While 10 counties are battling it out for the County Championship title in Division One, the other eight will be fighting it out for the two spots in the top flight next season when a competitive looking Division Two season takes place.
This division can sometimes so under the radar but with Yorkshire in the division and the fallout from everything going on with them and arguably the top two batters in the world playing in this tier there could be more attention than usual on it.
This is a usual eight team division where both teams will go up against the other seven home and away. At the end of the season the top two will be promoted to Division One for next season should the same format be used in 2024. 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: 5th
Captain: Leus du Plooy
Overseas Player(s): Haider Ali and Suranga Lakmal
Key Players: Wayne Madsen & Suranga Lakmal
Youngster to watch: Ben Aitchison – turned into a good cricketer in all formats last season and it will be interesting to see what improvement he has made.
Title Odds: 12/1
Derbyshire had a more than encouraging first season under Mickey Arthur and despite reports linking Arthur with other jobs, the South African is still at Derby and you would think Derbyshire will improve under him. They will have to replace what was a pretty strong impact that Shan Masood made but Haider Ali could be an exciting replacement at the top of the order. An early injury to Suranga Lakmal derailed their season last term and all connected to Derbyshire will hope he is able to get through the whole campaign this time around. Derbyshire made the T20 quarter finals which suggests they could push for white ball honours.
Derbyshire have an underrated batting unit and if Haider Ali can replace the mountain of runs that Shan Masood made last season and Wayne Madsen can have a positive season then there is every reason to believe that Mickey Arthur could lead a promotion push. Whoever goes up from this division will need to bat deep and Derbyshire don’t have any issues in that regard and if one or two of their top order can push 1000 runs then they should certainly be in the mix when promotion is secured.
Spin bowling is a bit of a concern for Derbyshire. Their spinners tend to be better suited to the white ball game rather than the red ball one. They haven’t really been able to replace Matt Critchley both in the spin department or the quality all-rounder role. Their red ball spinner isn’t immediately obvious but whoever it is could need to come to the party because they might need to bowl a few overs to keep Derbyshire within the over rate. A dry summer could be a problem for Derbyshire.
He hasn’t been named in the squad for the opening match of the season but George Scrimshaw has the tools that the England hierarchy like. He has pace and bounce and that spell he bowled in the T20 Blast quarter final last year in and around the carnage of the other 16 overs highlighted his class. Zak Chappell is another with those qualities and he’ll be hoping he can finally get some regular action at Derbyshire.
Predicted Finishing Position: 5th
Last Season: 6th
Captain: Scott Borthwick
Overseas Player(s): David Bedingham and Matt Kuhnemann
Key Players: Alex Lees & Matty Potts
Youngster to watch: Stanley McAlindon – someone needs to fill the void of Chris Rushworth and Durham are no strangers to using young seamers. It will be interesting to see how he goes.
Title Odds: 12/1
Life is never dull at Durham and there has been a change of coach in that part of the country ahead of the new season. Former Hong Kong coach Ryan Campbell takes the reins and he will inherit a side which has lost a key bowler but who has picked up a very good batter in Ollie Robinson. That solidifies a good looking batting unit but there has to be a question mark over where they go with the ball. Durham will want to be pushing for promotion this season and if they can be more competitive in white ball cricket that would be useful too.
Even with the departure of Sean Dickson, I think it is fair to say that the arrival of Ollie Robinson makes the Durham batting look very strong. If England are done with Alex Lees then that will only strengthen the Durham top order throughout the season because he is above county level. David Bedingham was brilliant in his first season with the club and Durham will be hoping he is in similar form here and there are others who ensure that Durham shouldn’t lack for runs at any stage this season.
Chris Rushworth has left a huge hole in the bowling attack and while Matty Potts looks to have been discarded by England, should they decide to carry him around this summer then Durham would look very light with the ball. With that in mind, it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense that they have signed an Australian finger spinner as overseas player for the Championship season, especially when a strong part of the campaign will be played out in April and May. The bowling looks way too light.
Alex Lees probably lost his place in the England side because he wasn’t a natural at the aggressive style England like to play. Matty Potts has kind of confessed that the intention of Durham is to try to replicate Bazball so it will be interesting to see who comes out as a standout player in the new style. Ollie Robinson could be one player who can do it but Lees could be back in the England spot if he can score at a healthy strike rate.
