Having put the mockers on Middlesex’s chances in Division 2, here are my predictions for Division 1. Before I start I would like to remind everyone that last season’s title race was the closest ever and the two teams promoted promise to be challenging from the off. I will therefore also predict that the top five won’t be separated by more than 10 points. Right, having got my excuses in early, here goes…
The only team to have been ever present in Division 1 since the introduction of the two tier system, their demise is predicted on a regular basis. However, this summer sees arguably the strongest top league in years at this may be a problem for the lack of depth at Canterbury. They will be reliant on Rob Key for runs, while the emerging Joe Denly has to battle against second season syndrome. However, the attack looks lightweight, with Ryan Mclaren and James Tredwell the main threats. They won’t be cast away at the bottom as Worcester were last season, but the great run looks like it is coming to an end.
Or Ramprakashire as they ought to be called. It’s a measure of Surrey’s reliance on him, that if Ramps had “only” scored a thousand runs and averaged 50, Surrey would have been comfortably relegated. A third phenomenal season in a row is surely too much to ask, and while there are signs of some youth coming through the ranks, this is an aging team and 2008 could be one season too many for much of the team. The loss of Rory Hamilton-Brown to Sussex is a blow to the long term plans of the club, the loss of Rikki Clarke probably isn’t after two seasons as disappointing as Ramps have been spectacular. The return of Saqlain will help the bowling, although he has been comprehensively outbowled by Mushtaq at Sussex. Much will depend on the development of Chris Jordan. If he can take enough wickets, they may survive.
They have the best opening bowlers in English cricket, which will be a real blow as they spend the summer with England rather than at Trent Bridge. In the absence of Broad and Sidebottom, Notts will be relying on Charlie Schreck and Graeme Swann (when he isn’t on international duty) and hoping that Mark Footitt can put his injury problems behind him. David Hussey (when he arrives) and Mark Wagh are proven run scorers, as is Matt Wood, who has arrived from Somerset. And of course, they have the best wicket-keeper in English cricket. A tight, but I believe successful battle against relegation
A couple of weeks ago, I’d have had them as contenders. However, the loss of Warne is a huge blow to the club and replacing him as captain with Mascarenhas is an odd move given Dimi will miss the start of the season and not necessarily guaranteed a place in the starting eleven. The emergence of Michael Carberry as an international contender is the main strength in the batting, while Shane Bond should find English conditions to his liking, if he stays fit long enough. However, if they are to be successful, more is needed from the likes of Michael Lumb and John Crawley, who had poor seasons in 2007.
Likely to have Steve Harmison for the whole season, which will be a huge bonus given that Ottis Gibson has finally retired (to the delight of Yorkshire fans everywhere). Harmison will form a very strong pace bowling line up with Liam Plunkett and Graham Onions. Blenkenstein, DiVenuto and Chanderpaul are an impressive batting line up with Phil Mustard able to add the fireworks. It will be very close at the top and Durham will be there or there abouts.
No Cameron White this year, due to the cull on overseas players, but Trescothick, Langer, Hildredth and Trego means that Somerset probably have the best batting line up in the division. Andy Caddick and Charl Willoughby will find life much harder in Division 1 though and Somerset may struggle to win enough matches by taking 20 wickets. The form of Ian Blackwell with the ball could well be key for their title challenge.
If England persist with James Anderson over Matthew Hoggard for the summer, then the title is a real possibility. Even in Hoggard’s absence, the bowling line up contains threats throughout, with Gough and Bresnan being joined by Rana Naved who should be a much more potent threat than the steady Jason Gillespie. There is also the spin threat of Adil Rashid. The batting is steady rather than spectacular with Jacques Rudolph and Anthony McGrath likely to score big again and with Bresnan coming in at 8, the line up goes a long way down. If the summer is a dry one, then Rashid could really come of age.
Close but no cigar again last year. They haven’t won the Championship outright since 1934. The strength of the bowling attack will largely depend on whether England persist with Anderson or want to rush Andrew Flintoff back into action. Otherwise, the evergreen Dominic Cork and Glen Chapple will carry the attack, with Gary Keedy supplying the spin option. Stuart Law, this season as captain, will again be the main source of runs. However, more is needed from the rest of the line up and I suspect they will again pull up just short.
It’s a simple technique.
1. Take a world class spinner (Mushtaq) and prepare pitches that suit his bowling.
2. Don’t rely on one batsmen, but make sure that you have plenty who can make big runs throughout the season (Adams, Goodwin, Prior, Yardy)
3. If you lose a player to England, have an even better replacement in line (Hodd for Prior)
4. Fill team with other players, not quite good enough for England, but able to support the main men (Martin Jenkins, Lewry, Kirtley)
5. Pull the odd rabbit out of the hat (Wright)
The loss of Naved weakens their pace attack, but that’s not really what Sussex are about. Champions again I’m afraid.