County Season Preview

Ah, county cricket.  Ostensibly the start of the English summer, it is a shining beacon for the traditions of the great game.  Whilst all the razzmatazz of the Indian Premier League is taking place in the subcontinent, the start of the English County season has extraordinarily slipped under the radar.  It kicks off in haste on the 10th of April and what a season it is shaping up to be: a revamped T20 tournament with some of the biggest stars in the game: a new 50 over one-day competition that will (definitely not) guarantee England success on the international stage: and the County Championship, with more thrills and spills than a Hollywood blockbuster.  Even I’m struggling to contain my excitement.  What’s not to love?  This column looks at the 18 teams gunning for glory.

Derbyshire:

2012 Results:

County Championship (Division 2): 1st (promoted)

CB 40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: Wayne Madsen

Overseas player: Shivnarine Chanderpaul (West Indies)

In: Richard Johnson (Warwickshire), Billy Godleman (Essex), Jonathan Marsden (academy)

Out: Garry Park, Matt Lineker, Hamza Siddique (all released)

Derbyshire had an excellent 2012, winning promotion to Division 1 in the County Championship.  They traditionally have excellent seam bowlers but often struggle with the bat.  They will need the evergreen Shivnarine Chanderpaul to be at the top of his game if they are to avoid a rapid return to Division 2.  They don’t have a marquee signing for the T20 don’t expect them to pull up any trees, or anything else for that matter.

Durham:

County Championship (Division 1): 6th

CB 40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain:  Paul Collingwood

Overseas player: TBA

In: none

Out: Michael Di Venuto (retired), Liam Plunkett (Yorkshire), Ian Blackwell (retired)

A strangely subdued 2012 by their standards, they have seen three key players leave and no replacements.  They could be hit hard by England call-ups mid-season if Onions, Stokes and Borthwick shine.  They still have plenty of experience with Paul ‘three shots’ Collingwood and Dale Benkenstein, and their bowling is also strong.  I feel they need a big overseas signing to take challenge for the championship but finances are tight so they might have to make do with what they have.  With a few promising youngsters, they might feature strongly in the T20s.

Essex:

County Championship (Division 2): 5th

CB 40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: James Foster

Overseas player: Rob Quiney (Australia, until end of T20 campaign), Shaun Tait (Australia, T20)

In: Sajid Mahmood (Lancashire)

Out: Billy Godleman (Derbyshire), Michael Comber (released), Charl Willoughby (retired), Adam Wheater (Hampshire)

Essex had a disappointing season for a side with so much talent.  They have brought in more firepower in the shape of Sajid Mahmood to join the exciting Reece Topley and the grizzled veteran David Masters.  They boast Fearsome T20 line-up in the shape of Ryan ten Doeschate, Graham Napier and Owais Shah with bat in hand and Shaun Tait haring in with the ball.  Their season will depend on their batsmen; if Ravi Bopara and Shah find form, they should be right in the mix.  If not, a season of obscurity awaits.

Glamorgan:

County Championship (Division 2): 6th

CB 40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: Mark Wallace (Championship), Marcus North (T20 & LO)

Overseas player: Marcus North (Australia), Dirk Nannes (Australia, T20)

In: Murray Goodwin (Sussex), Michael Hogan (Western Australia)
Out: Robert Croft (retired), James Harris (Middlesex), Chris Ashling, Aneurin Norman, Mike O’Shea (all released)

After 23 seasons of service, Robert Croft decided to hang up his boots, so at least the Dragons’ dressing room will be a little more spacious without the tubby Welshman.  Losing his experience and also James Harris to Middlesex is a big blow but signing Murray Goodwin was a shrewd move.  They will rely on Goodwin and South African Martin van Jaarsveld for runs in the championship but I can’t see where their wickets will come from.  With T20 specialist Dirk Nannes signed up, they’re an outside bet for a finals day spot.