Predicted Finishing Position: 7th
Last Season: 3rd
Captain: David Lloyd
Overseas Player(s): Colin Ingram, Marnus Labuschagne and Michael Neser
Key Players: Sam Northeast & Michael Neser
Youngster to watch: Tom Bevan – hard hitting top order batter who has only really made the grade in white ball cricket but with scoring quick runs the order of the day he could force his way into the red ball side at some point.
Title Odds: 6/1
Glamorgan were a heavy part of the promotion race last season but just came up a little short. They will set themselves up to go again this term. They have split up their coaching role ahead of the new campaign with Matt Maynard remaining in charge of the red ball team. Glamorgan will need to overcome the loss of Michael Hogan and while Harry Podmore is a talented bowler, he is filling big shoes. Glamorgan aren’t going to have Marnus Labuschagne for as much as they would like with The Ashes being earlier in the summer but a promotion push and some white ball success is certainly within them.
I think the strength of the Glamorgan side has to be with the bat just because they are going to have the best batter in the world in their ranks either side of The Ashes. Even when Labuschagne isn’t there Colin Ingram is a decent replacement who knows Cardiff well. Sam Northeast, Billy Root and Kiran Carlson are good players at the level and then there are solid players such as David Lloyd, Eddie Byrom and Chris Cooke who are also capable of big runs.
If Michael Neser gets picked for The Ashes squad then you wonder how the bowling attack will cope without both him and Michael Hogan who has left for Kent. There is a lot of pressure on the likes of James Harris and Timm van der Gugten to deliver the goods while Harry Podmore settles into life in Cardiff. Jamie McIlroy has only really done it in white ball cricket so there are plenty of question marks over the bowlers at the SWALEC Stadium.
Kiran Carlson is an exciting batter who is capable of playing the innings which catch the eye of the England selectors. He hasn’t really got going in red ball cricket yet but if Tom Bevan can force his way in then he is another who naturally scores quickly and at a relatively young age it wouldn’t be a surprise if he is called up to some sort of lower level England squad. Both men are probably a season or two away from international honours.
Predicted Finishing Position: 3rd
Last Season: 10th in Division 1
Captain: Graeme van Buuren
Overseas Player(s): Zafar Gohar and Marcus Harris
Key Players: Chris Dent & David Payne
Youngster to watch: Tom Price – made a big impression in a number of losing causes at the end of last season and should flourish further at the level below.
Title Odds: 8/1
Gloucestershire had a bit of a season to forget last year but a fairly young squad were always going to be up against it in red ball cricket. The disappointing part of the previous campaign in Bristol would be the mess they made of the white ball competitions. A number of youngsters have more experience this season and with the exception of Ryan Higgins everyone who is key to the red ball side is back for another go, including the overseas pair of Marcus Harris and Zafar Gohar. Gloucestershire should be promotion challengers and should be a threat in white ball cricket.
I look down this Gloucestershire batting unit and I see a mountain of runs at this level of the game. Chris Dent has churned out runs for a number of years and Marcus Harris should fill his boots and might be motivated with the lure of a possible Ashes call up if he can hit the ground running. James Bracey, Ben Charlesworth and Jack Taylor are all capable batters while there are runs in the captain Graeme van Buuren as well.
David Payne will begin the season on the sidelines because of an injury he picked up in the Big Bash and there is a feeling that without Ryan Higgins the Gloucestershire team attack might be missing a leader. Marchant de Lange would certainly be someone to do that but he hasn’t played too much red ball cricket for a while and he isn’t getting any younger. Were he to get injured you would kind of fear for Gloucestershire a little.
James Bracey has had a taste of the England setup in the past and I suspect he is going to fill his boots in Division 2 this season. If he can do it in the appealing way that England like and England start to concentrate on ODI cricket towards the end of the summer then there could be a winter tour up for grabs for a few. David Payne has the quality to force his way into the reckoning when he returns from injury as well.
Predicted Finishing Position: 1st
Last Season: 8th
Captain: Lewis Hill
Overseas Player(s): Peter Handscomb, Wiaan Mulder and Ajinkya Rahane
Key Players: Sol Budinger & Rehan Ahmed
Youngster to watch: Sol Budinger – taken the plunge to leave Nottinghamshire for regular cricket at Grace Road and has the talent to really catch the eye in this part of the world.
