Spring has supposedly arrived in the UK which means one thing – it is time for the county cricket season! As ever the season begins this week with the County Championship opening up what should be a fantastic summer of cricket.
Surrey got their hands back on the title last season after a very strong campaign and they will want to make a successful defence of it this year. Other sides have strengthened though so they might have their work cut out to keep the crown.
2022 – Surrey
2021 – Warwickshire
2020 – Essex (Bob Willis Trophy)
2019 – Essex
2018 – Surrey
2017 – Essex
2016 – Middlesex
2015 – Yorkshire
2014 – Yorkshire
2013 – Durham
Despite the call for changes to the system we have the same format as a year ago. Each team in the league will play the others once and then they will all play a second team twice to make 14 matches for each side. The points system is 16 for a win, five 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.
The bonus system is the same as last year though. As ever there are first innings bonus points too with points scored for getting 250, 300, 350, 400 and 450 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: 4th
Captain: Tom Westley
Meet Twice: Warwickshire, Lancashire, Kent, Hampshire and Middlesex
Overseas Player(s): Doug Bracewell & Simon Harmer
Key Players: Alastair Cook & Simon Harmer
Youngster to watch: Feroze Khushi – top order batter who has impressed since coming into the side. Played in all three formats last season and will be needed to contribute a lot of runs if Essex are to lift silverware.
Title Odds: 5/1
Off field issues have dominated at Chelmsford in recent times but Essex will be looking to show what they have got on the field this season. They put together an impressive campaign last term without ever really challenging for silverware but with some good youngsters coming through and plenty of experience around the scene there is no reason why Essex can’t challenge but they could do with a dry summer for Simon Harmer and wouldn’t want too many injuries.
Essex have some excellent batters within their ranks at this level. Alastair Cook remains a GOAT like contributor at this level and if Tom Westley and Dan Lawrence can be around for the entire campaign it would certainly be to the benefit of the Chelmsford outfit. Adam Rossington is a good addition with the gloves, although he is going to miss the 50 over competition when he competes in The Hundred. Throw in some talented young batters and Essex aren’t likely to miss out due to lack of runs unless the Chelmsford groundsman throws in a few curveballs again.
If there is a weakness for Essex it probably comes in the depth of their seam department. Already they have had to change plans with their overseas player when their original selection Will Sutherland got injured and while they have moved to get Doug Bracewell in, he is going to need to hit the ground running at short notice. Were England to come for Sam Cook or Jamie Porter it certainly wouldn’t be ideal so Essex might need a bit of luck to go their way.
Dan Lawrence has been in the England squad under Brendon McCullum so he will know exactly what is needed to challenge for a spot in the squad for The Ashes. Of the others at Essex who will fit into the way England want to play, clean hitters such as Adam Rossington and Michael Pepper would fit that criteria although both would appear to be quite a way down any pecking list unless a big start to the season catches the eye.
Predicted Finishing Position: 6th
Last Season: 3rd
Captain: James Vince
Meet Twice: Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Essex and Surrey
Overseas Player(s): Kyle Abbott & Mohammad Abbas
Key Players: James Vince & Kyle Abbott
Youngster to watch: Fletcha Middleton – promising young batter who looked good in the 50 over competition last term and who could force his way into the Championship reckoning during the season.
Title Odds: 6/1
The T20 Blast champions Hampshire were on course for completing the treble deep into August last year but unfortunately for them a brutal knock from Darren Stevens put paid to their 50 over chances and despite a brilliant red ball season they just couldn’t chase Surrey down as the Championship campaign went into September. With youngsters in the squad another year further in their development and plenty of experience around them Hampshire won’t need to improve too much to finally land that elusive Championship title.
There are not many better bowling attacks around the scene than the one that Hampshire can offer up. Keith Barker, Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas will give top order batters nightmares in the early part of the season with all three likely to have the T20 off and be fresh on the return of the Championship. A dry summer would open the door for Liam Dawson and perhaps Mason Crane to impress while a damp one will ensure the likes of James Fuller and Brad Wheal have a role to play. Whatever the conditions, Hampshire have them covered with the ball.
If there is a weakness within this Hampshire side then it is that there is too much of a reliance on James Vince. If you are going to over rely on someone then it is better to do it with someone as good as Vince but if Hampshire are going to win the title this season then they could do with seeing the best of Ben Brown and Nick Gubbins with the bat in hand. Their opening pair probably don’t match up too well to the rest of the competition either so either others need to show their hand or Vince needs an incredible season.
