We are back to the two divisions of the LV County Championship this season which means that we have two different divisions to take a look at and bet on for the first time in three years with Covid altering the format of the competition for the last two years.
With us going back to the divisions the way they were going to be in 2020 there are some big teams in Division 2 this season which will make the race for promotion quite a lively one throughout the course of the campaign.
We go back to the two division format for this season but unlike the last time this schedule was used we have eight teams in Division Two. Each team in the league will play the others twice to make 14 matches for each side. The points system is 16 for a win, eight for a draw or tie and nothing for losing. There is no second phase to this season so the team who has the most points after 14 matches wins the title and the team in second will also be promoted.
The bonus system is the same as last year though. As ever there are first innings bonus points too with points scored for getting 200, 250, 300, 350 and 400 in the first 110 overs. Bonus points are also available for 3, 6 and 9 wickets, providing a maximum of eight possible bonus points in total. In keeping with Test cricket the new ball is available to teams after 80 overs as it was last season rather than the 90 overs it was prior to the pandemic.
Last Season: 5th in Division 3
Captain: Billy Godleman
Overseas Player(s): Suranga Lakmal, Shan Masood, Dustin Melton
Key Players: Billy Godleman & Luis Reece
One to Watch: Alex Thomson – has arrived from Warwickshire and will be looking for much more game time than he managed at Edgbaston.
Title Odds: 14/1
Derbyshire have been plodding around the second division for a long time and apart from a brief flirt with T20 Blast finals day a few seasons ago there hasn’t been a lot to be excited about in recent times. That might be about to change though because they are employing some good staff who will improve young players and while you would imagine this season will be too soon for them to feature in the business ends of competition, improvement should certainly be seen.
Mickey Arthur is a massive positive for Derbyshire. He is a coach who can take a team from the bottom and get them performing well when he is given time to complete the project. He’ll get that at Derbyshire. Ian Bell has come in as batting consultant for the first half of the season and what a batting unit they have with Shan Masood coming to join his former Pakistan coach to go in with Billy Godleman and Wayne Madsen.
If Suranga Lakmal doesn’t hit the ground running then this Derbyshire attack doesn’t look up to scratch. They have lost a couple of big players in Matt Critchley and Finn Hudson-Prentice and that leaves them a little exposed with the ball if Arthur can’t get a tune out of his young bowlers. The lack of a spinner will only be an issue if we have a dry summer though.
Matt Critchley would have been getting some attention from the England selectors even had he remained in Derbyshire but the fact he has left will mean whoever is attributed with the role of selecting the England team won’t need to book too many trains to Derby over the course of the season.
Predicted Finishing Position: 7th
Last Season: 3rd in Division 2
Captain: Scott Borthwick
Overseas Player(s): Keegan Petersen & David Bedingham
Key Players: David Bedingham & Chris Rushworth
One to Watch: Harry Crawshaw – spin isn’t needed too often up at the Riverside but Crawshaw was thought of enough to be in the England under-19 side that faced Sri Lanka last summer
Title Odds: 6/1
Durham have been a team on the up ever since Marcus North was installed as Director of Cricket and they will be strongly fancied for promotion back to the top flight this season. They never have to worry about wickets or anything and you sense a good start will allow them to limp home when personnel become available to get back to the first division for the first time since the ECB punishment put them on the brink of extinction. Neutrals will hope it is Yorkshire that they replace.
The batting. The addition of Keegan Petersen for half of the season looks a shrewd piece of business and he and fellow South African player David Bedingham could put on plenty of runs together. Scott Borthwick is more than competent back up to those and if Alex Lees didn’t do enough to convince the England hierarchy that he’s the permanent opener than that will be Durham’s gain too. There are loads of runs in this Durham side.
The talk is getting louder around Marcus North getting the ECB Director of Cricket gig and if he does you would imagine that will set Durham back a fair bit as he is a smart cookie who has a calming influence on things and keeps everyone grounded. It might not fall apart should the Aussie depart but Durham should be doing all they can to keep their man in place should the ECB come calling.
How much of Alex Lees will Durham see this season? He was solid and competent without being anything special in the Caribbean but you would think he did enough to earn at least the New Zealand series on home soil although whether he suits the style of whoever the new coach is remains to be seen. Ben Stokes will appear very few times if at all now he has come back from the Caribbean with a knee injury. Ditto Mark Wood.
Predicted Finishing Position: 2nd
Last Season: 6th in Division 2
Captain: David Lloyd (not that one!)
Overseas Player(s): Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser
Key Players: Marnus Labuschagne & Michael Hogan
One to Watch: Kiran Carlson – captained Glamorgan to the Royal London One Day Cup last season and has the sort of profile which might interest England
Title Odds: 13/2
Glamorgan were competitive in the red ball game last season but couldn’t quite go with Lancashire and Yorkshire in their opening group. The longer the season went on the less interested Glamorgan were because it was a history making campaign for the club when they landed the Royal London One Day Cup. They didn’t get the credit they deserved for winning that trophy so a decent showing in the Championship this season will help with that.