Title Odds: 25/1
Leicestershire are becoming a little too accustomed to propping up the rest in the Championship and so the immediate thing supporters will be looking for this season is a little bit of encouragement that there is improvement taking place. The Foxes continue to focus on delivering in the T20 Blast but when they don’t do that and everything goes wrong in the Championship it doesn’t look good. They have recruited some good overseas players this season and if they can find a way of taking 20 wickets in every match they can at least be competitive but the wooden spoon might well be coming their way again.
Given that the middle order of Leicestershire will be filled by Peter Handscomb and Ajinkya Rahane at various parts of the season you would probably have to suggest that the batting is the stronger of the departments for Leicestershire, especially if Sol Budinger can provide the top order option and skills that he has been recruited for. This is a young Leicestershire outfit though so those overseas players are going to need to lead by example.
The Leicestershire bowling attack has been a problem for a while and Ben Mike moving to Yorkshire certainly hasn’t helped with that this season. One reason why there has been an issue is their two best bowlers are spinners and getting one spinner to be effective in the Championship is hard enough let alone two. The other problem they have with the ball is if Rehan Ahmed is effective England might want him so they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
It did not take Brendon McCullum long to clock onto the talents of Rehan Ahmed and already he has been given a Test debut. You wouldn’t think he would get a go in a home Ashes series but he is clearly highly thought of within the England setup and they will want to see him flourishing at a level he should be taking by storm. The only other one to standout is Sol Budinger but he is a little more of an unknown at present.
Predicted Finishing Position: 8th
Last Season: 7th
Captain: Cheteshwar Pujara
Overseas Player(s): Cheteshwar Pujara, Nathan McAndrew and Steve Smith
Key Players: Cheteshwar Pujara & Jofra Archer
Youngster to watch: Ali Orr – seen his opening partner go on an England Lions tour over the winter and he’ll want to be noticed this term.
Title Odds: 9/2
Sussex had a bit of a season to forget in red ball cricket a year ago as they continued to blood youngsters in the County Championship. There was a fallout with Ian Salisbury towards the end of last season and the result of his departure was the arrival of Paul Farbrace which I’m a massive fan of. Any side that is going to have the services of Cheteshwar Pujara and Steve Smith at times in an season have to be looking up rather than behind them and if they get to see enough of their best bowlers then a promotion push shouldn’t be ruled out.
You don’t need to be a mastermind to see that even if it is only for three matches a batting unit with Steve Smith following Cheteshwar Pujara to the crease is an unbelievable strength. Even when Smith has been and gone the likes of Tom Haines, Ali Orr, Tom Alsop and Tom Clark offer further batting potential. There is a fair bit of depth around too with all-rounders such as Fynn Hudson-Prentice, Delray Rawlins and George Garton all having decent First-class batting records.
England might be the biggest weakness for Sussex this season because they are going to monitor the minutes of Jofra Archer and Ollie Robinson throughout the campaign. I think Sussex will soon realise anything they see of those two will be a bonus rather than expect to see too much of them. Steven Finn still retains plenty of quality in red ball cricket but he goes into the season with an injury so the Hove outfit aren’t going to see him in the early periods of the campaign.
The sheer fact that Tom Haines went on an England Lions tour in the winter would suggest that he is on the radar of the England team. There are opening spots available in that side and there aren’t too many openers who are scoring the number of runs that he is at the minute. With banker runs coming from Pujara, Haines might have the freedom to express himself and score runs in the manner England would like.
Predicted Finishing Position: 4th
Last Season: 4th
Captain: Brett D’Oliveira
Overseas Player(s): Azhar Ali
Key Players: Adam Hose & Josh Tongue
Youngster to watch: Mitchell Stanley – youngster got himself a deal in The Hundred with his displays last season and might be someone to really come to the party in red ball cricket.