It remains to be seen whether the James Vince in England colours time has passed but if it has then it will be interesting to see what Liam Dawson has taken away from being involved in England squads throughout the winter. He probably doesn’t deliver with the bat as often as he should but he has all the shots and lower order runs would help both Hampshire and their title quest as well as his own chance of forcing his way into the England thinking, particularly with a World Cup in conditions where spin bowling will be useful at the end of the season.
Predicted Finishing Position: 4th
Last Season: 5th
Captain: Sam Billings
Meet Twice: Surrey, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Essex and Nottinghamshire
Overseas Player(s): George Linde & Arshdeep Singh
Key Players: Sam Billings & Joe Denly
Youngster to watch: Joey Evison – been around the scene but after failing to force his way into the Nottinghamshire setup he is looking to forge a name for himself at Canterbury.
Title Odds: 16/1
There were many judges who expected Kent to be relegated straight back down to Division 2 last season but that script wasn’t seen by anyone at Canterbury as they finished safely in mid-table and will be looking to see what improvement they can make this term. They were also able to win the 50 over competition last season so they will be defending that in the second part of this campaign. There is no hiding from the fact that Ollie Robinson and Darren Stevens were big players for them and how they fill the void of their departures could determine the outcome of their season.
Kent are without a doubt stronger with the bat than the ball. They have a top five who could all legitimately be in England reckoning and if the Test career of Zak Crawley is about to come to an end and he is seen for the entire season at Canterbury it certainly wouldn’t do their chances of success any harm. Ben Compton, Sam Billings, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Joe Denly can all score big runs and a couple of tidy all-rounders should ensure Kent score lots of batting bonus points.
I guess the flip side of that comes with a weakness with the ball. This is a bowling attack which has got weaker as experienced players have departed the scene. James Tredwell was a big part of it but he is long gone and now Darren Stevens has left too. The departure of Matt Milnes probably wasn’t planned for and while Michael Hogan was a surprise pick up, he isn’t getting any younger and hasn’t played Division One cricket before. Arshdeep Singh will certainly help when he arrives but he will be here in the height of summer when bowling might be difficult.
Sam Billings has chosen to skip the IPL this season in order to try and plunder a boat load of red ball runs and force his way into The Ashes squad. That is very much to Kent’s gain because he is way above the level. Zak Crawley knows all about Bazball and the feeling is he needs to fill his boots if he is going to keep his Test career alive. Ben Compton and Daniel Bell-Drummond certainly have England careers if they can show consistency at hitting a clean ball.
Predicted Finishing Position: 8th
Last Season: 2nd
Captain: Keaton Jennings
Meet Twice: Somerset, Surrey, Essex, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire
Overseas Player(s): Colin de Grandhomme, Daryl Mitchell & Dane Vilas
Key Players: Keaton Jennings & Tom Bailey
Youngster to watch: George Bell – keeper batter who gets the chance to excel in the side with Jos Buttler not playing red ball cricket and Dane Vilas reducing his responsibilities this summer.
Title Odds: 11/2
Lancashire were the closest challengers to Surrey last season in what was a campaign of near misses for the Red Rose county after they were also second to Kent in the One Day Cup. They have gone down a different captaincy route since then with Dane Vilas no longer a Kolpak player and it will be Keaton Jennings who is assigned the task of bringing silverware back to Old Trafford. With a number of internationals back in the ranks for the early part of the season and some youngsters with the benefit of game time last term hopes will be high that this is the season they regain the title.
Lancashire are a side who usually have a lot of quality with the ball regardless of the conditions. Tom Bailey might lack for a bit of pace but he is ideal on county pitches and having Jimmy Anderson back to prove his fitness ahead of The Ashes and Saqib Mahmood returning from injury too, there is certainly no shortage of top class seam bowling, which Colin de Grandhomme will add to in his time at the club. Matt Parkinson ensures a good spin option when it is needed as well.
Lancashire probably lack that Andrew Flintoff type all-rounder who can deliver big innings with the bat as well as top quality spells with the ball. The batters who can bowl for Lancashire tend to be spinners and while the odd over from the likes of Luke Wells is sometimes useful the longer the summer goes on, teams who have that gun all-rounder tend to separate themselves from the rest. Colin de Grandhomme will help fill that void but he is only around for half of the summer.
