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Gloves are off as Nic voices Hants concerns
HAMPSHIRE legend Nic Pothas fears for the county’s golden generation.
Pothas, Hampshire's most prolific post-war batsman-wicketkeeper, revealed his concerns following the arrival of Adam Wheater from Essex.
Wheater and Hampshire manager Giles White have refuted Essex coach Paul Grayson’s claim that the new signing has been assured a first-team place at the Ageas Bowl.
Nevertheless, Pothas is concerned that his successor, Michael Bates – who signed a new two-year deal four months ago – is not being nurtured adequately.
“For Batesy, it’s a massive worry,” he said. “He’s one of the best glovemen around but could conceivably be released at the end of next year if his batting is not up to speed.
“That’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Hampshire have played their card and you don’t have to be a genius to work out what they’re thinking.
“Why play a specialist wicketkeeper when you’ve got someone who can do both jobs?”
The situation bears some similarities to that which saw Pothas arrive from South Africa to replace Adie Aymes, ahead of homegrown Iain Brunnschweiler, 11 years ago.
Hampshire’s equivalent to Adam Gilchrist, Pothas went on to score 7,549 Championship runs at 43.9 and claim 398 dismissals from 2002-11.
Bates is one of the brightest wicket-keeping talents in the country but averages 19 compared to Wheater’s 39 with the bat.
He scored 530 Championship runs at 23 last year, including his maiden first-class hundred against Yorkshire at Headingley.
But Pothas is worried Bates will get fewer opportunities this year.
“Batesy has all the tools to be a good batter, he’s certainly got it in him to average 30,” he said.
“Technically he’s excellent but he’s very manufactured. Stick him in front of a batting machine and he’s beautiful to watch but he needs to learn how to make ugly runs and build an innings and that’s not easy.
“If I was him I’d be spending 90 per cent of my training time working on my batting, practising in different scenarios with constant throw-downs.
“Wicketkeepers need to score runs, that’s how they’re judged – and Wheater’s keeping skills will go through the roof when [Hampshire wicket-keeping coach] Bobby Parks, who’s the best I’ve had the privilege to work with, gets hold of him.”
Pothas mentored Hampshire’s “young bucks” towards the end of his decade at The Ageas Bowl and is concerned that Bates is not the only academy product whose career is stalling.
“Batesy has a responsibility to himself and his career to get better but the club have a responsibility to develop their young players and I’m not sure they’re doing that,” he said.
Pothas cites the examples of Danny Briggs, who made his England debut a year ago but played only four County Championship games last season, and England Lions batsman James Vince, who averages fewer than 25 in the Championship’s second division.
Briggs, Vince and Chris Wood helped Hampshire win an historic limited-overs cup double last season, as well as the club’s first t20 cup in 2010, when they were still in their teens.
But Hampshire have underachieved in the longer form of the game in recent seasons.
Former England Under-19s captain Liam Dawson, a Friends Provident Trophy winner alongside Pothas in 2009, at least had the chance to develop his bowling last year, albeit due in part to the non-selection of Briggs.
Hamza Riazuddin, however, has only played four Championship matches since making his debut five years ago.
“Only time will tell, but I worry that a couple of trophies last year are papering over the cracks,” continued Pothas, who came though South Africa’s system alongside the likes of Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock.
“People will say it’s easy to criticise from a distance, but it’s because I care so much for these guys and would do anything to see them succeed.
“They’re seriously talented cricketers and fantastic kids and all I want is for them to have the best opportunity to have the sort of career I was very fortunate to enjoy.
“Yes, they have a responsibility to themselves but they’re still young and they need direction.
“I’m sad to see the way people are being treated. I see players around the county circuit like Joe Root, who used to be behind our blokes in the pecking order, now doing great things.
“People need to be brave enough to look in the mirror. I want to see Briggsy playing every single game, Daws’ averaging 45 and Vincey, who’s one of the most talented young batsmen I’ve seen, averaging 50.
“Chris Wood’s another fantastic prospect, a guy you’d want with you in the trenches, I love him and guys like Hamza. But where’s Hamza’s career going? I’m not sure.”
Pothas was controversially released by Hampshire 18 months ago, after ten years of outstanding service limited during his last two seasons by niggling injuries.
“I loved my time at Hampshire, the supporters have always been fantastic to me and I will always be grateful to them, which is why I was so committed to the cause.
“But my last two years weren’t very enjoyable in cricketing terms, mainly because of the environment which was allowed to deteriorate after Warney left.
“It was all about my team mates and the supporters for me and the fact that I didn’t see eye to eye with [former captain] Dominic Cork was no secret.
“I had issues with how we went about things. Communication was a big area of concern for me. Finding things out first in the press on occasion was annoying.
“When I left I would have been happy to help the club and I offered to help coach Batesy for another two years to help develop him into a genuine wicketkeeper-batsman who could go on and represent the club for 15 or so years.
“But an offer wasn’t forthcoming and now they’ve gone down the route of bringing in a wicketkeeper from the outside, which is an interesting one.
“There probably should have been more thought into how they went about things.”
Pothas still sees many of his former Hampshire teammates, who are regular visitors to his home in West End Road, a six-hit from the Ageas Bowl, when he is back in the UK.
But these days he spends most of his time in the Channel Islands, focusing on his new role as Guernsey’s director of cricket.
Ironically, that involves working closely with Sussex, Hampshire’s arch-rivals during his playing days, through their partnership with the Guernsey Cricket Board.
“I’m loving my time in Guernsey overseeing cricket at all levels, it’s very much a role which allows me to be challenged and to develop,” he said.
“I like Sussex’s structure and the way they do things. “They’ve created a very positive environment which gives their players every chance to succeed.”