Nick Teale - County Championship Preview
19 Apr 2011 - 13:10:30
The County Championship is underway after its earliest ever start. Last week I took a look at the teams in Division One and this week it's the sides vying for promotion from Division Two who go under the spotlight.
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The signing of overseas player Usman Khawaja, who played in the fifth Ashes Test against England, will add strength to Derbyshire's batting. New Zealand Test batsman Martin Guptill will join the Phantoms for the Friends Provident Twenty20 and then take over from Khawaja for the second half of the season. Luke Sutton's return as captain will also be a boost, but Derbyshire won't be fancied by many to gain promotion this summer.
Essex have some very good one-day players among their ranks including Ryan ten Doeschate, who starred as Holland came close to beating England at the World Cup. The signing of Owais Shah gives them a solid batting line-up and should help Essex push for Championship promotion. The Eagles could well make it to another FPt20 Finals Day too.
To describe Glamorgan's winter as turbulent would be something of an understatement. Both the captain and head coach have left and their replacements only arrived in Wales just before the start of the season. They've also lost promising young batsman Tom Maynard (son of out-going coach Matthew) to Surrey and Mark Cosgrove will only play in the FPt20. They came close to promotion last summer but I don't expect them to challenge again this year.
Gloucestershire lost some key players over the winter but the signing of Kane Williamson as overseas player could well be a masterstroke. The New Zealand Test batsman is only 20 years old but averages well over 40 in both first-class and one-day cricket. However, promotion will be a tough ask for Gloucestershire.
Relegated last summer, Kent will be eyeing an immediate return to County Championship Division One and it will be a brave man who bets against that happening. Rob Key remains one of the best batsmen on the county circuit. However, financial restrictions due to the redevelopment of Canterbury has left Kent with a small squad, so any injuries to key players could prove very costly indeed.
There's a lot of young talent emerging at Grace Road and captain Matthew Hoggard is the perfect man to guide them through the season. James Taylor and Nathan Buck are the crème of the crop and have earned calls to the England Lions squad recently. I've no doubt they will continue to develop this season but I don’t believe that Leicestershire are quite at the level required to win promotion.
The departure of Owais Shah and the retirement of Shaun Udal makes Middlesex a weaker outfit than they were last season and the loss of Iain O'Brien, who cannot be registered as a non-overseas player despite having an English wife, will also have an impact. They'll need the likes of Chris Rodgers, David Malan and captain Neil Dexter to have fruitful seasons with the bat. Ryan McLaren will be a good signing for the FPt20.
In Chaminda Vaas Northants have landed a top-draw overseas player, though he'll miss part of the season while Sri Lanka tour England. They finished bottom last season and I don’t believe they have anywhere near enough quality to mount a promotion push this summer.
It's make or break for Chris Adams at Surrey this season. He's been building a good, young squad at The Oval for the last few years but has failed to lead them back to Division One. Kevin Pietersen is, on paper, a star signing but England's packed summer schedule means he'll barely play for Surrey. Zander de Bruyn, Yasir Arafat and Shaun Tait are superb signings, however, and Surrey should finally win promotion this summer.