When it comes to the batting department then Josh Bohannon is very much on the England radar although the consensus tends to be that he lacks the shots to force his way into the setup. He gets a good pitch to show that is wrong. With the ball, with England going down the pace and aggression route with the ball all eyes will be on Saqib Mahmood to see how he has come back from injury. If he starts the season well he could easily be involved with England throughout the summer.
Predicted Finishing Position: 2nd
Last Season: 2nd in Division 2
Captain: Toby Roland-Jones
Meet Twice: Northamptonshire, Surrey, Essex, Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire
Overseas Player(s): Pieter Malan
Key Players: Mark Stoneman & Tim Murtagh
Youngster to watch: Luke Hollman – beginning to come into his own in all formats now and looks to be the main spinner heading into the season.
Title Odds: 20/1
After a few years of trying, Middlesex finally secured the elusive promotion back to the top division. They probably weren’t as convincing as they would have wanted the longer the season went on but finishing second was all they needed to do and they did. They didn’t really get going in the limited overs competitions and Steven Eskinazi getting a deserved deal in The Hundred isn’t likely to help their white ball chances so they should throw everything at the red ball. The first objective is to stay up and then see what comes from there.
In many ways the strength of Middlesex can also be their weakness. The strength is very much the seam bowling department. Tim Murtagh, Tom Helm, Toby Roland-Jones, Blake Cullen and Ethan Bamber all have international quality within them but they are also all fairly injury prone. If Middlesex are going to stay up this season then it is imperative than no more than two of these bowlers miss any lengthy part of the campaign.
I don’t know how much of a weakness the lack of a top class spinner is in county cricket these days but while Luke Hollman is progressing, he probably isn’t going to win many games in the fourth innings in a dry summer. If we don’t get the dry summer then it isn’t an issue but with Middlesex forced to play a number of matches away from Lord’s I always think they are a side who could do with a decent spinner more than most others. There is improvement in Hollman but it will need to come out.
Tom Helm went on international tours during the winter so you would think he is on the England radar but the pace and more aggression of Blake Cullen could be something that England look to utilise before then. With the opening spots still wide open ahead of The Ashes, if Sam Robson can play some shots early in the summer and run up some big scores then he too could force his way in given that the only thing that supposedly kept him out last summer was his runs were Division 2 runs.
Predicted Finishing Position: 10th
Last Season: 6th
Captain: Luke Procter
Meet Twice: Hampshire, Middlesex, Kent, Somerset and Lancashire
Overseas Player(s): Sam Whiteman, Lance Morris & Chris Tremain
Key Players: Rob Keogh & Ben Sanderson
Youngster to watch: Emilio Gay – opener batter who has shown signs of being useful at this level but will probably be required to score a little quicker given the new bonus point rule changes.
Title Odds: 25/1
Northamptonshire were the favourites for the drop last season but defied all the odds and actually survived fairly comfortably in the division. They are favourites to go down once again and might be in more danger if Sam Whiteman doesn’t prove to be a clever acquisition for the course of the campaign. Luke Proctor is a new captain who will need to start well as the longer Northamptonshire can stay above the drop line the better it will be. The four results against Middlesex and Kent could be season defining. The return of David Willey could offer up a run in a white ball competition.
Team spirit can get you a long way in a county season and with no special star in the ranks Northamptonshire should have that. They do bat deep with a couple of bowling all-rounders who can churn out runs to turn average totals into adequate ones and adequate ones into special ones. If Sam Whiteman can be a 1,000 run batter and no captaincy issues can free up Ricardo Vasconcelos to go big more regularly then there are no shortage of runs around the team.
The lack of a gun seam bowler to support Ben Sanderson could be an issue. To be fair to Northants, they have recruited well in a couple of overseas players for the opening half of the season with Chris Tremain likely to test techniques on the green pitches of April and the pace of Lance Morris to have batters hopping around in May. Who they get to conclude the season and whether the likes of Ollie Sale can stay fit for long enough to be impactful could determine survival or relegation.
The return of David Willey and a plethora of Australian overseas signings could see Northamptonshire going down the more aggressive route in their cricket but they don’t really have many red ball batters who like to give the ball a good biff. Scoring quicker is a requirement this season given the changed bonus point rules so Northamptonshire will need someone to come in and bash the ball around. Luke Proctor might be someone to lead the way as captain but I don’t think Brendon McCullum and his staff will be at too many Steelbacks matches this term.
