Vitality Blast 2022 Finals Day Preview: Hampshire Hawks 9th Time Lucky?
Hampshire have been to six Vitality Blast Finals Days at Edgbaston and on each occasion they have returned to the Ageas Bowl without reaching the final. James Vince and his Hampshire Hawks teammates are fed up with hearing it.
Last year certainly felt like Hampshire were cursed. Somerset needed a whopping 46 runs from the final three overs and were seven wickets down. Chris Wood’s first three overs had only gone for eight runs, and Brad Wheal’s first 12 balls had seen just ten runs.
Hampshire lost with two balls to spare.
But after smashing Birmingham Bears on the ground in the quarter-final, perhaps the hoodoo or at least the mentality barrier has been lifted.
Vince thinks so: “Winning there so well last week means any nerves of playing at Edgbaston, which I don’t think there was, to be honest, will all be out the way now.
“We’ve not got through to a final at Edgbaston but playing the quarter-final there has hopefully given us a bit of a pre-run of what to expect on Finals Day. It has got everyone used to conditions and the guys should have confidence.
“Anything can happen in a semi-final but I feel like we are in as good a place as possible going into Saturday. You can’t overthink things as in T20 things can turn in the blink of an eye.
“The good thing last year was that we were ahead of the game for large periods, but obviously we couldn’t get over the line.
“It was just some execution at the back end and they struck the ball cleanly. With the guys at the bottom of the order able to hit it so well you have to be right on it until the game is done and dusted.”
Somerset are the opposition again nine months later, with the two counties somewhat rivals in recent big occasions.
Hampshire won out in the 2010 Blast final, and the 2012 semi-final plus prevented Somerset from winning their maiden County Championship in 2019. But Somerset have last year’s semi and the Royal London Cup in 2019 in their locker.
“We’ve played Somerset a lot so there is a good competitive edge, but I’m not sure where that stemmed from,” Vince explained. “They are a team we are wary of but not one we fear.
“We’ve beaten them a few times in the four-day stuff this year and it is one apiece in the T20s.”
Vince has been the driving force behind Hampshire’s run to the final – which saw them turn four dismal defeats into ten wins from 11.
The elegant batter has 483 runs – including two crushing centuries – and needs just 57 runs on Finals Day to equal his own record breaking Blast season from 2015.
Not much has changed with Vince, but there is a secret tactic that has propelled the Hawks to big scores.
“Some of the wickets were tough this season so we wanted to take our time, give ourselves a chance and play some good cricket,” Vince confided.
“We know we don’t need to go too hard in the first couple of overs and we can give ourselves a bit of time to assess conditions and build a partnership. We know we can catch up, especially on smaller grounds and Edgbaston isn’t massive.
“I’ve struck up a decent partnership with Benny at the top of the order and when you get a partnership going then it’s easier to that your aggressive options. The guy at the other end plays a big role in my form.”
Last year’s run to the biggest day in domestic cricket was kind of an accident, with the likes of Tom Prest, Joe Weatherley and Toby Albert not expected to explode as they did.
This time thanks to those experiences, it has certainly not been a fluke.
“I think last year was a big building block in terms of bringing through younger players, Vince said. “It was a building year but we got on such a good run we found ourselves at Finals Day.
“Those experiences from last year’s Finals Day and another campaign will no doubt help them and give them more confidence.
“It is a fine balance between giving young guys opportunities and making sure you have a team that you feel comfortable that can go out and win. We saw guys stand up, take their opportunities last year and have now become regulars.
“I think as I’m getting a little bit older, those younger guys coming in look up to you…even if it doesn’t always feel like that!
“But when you put yourself in their shoes you think about how it was when I first came into the team, people like Jimmy Adams and Neil McKenzie. It is natural for them to look up to the senior guys. Myself, Daws and Woody have a lot of experience now playing T20 and we try and set the example.”
The Hawks will be competing in a record-equalling ninth Finals Day. Vince has been a part of all nine, with a decade now passing since the last of their two trophy lifts.
“The fact we are making so many Finals Days is a good sign shows we're fairly consistent in a format that it's hard to be consistent in,” Vince said.
“It would be nice to finally win another one!”
©Cricket World 2022