Glamorgan have an underrated batting unit which is obviously spearheaded by Marnus Labuschagne but the likes of Billy Root and Kiran Carlson are extremely talented. The addition of Sam Northeast is a huge positive if the Welsh county can work out why he couldn’t get going at Hampshire and fix the situation. If those four hit top form for long periods this term then Glamorgan can achieve big things.
You wouldn’t think a team who play at Sophia Gardens would lack a top class spinner but that is where Glamorgan aren’t quite on it at the minute. If they had a top grade spinner to take advantage of tiring Cardiff tracks in August and September then Glamorgan could be a county pushing for promotion. The lack of one could hold them back though.
England haven’t come calling for a Glamorgan player for a while but there is a lot to like about Kiran Carlson and it wouldn’t be surprised if he is offered a squad place for one of the many white ball matches this summer.
Predicted Finishing Position: 4th
Last Season: 4th in Division 3
Captain: Colin Ackermann
Overseas Player(s): Beuran Hendricks & Wiaan Mulder
Key Players: Lewis Hill & Callum Parkinson
One to Watch: Rehan Ahmed – the spinner caught the eye in a big way at the u19 World Cup over the winter. He could be the next big thing at Grace Road.
Title Odds: 20/1
Leicestershire were punching above their weight in the early stages of the County Championship last season but as you would expect when the T20 Blast came along and their attentions turned to that their red ball performances dipped. They are making strides under Paul Nixon and will want results and the final outcome to recognise that this season. A mid-table finish would be a wonderful achievement though.
The South African core to the side will be a stronghold for the Foxes. Colin Ackermann has churned out runs for a while and Test pair Beuran Hendricks and Wiaan Mulder will be assigned the task of delivering the goods with the ball and guide what is a relatively young attack to good things. Callum Parkinson was the second leading spinner in terms of wickets last season so Leicestershire wouldn’t mind a dry summer.
You have to wonder whether Leicestershire have what it takes to deliver regularly with the bat now that Marcus Harris has gone to Gloucestershire. I like Harry Swindells and there is definitely a player in Hassan Azad but Leicestershire don’t need potential anymore. They need physical output and they need it more than ever this season.
Callum Parkinson has a Hundred contract this season and if he performs well in that then he could easily catch the eye of the England selectors. Rehan Ahmed isn’t going to go unnoticed by those in charge of England for long either as they continue to struggle to fill the spin void. This summer might be too soon for him though.
Predicted Finishing Position: 8th
Last Season: 2nd in Division 3
Captain: Peter Handscomb
Overseas Player(s): Shaheen Afridi & Peter Handscomb
Key Players: Sam Robson & Shaheen Afridi
One to Watch: Shaheen Afridi – if County Cricket really was the reason behind England’s problems it wouldn’t be able to attract world class stars such as Shaheen Afridi. Having seen this guy in the flesh for Hampshire if you haven’t seen him in person get down to Lord’s this summer and do it. He’s top class.
Title Odds: 11/2
Middlesex shouldn’t be languishing in the second division and it looks like they are making a concerted effort to get promoted this season. There won’t be a better player in the second division this summer than Shaheen Afridi and if he can spearhead a pretty useful attack and the key men score runs then Middlesex will fancy their chances of getting the better of Durham in what looks like being a race for second spot in behind Nottinghamshire.
Middlesex look a real good force with the ball. Shaheen Afridi is going to have Division 2 batters hopping all over the place with his pace but his relentless quality will be such a boost too. They have lost Steve Finn and James Harris but Tim Murtagh, Blake Cullen, Ethan Bamber and Toby Roland-Jones are top level performers and if Tom Helm can get some confidence back he can be of use to a red ball team as well.
Solving the puzzle that is getting results at Lord’s. To be fair Afridi gives them as good a chance as they have had but pitches at Lord’s are absolutely flat and forcing results in key matches which can shape the promotion setup will be a real issue. In terms of personnel Middlesex have everything covered but sometimes a team is only as good as the wicket allows it to be.
Until England secure two opening batters that they are happy with you can probably never rule Sam Robson out of contention. John Simpson wore England colours in an ODI series last year and might be on the fringes again while Blake Cullen will get noticed soon too.
Predicted Finishing Position: 3rd
Last Season: 3rd in Division 1
Captain: Steven Mullaney
Overseas Player(s): Dane Peterson, James Pattinson
Key Players: Joe Clarke & Stuart Broad
One to Watch: Fateh Singh – he went to the u19 World Cup with England in the winter and while his impact was less than he would like he is clearly a talent to watch.
Title Odds: 11/8 favs
Nottinghamshire went into the final couple of weeks of last season with every chance of winning the County Championship title but such is the strange world we live in they find themselves in Division 2 upon resumption of the competition proper. They will be under pressure right from the outset to deliver the title this season but you only have to go back to that T20 Blast quarter final last summer to remember they don’t always carry pressure too well. Even so the only team who can deny Nottinghamshire top spot this season is Nottinghamshire.