Predicted Finishing Position: 9th
Last Season: 1st in Division 2
Captain: Steven Mullaney
Meet Twice: Somerset, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire and Middlesex
Overseas Player(s): Dane Paterson
Key Players: Ben Duckett & Stuart Broad
Youngster to watch: Tom Loten – arrived from Yorkshire where he didn’t really get the chances he was hoping for. With England likely to come calling to Trent Bridge a lot this summer chances could come more regularly here.
Title Odds: 10/1
Nottinghamshire dominated Division 2 last season and were rightfully crowned the champions at the end of it. They will now be looking to do the improbable thing of coming up and winning the title at the first opportunity. You would imagine England will dictate how close they get to that because Ben Duckett is back in favour and it certainly wouldn’t take much in the way of good form for the likes of Liam Patterson-White and Olly Stone to miss parts of the season. Survival and a good go at one of the two white ball competitions would be an acceptable season at Trent Bridge.
The batting potential that Nottinghamshire have at their disposal is ridiculous and if the batters go well, with the aggressive nature of how they score they will put a lot of time back into the game to potentially create the chance to win matches. When you look at the likes of Sol Budinger, Joey Evison and Ben Compton who have left Trent Bridge in recent times through not being able to get a game, it only further highlights just how much depth there is in the very deep batting pool available to Nottinghamshire.
If there is a weakness in this side then it might come in the fact that there isn’t a huge amount of Division 1 cricket in this team and for all that Nottinghamshire have a good reputation in white ball cricket, they have flattered to deceive in plenty of big pressurised matches. Should they be involved in a relegation campaign and need to do something over the last month of the season to stay up, you just wonder whether they will be able to stand up and be counted.
Quite simply they are everywhere you look at Trent Bridge! Ben Duckett has already forced his way back into the England setup with his heavy amount of runs at a decent clip with some expansive shots and Joe Clarke is very much cut from the same cloth, should he be allowed to be selected for England. England continue to look for that second spinner who will push and eventually replace Jack Leach and Liam Patterson-White being an aggressive and good batter and very good spinner fits that bill perfectly. The pace of Olly Stone is unlikely to be ignored by England for long either.
Predicted Finishing Position: 7th
Last Season: 7th
Captain: Tom Abell
Meet Twice: Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Hampshire, Lancashire and Warwickshire
Overseas Player(s): Peter Siddle, Matt Henry and Cameron Bancroft
Key Players: Tom Abell & Craig Overton
Youngster to watch: James Rew – impressive youngster who is likely to see a lot of cricket this summer despite the many recruits down in Taunton.
Title Odds: 12/1
Somerset did not have the campaign they would have wanted last summer. Injuries galore certainly didn’t help them but they just couldn’t post a score for love nor money for the first three quarters of the season or so. They managed to pick up a few wins when it really mattered and will hope injuries are much kinder to them this season, although the absence of Tom Abell straight away is not a good start. Somerset have recruited well but in terms of silverware the best chances remain in white ball cricket you would think.
On paper, Somerset have a good batting unit but you wouldn’t have thought that if you watched them in the early part of the campaign. Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Sean Dickson have been brought in as top class batting options so it is impossible to see Somerset struggling with the willow as badly as that once again. If they can get going and the likes of Tom Lammonby and James Rew deliver on the immense promise and potential that they have then we should see the best of Somerset once again.
There was a time where you couldn’t move for spinners at Taunton with the wickets turning from the off but now it is only really Jack Leach who is of sufficient quality and he is going to be away with England for much of the summer. Either Lewis Goldsworthy has improved an awful lot or Somerset might need to come up with other ways to win on the occasions when they are playing on flatter surfaces which favour batters.
Tom Kohler-Cadmore has moved to Somerset for more opportunities to show his skills and he is exactly the sort of player that Brendon McCullum would be interested in for his England side. A hard hitting batter who could fill the opening berth if he has a fast start to the season. Tom Lammonby is in a similar position while Craig Overton will be out to show the England hierarchy that he has what it takes to be involved in this entertaining England team.
Predicted Finishing Position: 5th
Last Season: 1st
Captain: Rory Burns
Meet Twice: Kent, Lancashire, Middlesex, Warwickshire and Hampshire
Overseas Player(s): Kemar Roach, Sean Abbott and Tom Latham
Key Players: Rory Burns & Jamie Overton
Youngster to watch: Ben Geddes – making a name for himself at the top of the order in the longer formats of the game and might get more game time now Jason Roy has gone to the IPL.