Title Odds: 9/1
Worcestershire finished fourth in the division last season without really contending for promotion and you wonder if their best chance of going up has gone. That is because Ed Barnard has left for Warwickshire and Moeen Ali has gone too which will impact their white ball cricket rather than their red ball stuff. Adam Hose has arrived but you kind of worry about a side who has lost a classy all-rounder like Barnard. There are a number of youngsters in this squad and if a couple can step up they could have enough about them but it seems unlikely.
The middle order of Worcestershire looks talented enough. Azhar Ali can deliver big runs and the fact he has retired from international cricket will only serve Worcestershire better because there is no chance of a random Pakistan tour coming up and he gets called away. Adam Hose is a really good pickup and he has a lot more red ball upside than he was able to show at Warwickshire. Ben Cox, Jack Haynes and Jake Libby can score decent runs as well so the Rapids are well stocked with the bat.
Outside of Joe Leach, the Worcestershire bowling attack doesn’t have a lot of experience and it will be crucial for Alan Richardson, the new head coach, to use his own experience as a bowler at the club to nurture the talent that he has. Matthew Waite is a good signing but he is still in his formative years as a bowler at this level. If two or three of these younger bowlers can deliver the goods Worcestershire will be fine but it is definitely where the questions are.
There is a lot to like about the way Jack Haynes hits a cricket ball and he is likely to shine for Worcestershire in all formats of the game this season. As a middle order player he is going to find it hard to get into the England Test team but when the squad rotation comes along around the time of the Ashes concluding it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if England look in his direction and see what he is about.
Predicted Finishing Position: 6th
Last Season: 9th in Division 1
Captain: Shan Masood
Overseas Player(s): Shan Masood, Neil Wagner and Shai Hope
Key Players: Shan Masood & Matthew Fisher
Youngster to watch: Finley Bean – he has had a big reputation for a while and with Jonny Bairstow injured and Joe Root and Harry Brook at the IPL the early season chance to shine should come his way.
Title Odds: 7/4
It doesn’t need me to document the issues that have dogged Yorkshire on and off the field for the last two years and it all seemed to come to a head last season when they were relegated on the final day of the campaign. In truth, Yorkshire should cruise back into the top flight this season but they only need a few injuries in the wrong places and it could all go spectacularly wrong. Yorkshire made T20 Blast finals day last term but lost out to Lancashire in the semi-final and that might be one route for silverware but they will be determined to get back into Division 1 at the first time of asking.
Ottis Gibson has put a much better looking bowling attack together for this season and the return from injury of Matt Fisher should help them take 20 wickets when he comes back from injury. In the meantime, Ben Coad has the chance to remind everyone he can deliver at this level and there is a lot to like about Matt Revis. If Mickey Edwards can hit the ground running and Ben Mike and Matt Milnes settle in from day one then Yorkshire should go well with the ball.
England are always going to disrupt Yorkshire when it comes to the batters and the White Rose county will desperately be hoping there isn’t a Test recall for Dawid Malan anytime soon else they will be heavily exposed particularly with Joe Root and Harry Brook away at the IPL for the opening two months of the season and then likely to go straight into The Ashes. This looks like a very young middle order should Malan get injured.
There are going to be a number of openers who will be looking on and thinking if they can go big in style at the start of the season they might force their way into the England reckoning. Adam Lyth is entitled to feel like he is one of those. He has played for England before but would be much more suited to the present team than the ones he went into. Dawid Malan also knows what he has to do to get in but finding a spot in the middle order for England would be more difficult.
Predicted Finishing Position: 2nd
I’m a little surprised that Gloucestershire are as big as 8/1 to win the Division 2 title this season. Their top flight campaign last season wasn’t great but they have retained the majority of the squad they will need to bounce straight back. You need two things to triumph in this division – a mountain of top order runs and 20 wickets and I think Gloucestershire tick both boxes, although admittedly I’d like to see David Payne back sooner rather than later.
Chris Dent and Marcus Harris should churn out the runs and if Marchant de Lange can get batters hopping around then Gloucestershire have the spine of what you need and then mystery spin in Division 2 can be crucial too. I don’t really see a standout challenger to Gloucestershire. This division is wide open. Yorkshire are favourites but just have too much going on for me to get involved in them while Glamorgan lose two key men for too long at the midpoint of the season. Derbyshire could be spoilers but only if Haider Ali delivers numbers to match his potential. Gloucestershire have the fewest questions about them and can win this division.
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