The curtain has been raised, Ali Cook has shown Essex what they’re going to miss this season and flush from my successful predictions for the World Cup, I’m putting my neck on the line for the County Championship. Division1 to follow, but here, in reverse order, is my prediction for Div 2.
Mike Di Venuto was their only player to top a thousand runs last season, and he’s not coming back. There is an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of the three Aussies Ian Harvey, Simon Katich and Travis Birt to carry a weak batting line up. The bowling also looks poor with last season’s leading wicket taker, Stefan Jones, also having left. Graeme Welch will have a lot of bowling to do, but the progression of Wayne White and Boyd Rankin should also be watched with an eye on the future. Anything better than bottom should be seen as success.
The loss of Darren Maddy will be difficult to get over, with HD Ackerman and Darren Robinson now heavily relied upon for runs. Jeremy Snape and Paul Nixon will add experience and grit to the middle order, but the bowling looks light, especially if Stuart Broad ends up playing for England for most of the summer. They did well to contend for promotion last season. This season will be a struggle.
A season of change for Glamorgan approaches, not least with the new Sophia Gardens being built. On the pitch, rebuilding is also required and like Leicestershire, they should lose their main strike bowler, Simon Jones, to England for most of the season (if fit). Their bowling will be reliant on David Harrison and the evergreen Robert Croft. Their batting line up looks much stronger, with David Hemp, Jimmy Maher and Michael Powell all capable of big runs. However, it’s the performances of youngsters such as Ben Wright and Huw Waters that will determine the how the future will pan out.
The loss of Ian Harvey will be a short term blow, particularly in the One Day games, but in Hamish Marshall, Alex Gidman and Craig Spearman, Gloucester have three proven run getters to go with the all round ability of Kadeer Ali and Steve Adshead. On the bowling front, Jon Lewis will be the key man again, with the erratic Steve Kirby in support. Michael Ball’s retirement reduces the slow bowling options somewhat and they need Ian Fisher to contribute more than the meagre ten wickets he managed last season.
A big turn around last season with David Capel taking over from Kepler Wessels in mid season and should carry on the progression this year. A strong batting line up, with skipper David Sales, Chris Rogers, Usman Afzaal and Lance Klusner all likely to get over a thousand runs. This will also be bolstered by the signing of the Irish wicketkeeper, Niall O’Brien. Top of the bowling averages last year was Monty Panesar, but he won’t be seen much in Northampton this season. “Replacing” him is new signing Richard Dawson who will be looking to recapture the form that got him an England call up. Overall the bowling looks the weak suit, but Northants are an improving team.
Bottom last year, with only Cameron White scoring over a thousand runs. This year, they will be bolstered by Justin Langer, who scored a triple hundred in one of his two games last season, and Marcus Trescothick, who will surely not be recalled in to the test team without a great deal more cricket under his belt. On the bowling side they look very strong, with the signing of Stefan Jones adding to Charll Willoughby and Andy Caddick meaning that Richard Johnson shouldn’t be missed. The top four in the division will be tight and Somerset will be challenging for promotion.
Relegated last season after falling away at the end of the summer, their bowling was hugely reliant on the previously injury prone Chris Silverwood. The return of Richard Johnson and the signing of Chaminda Vaas should take some of the pressure off Silverwood and allow the impressive batting line up to make a challenge for promotion. Andrew Strauss won’t be seen much, but Nick Compton, Ben Smith, Owais Shah and Ed Joyce will all be pushing for international recognition, as will Jamie Dalrymple as England’s second spinner.
On the plus side, the World Cup and the mid season ODI break means that Ali Cook will play a bit more for his county this season. However, that will be at the expense of Ravi Bopara, who has been one of the plusses for England over the winter. The loss of Darren Gough will be a blow to Essex, but with seven players getting more than 20 championship wickets last season and Andre Nel and Danesh Kaneria coming in, bowling teams out shouldn’t be a problem. Likewise, with the Flower brothers, Ronnie Irani and the hugely promising Varun Choppra and Mark Pettini and World Cup star Ryan Ten Doeschate, runs should be plentiful. It’s also a big season for James Foster, with a prospective new England coach to impress. Just short last year – they should go up this year.
Champions one year relegated the next. By half a point. They should go back up comfortably as champions this year with David Hussey and Stephen Fleming scoring heavily. A return to form by Jason Gallian would also be welcome although The signing of the highly rated Will Jefferson and Bilal Shafayat will add good support. On the bowling front, they have a balanced attack, led by Ryan Sidebottom and Charlie Shreck, with the evergreen Mark Ealham and Andy Harris and spin from Graeme Swann. Like Foster at Essex, Chris Read may have another England coach to try to impress, and should spend more of the season with England than Notts.