Title Odds: 10/3
Surrey dominated the County Championship last season, with their only loss coming in the final game against Lancashire after they had already secured the title. They will now look to emulate Essex a few seasons ago and reclaim the crown but they did it in Covid times. Yorkshire were the last team in 2015 to keep hold of the title so Surrey will have to rewrite a bit of history if they are to defend the crown. Surrey will want to offer up more in white ball cricket in the process this season.
One of the reasons why Surrey were the champions last season was the insane batting depth that they had. At times they had Jamie Overton or Jordan Clark coming in as low as nine and that is incredible batting strength. They will have to do their title defence without the now retired Hashim Amla but Dom Sibley has come back for the title defence. Tom Latham will add further international quality to go with the likes of Rory Burns, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes. The Surrey title defence won’t fail on a lack of batting ability.
England could be the biggest weakness that Surrey have. You would imagine that the likes of Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes will be taken away by England for much of the summer and Jamie Overton could be in a number of squads as well. Then when the white ball stuff comes around the likes of Jason Roy and the Curran brothers are also likely to be away while Reece Topley will miss time too. Surrey will be hoping that England don’t come back for the likes of Rory Burns or start picking players like Ryan Patel.
There are plenty of England players in this Surrey team already but with the opening spots anything but secured in that England team, a promising start to the season live on Sky Sports and some encouraging strokeplay might yet see them return to Rory Burns. Dom Sibley is another who has been in the England setup in the last 12 months who will be wanting another piece of the action. This Surrey opening pair could be interesting to watch this summer.
Predicted Finishing Position: 3rd
Last Season: 8th
Captain: Will Rhodes
Meet Twice: Essex, Kent, Surrey, Middlesex and Somerset
Overseas Player(s): Hasan Ali
Key Players: Sam Hain & Ed Barnard
Youngster to watch: Jacob Bethell – special talent who probably hasn’t come through to the extent many expected him to. This season offers another chance for him to deliver on the expectation.
Title Odds: 16/1
Warwickshire survived in the most incredible fashion on the final day of last season and will be hoping that they are pushing the boundaries at the other end of the table rather than fall from grace once again. The Bears are in a bit of a transition period with Paul Farbrace having left the hierarchy and some turnover of players that they have to navigate. Warwickshire do look a much stronger side heading into this season than they did the last one and now have to deliver on the pitch. They are good enough to be challenging in all competitions.
The big difference for Warwickshire this season is the strength of their bowling attack on paper. They went well with the new ball last term but once sides got through that they filled their boots. The additions of Hasan Ali, Chris Rushworth and Ed Barnard add serious depth to the attack alongside the likes of Liam Norwell and Craig Miles. Henry Brookes and Oliver Hannon-Dalby ensure that Warwickshire can cope with a number of injuries which they were unable to last season.
The opening partnership could be a work in progress for Warwickshire. Dom Sibley has been a key part of their plans at the top of the order alongside Rob Yates but the former England man has gone back to Surrey which leaves question marks over who will partner Yates. Alex Davies is probably the favourite to fill the spot but with the need for runs to be quick to score bonus points it might be that Jacob Bethell gets a chance there. All eyes will be on their scorecard in the opening week to see which way they go.
There are a few Bazball exponents in this Warwickshire team. Moeen Ali would certainly be one if he were to return to red ball cricket but the likes of Alex Davies, Rob Yates and Sam Hain will be out to show they have what it takes to be a feature of this England team. With the ball Henry Brookes has a bit of heat about him and if he can improve his batting a touch he could easily fill the number eight spot once Stuart Broad moves on. Chris Woakes is another who will be wanting a piece of the Test action.
Predicted Finishing Position: 1st
Warwickshire almost made the ultimate mess of their title defence last season but I refuse to believe that they are a bad side. It was pretty clear from an early stage last term that Tim Bresnan and the all-round qualities he brought to the title winning campaign was being missed after his retirement. They have worked to plug that gap and gone out and got a very good all-rounder in the form of Ed Barnard who has become an excellent batter in recent campaigns to go with a very astute bowler.
I wouldn’t say that will be the biggest difference but with Hasan Ali and Chris Rushworth to pep up the new ball attack and Chris Woakes waiting in the wings to come into the side, and potentially being in it for a while if England don’t use him during The Ashes, there is certainly no shortage of quality in the bowling attack. Will Rhodes, Sam Hain, Michael Burgess and Dan Mousley is a solid middle order so if they can find a decent opening partnership I think Warwickshire will be more like the 2021 version than the 2022 and if they are they are massively overpriced in a more open competition than it looks.
Back Warwickshire to win Division One (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 15.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-3)
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