James Vince believes Hampshire will mix it with the big boys after a winter of shrewd signings – and a little bit of luck.
Captain Vince saw his side finish in the bottom two of the Specsavers County Championship last year but avoided relegation after Durham were punished for their financial problems.
But Hampshire have taken their surprise Division One windfall and decided to capitalise on it with a series of heavyweight recruits.
In come South African Kolpaks Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott along with overseas star George Bailey also boosting what became a threadbare squad in 2016 – with injuries and illnesses to Fidel Edwards, Michael Carberry, Reece Topley and Chris Wood, along with regular smaller layoffs and international call-ups and to contend with.
Batsman Vince is hoping a packed squad – with an assorted mixture of international stars and exciting, yet experienced youngsters – will bring a first Championship title since 1973 and a return to their One Day Kings status.
“Last year it felt like we had a decent squad but the injuries that came hampered us and we probably didn’t have the strength and depth to put out a side that was really able to compete with the top sides,” Vince said.
“I’m really excited heading into this year and the group of lads we’ve got here I know are really excited too.
“Since I’ve been involved it’s probably our strongest squad in terms of strength and depth of both batting and bowling and some of the younger guys that have moved up have become even better players so fingers crossed guys stay fit.
“We’ve got a really good chance of challenging in all three competitions," he added. “I think looking at the squad we’ve got and the way we’ve added to it, the belief of everyone around is that we really can compete with anyone in the division.
“Obviously a handful of other counties have been strong for a good few years, Yorkshire, Middlesex and teams like that, but I think we could be the surprise this year.”
After a manic year, where he fulfilled his dream of becoming a Test player, Vince was happy for a quiet winter to focus on the bits of 2016 that didn’t go so well.
During his seven Test run in the England side, Vince only averaged 19.27 with a weakness outside his off stump targeted by Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
But the new dad managed to play only a few games, including a short three game smash in the Big Bash, to hone in on his perceived technical deficiencies.
Vince explained: “I’ve got a new baby girl so it’s been nice to spend some time at home and have a decent break which I think has done me a lot of good - it’s great, tiring, but I love it and she’s all well.
“I’ve been working on technical stuff throughout the off-season here with the coaches and it’s been the first winter where I haven’t been away playing for the full period so it’s been a nice break to put the bat down for a bit and enjoy time at home.”
Vince also continues to harbour hope of a recall to the England side this summer – with his last action during October’s ODIs with Bangladesh.
“There’s a lot of one-day cricket in England next summer so a few good performances there heading into the new season could move you up the ladder further down the line,” Vince said.
“Obviously I want to get back into the side and if I can rewind eight months I would, but that’s been and gone now.
“The work I’ve been doing here has hopefully moved my game forward. All I can do really is perform well in four-day cricket here for Hampshire and try and score as many runs and win as many games and see where I end up at the end of the year - it should be an exciting 2017.”
Another Hampshire home grown starlet that has got tongues wagging at the Lord’s HQ is leg spinner Mason Crane – with success in the North-South series further enhancing his notoriety.
The 20-year-old stunned Grade batmen in Australia to take a hat full of wickets before becoming the first overseas player to turn out for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield since Imran Khan in 1985.
Crane, along with the increasingly classy run-maker Tom Alsop, wicketkeeper Lewis McManus and seriously quick Brad Wheal, benefited from Hampshire’s 2016 injury woes – and have made the squad much deeper.
But the man who would turn a ball from outside leg to outside off on slate is still refusing to get carried away by his whirlwind two and a half years.
“I’ve got to understand I’m still quite young and a long way down the pecking order," he said. "So I’ll just keep doing my stuff for Hampshire, I hope this year I can go on from there.
“It’s been a great winter so far. I’ve finished it well with the white ball stuff with this, and hopefully I can finish it with the red-ball next week in the MCC v Middlesex game.”