Nick Teale - County Championship Preview
10 Apr 2011 - 16:21:55
For the first time this year we've enjoyed some lovely warm weather in the UK this week and the sun has come out just in time for the start of the new County Championship season.
It's the earliest ever start to the cricketing summer and we won't see any one-day action until the end of April. The hectic twenty20 schedule will take place, as always, in June and the early part of July though thankfully the ECB have decided to reduce the number of games in the competition as of next season.
As always all three competitions are difficult to call and most counties will fancy their chances of glory on at least one front. It promises to be another entertaining season of domestic cricket and with England not in action until the end of May the Ashes-winning heroes will get an opportunity to play for their counties once they've had a well-deserved break.
Previewing all 18 counties is a big job so below is my look at the prospects of each of the Division One counties. Check back later in the week for my Division Two preview. Let us know how you rate your county by filling in the comments form at the bottom of this page!
Paul Collingwood's retirement from Test cricket and the return of Graeme Onions from a long-term injury will add further strength to what is already one of the best sides in the country. It will be interesting to see how the split captaincy works - Phil Mustard will lead the Championship side while Dale Benkenstein captains the one-day team. If it works Durham will be challenging on all fronts this summer and if I was to bet on anybody to win the County Championship, I’d back Durham.
One again Hampshire are likely to be there or there about in all competitions this summer. Dominic Cork will captain the Hawks this year as they look to defend their FPt20 title and with players like Jimmy Adams, Kabir Ali, Michael Carberry and Shahid Afridi on their books Hampshire will be one of the main challengers for the County Championship title.
Every time Lancashire come close to winning the Championship the Manchester rain seems to thwart their efforts. That won't be the case this summer, however. With Old Trafford being redeveloped Lancashire will be playing all but one of their Championship games at out grounds and so should see more results than any other county. That may not be a good thing, however, and Lancashire do seem short of a batsman or two. Unlikely to finish in mid table, whether it's the promotion race or relegation battle they are involved in remains to be seen.
They may have lost Ryan Sidebottom to Yorkshire but title holders Nottinghamshire will not give up their County Championship title without a fight. Stuart Broad should be available for a few games early in the season and Ben Phillips' arrival from Somerset is a good signing. The likes of Samit Patel, Alex Hales and Andy Carter are all good players while in David Hussey they have a man who has been one of the best in county cricket in recent seasons. He'll arrive in the second half of the season in place of Adam Vogues.
Somerset lost some good cricketers over the winter but Steve Kirby and Gemaal Hussain have come in, as has Irish spinner George Dockrell who has always impressed me when I've seen him play. I don’t think Somerset quite have enough quality to win the Championship but they should finish the season in the top half of the table and one-day glory is not out of their reach.
A redeveloped Hove will provide a fine setting for Sussex's return to County Championship Division One. They are in it to win it but the retirement of Robin Martin-Jenkins and James Kirtley leaves their bowling attack a little light. I don’t think they'll go down but one-day cricket is their most likely source of success this year. An increased capacity will add to an already lively atmosphere at twenty20 matches.
When Jonathon Trott and Ian Bell are available Warwickshire have one of the best top orders in county cricket. Chris Woakes is a very good bowler and earned an England call over the winter while the likes of Neil Carter, captain Jim Troughton and keeper Tim Ambrose are all good county players. With Trott and Bell unlikely to feature much over the summer Warwickshire lack the quality to mount a title push.
Newly-promoted Worcestershire are most people's favourites to occupy one of the relegation spots and I can't find many reasons to disagree with that judgement. Their overseas players Damien Wright and Saeed Ajmal will be key but their weak financial position means they have been unable to sign any other players to bolster their squad.
Yorkshire are in the process of developing a young, home-grown side which is likely to earn honours for the White Rose county for a long time to come. I think this season might be a year too soon, however if England decide against calling up Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad and Adil Rashid then Yorkshire do have a shot of Championship glory. After his Ashes success I doubt they'll see much of Bresnan though.
Cricket.co.uk provides live scorecards from all County Champions fixtures and has a dedicated County Championship news section including pages for every team.