Gloucestershire:

County Championship (Division 2): 9th

CB 40: Group Stage

FL T20: Quarter-finals

Captain: Michael Klinger

Overseas player: Michael Klinger (Australia), Daniel Christian (Australia, T20)

In: Gareth Roderick, Cameron Herring, Craig Miles, Matt Taylor (all academy)
Out: Jonathan Batty (retired), David Wade (released)

Gloucestershire have a very inexperienced squad for 2013 and unfortunately I reckon a repeat of 2012’s lacklustre performance is on the cards.  They will need new captain and overseas signing Michael Klinger and ex New Zealand batsman Hamish Marshall to start scoring runs from the off.  They also lack firepower in the bowling department.  Let’s hope their fielding is good.  It could be a long summer for the west-country club.

Hampshire:

County Championship (Division 2): 4th

CB40: Winners

FL T20: Winners

Captain: Jimmy Adams

Overseas player: George Bailey (Australia, until August); Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan, from August)

In: Michael Roberts (Unicorns), Jack Sheppard (academy), Adam Wheater (Essex)

Out: Kabir Ali (Lancashire), Simon Katich (Lancashire), Bilal Shafayat (released)

Hampshire took a clean sweep in the one-day competitions in 2012, steamrollering opponents in the T20 Cup and winning a nail-biting final in the CB40 against Warwickshire.  Retaining those trophies may prove beyond them, but this season they will want to build on that success in the County Championship with promotion to Division 1 very much on the cards.  George Bailey will bolster their batting and Danny Briggs will hope to spin them to victory later in the summer.  With Tomlinson and Balcombe as the opening bowlers, they are my tip for the Division 2 title.

Kent:

County Championship (Division 2): 3rd

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: James Tredwell

Overseas player: Brendan Nash (West Indies)

In: Calum Haggett (Somerset)
Out: Simon Cook (released)

2012 was season of what-might-have-beens for the Spitfires.  They just missed out on promotion and came close to qualifying from their groups in both the T20 and CB40.  James Tredwell has assumed the captaincy which will hopefully release Rob Key to score heavily.  Kent will need him and the young Sam Northeast to have good seasons if they are going to have any designs on promotion.  They don’t have any marquee signings for the T20s so don’t expect to see them at finals day.

Lancashire:

County Championship (Division 1): 8th (relegated)

CB40: Semi-finals

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: Glenn Chapple

Overseas player: Simon Katich (Australia)

In: Wayne White (Leicestershire), Kabir Ali (Hampshire), Alex Davies, Gavin Griffiths, Luis Reece, Arron Lilley (all academy)
Out: Sajid Mahmood (Essex), Naqaash Tahir (released), Gary Keedy (Surrey)

2012 was a nightmare season for the Lightning.  12 months after winning the County Championship they had the ignominy of a return to the 2nd division.  They will be hoping for a quick return, and in Simon Katich and Ashwell Prince, they definitely have the batting to post intimidating totals.  The question is, will the bowlers have enough after letting go of Sajid Mahmood, Ajmal Shahzad and the wily old fox Gary Keedy?

Leicestershire

County Championship (Division 2): 7th

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: Ramnaresh Sarwan (County Championship), Josh Cobb (T20 & LO)

Overseas player: Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies), Joe Burns (Australia, May-August), Shakib Al-Hasan (Bangladesh, T20)

In: Niall O’Brien (Northamptonshire), Anthony Ireland, Robbie Williams (both Middlesex), Tom Wells, Ollie Freckingham, Angus Robson (all academy)
Out: Wayne White (Lancashire), Will Jefferson, Paul Dixey (both retired), Robbie Joseph, Will Jones, Jacques du Toit, Nadeem Malik (all released)

Leicestershire have been down in the doldrums for some years now, and 2012 was no different.  They desperately need Matthew Hoggard to stay fit for an entire season, but even he may not be able to drag the Foxes towards the top end of the table.  They may have a chance of silverware in the shorter forms of the game, with Shakib Al-Hasan a very shrewd signing.  Expect to see them troubling the scorers at the T20 finals day.