Nottinghamshire have such a strong squad. There is a chance that at some point this summer they could field six current or recently retired international cricketers which is insane at this level. They have so much firepower with the bat and their bowling resources wouldn’t look out of place in Division One. The entire Nottinghamshire unit are their strength.
Nottinghamshire are not good carriers of the favourites tag. They blazed a trail in beating all before them in the group stage of the Vitality Blast last summer and then had Hampshire well beat in the quarter final before they choked and lost from a position they couldn’t possibly lose from. That happens too much at Trent Bridge but really they should be so far ahead it shouldn’t matter here.
Have England finished with Stuart Broad? If they have then that is very much Nottinghamshire’s gain unless the seamer decides the microphone is less physical effort than bowling. Would England pick Joe Clarke or is he not under consideration for past misdemeanours? He is good enough for a call up. Ben Duckett could yet force his way back into international recognition too.
Predicted Finishing Position: 1st
Last Season 6th in Division 3
Captain: Tom Haines
Overseas Player(s): Cheteshwar Pujara & Mohammad Rizwan
Key Players: Tom Haines & Ollie Robinson
One to Watch: Archie Lenham – the 17-year-old has already tasted England honours at under-19 level. He has been in the Sussex side for a year now and could really announce himself this season
Title Odds: 20/1
Sussex used the two pandemic years to blood a lot of young players and now we will find out whether that was the right way to go or whether they have just wasted two years. The one thing we do know is they can’t be allowed to tamely finish bottom of the pile this season like they were last term. They did make T20 finals day which saved their season but a lot more is expected this term. Former players are getting more involved too which is no bad thing.
Youth. This is a very young Sussex side and one with a lot of promise but it needs to come of age quite quickly in order to be competitive. They have grown together over the last couple of seasons and have an opening pairing who could go on to be something quite special, especially if the few bits of experience within the squad are able to play their role with the ability they have.
A lot of key players have left Hove in a winter where there wasn’t so much a revolving door as one which would never close. Ben Brown, Phil Salt, Chris Jordan and Stuart Meaker all departed while Travis Head went back on his overseas contract. That is a lot of talent to replace in a dressing room in one season but at least Sussex will concentrate on red ball cricket more this season.
If the opener merry-go-round continues for England then the carousel will have to stop at the deet of Tom Haines sooner rather than later. He is a rare breed in county cricket of a batter with a good technique who scores big runs. They are Division 2 runs but they are runs all the same. George Garton looks to have fallen down the pecking order.
Predicted Finishing Position: 6th
Last Season: 3rd in Division 3
Captain: Brett D’Oliviera
Overseas Player(s): Azhar Ali
Key Players: Jake Libby & Moeen Ali
One to Watch: Josh Baker – another who has already played for England under-19 and is expected to have a bright future. He’ll be looking for a way into the side this season.
Title Odds: 8/1
Worcestershire weren’t able to be competitive in much at all last season so they will be looking for a much better campaign under Brett D’Oliviera this term. There is no getting around the fact that Daryl Mitchell is a massive loss on and off the pitch and even though this is a fairly young Worcestershire side you get the feeling that certainly in red ball cricket at least that this is a season of transition and prepare for a promotion tilt next term.
I like the Worcestershire batting unit. Azhar Ali is a world class performer while Jake Libby has been churning out big runs for the last couple of seasons. Ed Pollock is supposedly playing three formats this season and then the likes of D’Oliveira and Tom Fell can score well while the club wait for Moeen Ali to come back. Ben Cox is another reliable performer with the bat as are a couple of the bowlers.
Some experienced heads have left the dressing room in the last couple of seasons and that bit of nous in a tight period of a match or in the pressure cooker of the business end of one could be an issue. There is a lot of talent in Worcester but it might need another year of being nurtured before it is ready to be at its best.
Moeen Ali has retired from Test cricket now so he might play red ball cricket for his county after the IPL. Jake Libby can’t keep scoring the volume of runs and go unnoticed by England for too much longer.
Predicted Finishing Position: 5th
I fully expect Nottinghamshire to win the title this season and I would be surprised if they don’t win it very well but if there is an improver who could come good and land the place money with the one bookmaker who are offering each way terms are Glamorgan. There is no doubt that the way they fade in seasons isn’t a concern but I’d like to think that if they are in with a chance of promotion they will go right until the end regardless of everything else that is going on.
The Australian pair of Marnus Labuschagne and Michael Neser have already made a big impression in Cardiff while Michael Hogan will be determined to bow out with a promotion to his name. The signings of Sam Northeast and James Harris are great ones if Glamorgan can get the best out of them and then if the likes of Billy Root and Kiran Carlson can perform to potential there is a lot to like about Glamorgan. I don’t see them getting the better of Nottinghamshire but the Outlaws are likely to be fighting on three fronts this season and could get messed about by England. That isn’t the case with Glamorgan which might be significant.
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