By Matt Somerford
The most bankable constant in county cricket is on the verge of being realised yet again.
Hampshire have not quite booked their NatWest T20 Blast quarter-final ticket, but the south-coast county are only a step away from reaching the last-eight for the sixth successive season.
It is a remarkable record given the whim and fortune the sprint format can depend upon, yet most probably Hampshire are just proving there is a fine art to Twenty20 that can be learnt.
With an unprecedented fifth successive finals day also beckoning it is fair to assume the blueprint for Twenty20 success is a well-thumbed document down at the Ageas Bowl.
For other envious counties it is an essential read to get their hands on.
James Vince is in his first season at the helm of Hampshire in Twenty20 cricket, and has overseen a seamless handover of power from the now-retired Dimi Mascarenhas, who freely admitted his job was made easier by a team that knew what was required from them.
Perhaps that has been a key element in freeing Vince to lead from the front, quite literally, at the top of the order as he has enjoyed a breakthrough season.
The Blast has offered him the perfect platform to showcase the expansive side of his engaging talent, with 279 runs at an average of 31 placing him amongst the competition’s top runscorers.
Australian team-mate Glenn Maxwell has been enamoured enough to label Vince as a “superstar”.
Even when the runs have not flowed as freely for Vince, he has the luxury of a power-packed line-up behind him including the likes of Jimmy Adams, Michael Carberry, Sean Ervine and Maxwell.
They are names to strike fear into the heart of opposition bowling attacks.
But the Hampshire blueprint is not just reliant on heavy hitting and their recent results provide an insight into how important their bowlers are – especially at defending scores.
Hampshire have won six of their seven games when they have bowled second this season. By contrast they have lost two of their three games when they’ve got first use of the ball. Their bowlers appear to like a target.
Even more impressively Hampshire have four bowlers who have taken 10 or more wickets – no other team has more than two bowlers who fit into that category.
England spinner Danny Briggs has made his name as a short-format expert – he was the competition’s runner-up wicket-taker in 2010 and 2011 – and is again second on the chart this term with 15 at 14.46.
In able assistance are seamers Chris Wood (12), Will Smith (11) and Matt Coles (10) while South Africa international Kyle Abbott adds further capable depth.
Hampshire’s seamers were critical in Friday night’s 47-run win over Kent Spitfires, which ominously moved them up to second in the South Group.
Wood’s 4-24 was the standout, as he provoked a Spitfires collapse of six for 12, while Coles and Abbott both struck twice as reward for strangling the home batting.
It has become a telling recent trend for Hampshire, who have defended a target in their past four games – winning three times and twice by six runs or less.
With Hampshire delivering on a well-rehearsed formula - and their next three Blast games all at their Ageas Bowl fortress - the rest of the competition take note.