schedule’s worked this year, with four-day cricket mixed in with t20 throughout, to suddenly have a completely different competition has been tricky,” said Smith.
“I think a lot of teams have struggled to know how to play it. Fifty overs seems like a hell of a long time now when, for the last few years, we’ve just been playing 20 and 40-over cricket.
“So it’s getting that balance between being as expansive as you can and keeping wickets in hand and batting the full 50 overs.
“That’s one area we’ve struggled but there are signs we’re maybe just starting to get it right, albeit without the right results.
“We feel we’re on an upward curve going into the next three games.”
Hampshire amassed 360-9, the highest 50-over total in the county’s history and their second highest one-day total, when they won their only game against Lancashire at Old Trafford two weeks ago. But rain has played a big part in denying them wins at The Ageas Bowl, with Leicestershire chasing down a 25-over Duckworth-Lewis target two days before the Northants wash-out.
“We were slightly flummoxed by the weather on that occasion too and a fabulous innings by [Niall] O’Brien,” said Smith.
“Had we got the full 50 overs we’d have backed ourselves, there was a bit of turn in the wicket, it was quite slow and we had a score on the board.”
With 230 runs at 46, Smith is Hampshire’s top One-Day Cup scorer but has been frustrated not to build on scores of 35, 49, 47, 40 and 59.
“I’d like to be more prolific and get a big score to help the team achieve bigger targets,” he said.
“Ideally you would want one guy getting a hundred and 70 or 80 from another. Our one hundred was a phenomenal innings from Maxi (Glenn Maxwell), when with someone batting around him we got a score in excess of 300. That’s what we have to be aiming at every time.
“We’ve had too many fifties and sixties which is disappointing, but it also shows people are playing well so we have to see the positive side of that too.”
The fact that the 50-over format has returned to mirror one-day internationals means differences to the format the counties last played five years ago.
As well as having a maximum of two fielders outside the circle during the opening ten-over powerplay and three during the five-over batting powerplay, bowlers are allowed no more than four (instead of five) for the other 35 overs too.
The use of a new ball in the second innings was also introduced in 2012.
“The way the competition’s structured now, it seems to be skewed slightly too much towards the batsmen - I shouldn’t be saying that as a batter but I’m an all rounder now!" continued Smith, who has taken three wickets with his off-spin.
“It’s very hard to bowl spin in those middle overs, always knowing you have to have one more man up.
“It’s a good skill if you can do it and if you can master that art you’ve done really well. But it’s skewed a little too much, particularly with two new balls.
“When you have one new ball in 40-over and 50-over cricket, towards the end you can get it to reverse which evens the battle a little.”
With Adam Wheater seeing out the second game of his two-match ban, Hampshire are likely to be unchanged against Worcestershire but have included trialist Basil Akram, a 21 year-old seamer, in a 12-man squad.
Hampshire (probable): Carberry, Terry, Adams, Smith, Ervine, Dawson, Bates, Wood, Coles, Briggs, Tomlinson.