Middlesex:

County Championship (Division 1): 3rd

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: Neil Dexter (T20 & LO), Chris Rogers (County Championship)

Overseas player: Chris Rogers (Australia); Adam Voges (Australia, T20)

In: Nick Gubbins (academy), James Harris (Glamorgan)

Out: Andrew Strauss (retired), Scott Newman, Tom Scollay (both released), Anthony Ireland (Leicestershire), Robbie Williams (Leicestershire), Steven Crook (Northants)

Middlesex had a strong 2012, finishing 3rd after promotion from the 2nd Division.  They will have their sights set even higher, but much depends on their top-order.  If they can score runs consistently, the platform will be set for the seamers to do the damage – and with new recruit James Harris joining Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh, the Panthers have a quality bowling attack.  This is a key season for ex-England opener Joe Denly – his batting is as loose as a clown’s pocket but if he can knuckle down and reign in his natural instincts he can be a match winner.

Northamptonshire:

County Championship (Division 2): 8th

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: Stephen Peters (County Championship), Alex Wakely (T20 & LO)

Overseas player: Trent Copeland (Australia, April-June), Cameron White (Australia, T20)

In: Matthew Spriegel (Surrey), Steven Crook (Middlesex), Muhammad Azhar Ullah, Ben Duckett, Rob Keogh, Christian Davis, James Kettleborough (academy)
Out: Jack Brooks (Yorkshire), Niall O’Brien (Leicestershire), Chaminda Vaas, Ben Howegego, Rob White, Dave Burton (all released)

After a pretty disastrous 2012, Northants will be hoping to bounce back this season with a strong showing in all forms of the game.  Matthew Spriegel should bring some expertise to the limited-overs arena and Steven Crook will add much-needed experience to a young squad.  With Cameron White signed up for the T20s, they definitely have the ingredients to be in the mix come the knockout stages.

Nottinghamshire:

County Championship (Division 1): 5th

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Quarter-finals

Captain: Chris Read

Overseas player: Ed Cowan (Australia, April-June), David Hussey (Australia, June-August)

In: Ajmal Shahzad (Yorkshire)
Out: Darren Pattinson (gave up domestic status), Neil Edwards, Karl Turner, Scott Elstone (all released)

The Outlaws had a solid 2012 and look well equipped for an assault on all three trophies this time round.  The have added Ajmal Shahzad to their bowling attack who should shine in the seam-friendly surroundings of Trent Bridge.  They also have two current Australia internationals as the overseas players in the shape of Ed Cowan and David Hussey.  Add Michael Lumb at the top of the order and you’re looking at a formidable batting line-up.  Lead by the consistently brilliant Chris Read, Nottinghamshire are a decent bet for the title.

Somerset:

County Championship (Division 1): 2nd

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Semi-finals

Captain: Marcus Trescothick

Overseas player: Alviro Petersen (South Africa, April-July), Abdur Rehman (Pakistan, July onwards)

In:

Out:

The perennial bridesmaids of recent seasons have seen precious little action in the off-season, but they don’t really need any new blood in the squad.  Unfortunately you can’t acquire the ability to turn second into first.  2013 could be the last chance for this squad of players to win silverware; Marcus Trescothick isn’t getting any younger and Jos Buttler and Nick Compton will be increasingly involved in the England set-up.  The decision by the England management to drop Craig Kieswetter could be a blessing in disguise.  They’re always there or thereabouts for the one-day competitions too.  It’s now or never for Somerset.

Surrey:

County Championship (Division 1): 7th

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: Graeme Smith

Overseas player: Graeme Smith (South Africa), Ricky Ponting (Australia, June-July)

In: Vikram Solanki (Worcestershire), Gary Keedy (Lancashire)
Out: Rory Hamilton-Brown (Sussex), Mark Ramprakash (retired), Matthew Spriegel (Northamptonshire), Chris Jordan (Sussex), Tom Lancefield (released)

A turbulent year off the pitch for Surrey ended on a high by securing their Division One status.  They pulled off an absolute coup in signing Graeme Smith over the winter and hopefully the South African can instil some much-needed discipline into the batting order.  After Mark Ramprakash’s retirement they have signed Vikram Solanki as his replacement and the vastly experienced ex-England man will aid the development of Surrey’s younger batsmen, Jason Roy, Rory Burns and Arun Harinath in particular.  I’m not totally convinced by the signing of Gary Keedy but in tandem with Gareth Batty, the spin twins could prove match winners later in the summer.  Also some bloke called Ricky Ponting is rocking up to play for a couple of months.  Throw Kevin Pietersen (hopefully) into the mix and the ‘Rey’ have an enviable batting order.  Have struggled of late in the T20 competition but if Stuart Meaker and Jade Dernbach are available then they have a good chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Sussex:

County Championship (Division 1): 4th

CB40: Semi-finals

FL T20: Semi-finals

Captain: Ed Joyce

Overseas player: Steve Magoffin (Australia); Scott Styris (New Zealand, T20)

In: Rory Hamilton-Brown (Surrey), Chris Jordan (Surrey), Andrew Miller (Warwickshire), Harry Finch, Callum Jackson (both academy)

Out: Murray Goodwin (Glamorgan), Andrew Hodd (Yorkshire), Naved Arif, Will Adkin, Kirk Wernars (all released)

Sussex have made some shrewd signings in Rory Hamilton-Brown and Chris Jordan, tying them down to the club for their best years.  Expect the duo to have a big impact in the one-day competitions.  Murray Goodwin will be a big loss but Luke Wells has oodles of talent and can fill the Zimbabwean’s rather sizeable shoes.  A lot will depend on how much England need Monty Panesar; if the Luton-born spinner is available, he can win matches single-handedly (literally).

Warwickshire:

County Championship (Division 1): Champions

CB40: Runner-up

FL T20: Group Stage

Captain: Jim Troughton

Overseas player: Jeetan Patel (New Zealand)

In: Oliver Hannon-Dalby (Yorkshire), Freddie Coleman (academy, Scotland)

Out: Richard Johnson (Derbyshire), Neil Carter (released), Andrew Miller (Sussex)

Not in their wildest dreams could Warwickshire fans have predicted such a successful 2012.  They may struggle to reach such heights this season with international call-ups a significant issue.  If Varun Chopra and Chris Wright manage to repeat their feats of 2012 they may be in with a shout, but if Chris Woakes is on England duty, the bowling responsibility falls upon Jeetan Patel and I doubt the New Zealander has the ability to bowl sides out regularly.  Mid-table obscurity is my prediction.

Worcestershire:

County Championship (Division 1): 9th (relegated)

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Quarter-finals

Captain: Daryl Mitchell

Overseas player: Thilan Samaraweera (Sri Lanka), Jacob Oram (New Zealand, T20)

In: Graeme Cessford (Royal Air Force) Michael Johnson
Out: Vikram Solanki (Surrey), James Cameron (retired), Ben Scott, Jack Manuel (both released)

Worcestershire were always fighting a losing battle against relegation last season because they simply don’t have the resources of other more established clubs in Division 1.  The loss of Vikram Solanki will be softened by the arrival of Sri Lankan Thilan Samaraweera as the overseas player.  He will have a big say in whether Worcestershire enjoy a quick return to the top flight.  The experienced seam duo of David Lucas and Alan Richardson could wreak havoc, especially in seam-friendly, early-season conditions.

Yorkshire:

County Championship (Division 2): 2nd (promoted)

CB40: Group Stage

FL T20: Runners-up

Captain: Andrew Gale

Overseas player: TBC

In: Andy Hodd (Sussex), Jack Brooks (Northamptonshire), Liam Plunkett (Durham)
Out: Anthony McGrath (retired), Ajmal Shahzad (Nottinghamshire), Oliver Hannon-Dalby (Warwickshire), Gerard Brophy (released)

The white rose did fantastically well to secure promotion from the 2nd Division.  They have recruited Liam Plunkett who will add some pace to their bowling attack.  They may struggle on the batting front though as Joe Root and Johnny Bairstow look like they’ll be spending more time with England and Yorkshire stalwart Anthony McGrath has hung up his bat.  They’re at a severe disadvantage without an overseas player.  I think they will do extremely well to stay up this season – and I don’t expect them to do much damage in the one-day competitions either, particularly without a big signing for the T20s.

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