Who will be crowned this year’s champions? I really have no idea. A newly promoted club tipped for relegation won the title last year whilst the reigning champions got relegated. It was just the kind of boring and predictable season you’d expect from a competition nobody likes and everyone expects to die. What a total waste of time.
Jokes aside the championship has become a bit of a pundit’s nightmare. I really have no idea who will do well and who will flop like Dwayne Leverock attempting the high-jump. Most of the teams have considerable strengths, but they all have weaknesses too. I’ll quickly run through each county (in no particular order) below …
Lots of people seem to be tipping Surrey this year – and you can see why after they added Morne Morkel to their squad – but Kumar Sangakkara will be a huge loss. There’s talk of his Viratness coming over for a few games, so he can prepare for the test series against England, but I doubt he’ll be available for long. Overall I like the look of Surrey’s bowling attack although I’m not sure they’ll score enough runs. Rory Burns could be their key man – as long as he’s not called up by England.
When it comes to Essex I expect the champions to put up a strong defence. They have a settled squad, some good young talent, and Matt Coles might prove a useful addition. It will be interesting to see how much fuel’s left in Peter Siddle’s tank. He might be lethal in early season conditions. Thereafter the underrated Neil Wagner will surely lead the attack really well. England fans should keep an eye on Jamie Porter and Dan Lawrence, who should have prolific seasons.
Next up is my team Worcestershire. They’ll be without coach Steve Rhodes, who put himself in a rather difficult position, but they might benefit from having Moeen Ali around more often than not. Surely it’s time to give Jack Leach a run in the England side? Worcester should be interesting to watch because they have so many promising young players: there’s Joe Clarke, of course, but also the likes of Josh Tongue, Brett D’Oliveira and Tom Fell. When you add overseas signing Travis Head to reliable pros like Daryl Mitchell, Joe Leach, and Ben Cox (who’s possibly the best pure keeper in the country), I’m going to stick my next out and say that the mighty Pears will survive the drop.
The other promoted team is the all powerful Notts. Or at least they used to be all powerful. The signing of Ross Taylor will help them enormously during the first half of the season, but they’ll have to cope without Alex ‘white ball’ Hales, plus their talisman Chris Read. Luckily, however, Notts have enormously deep pockets to paper over their cracks. The signings of Paul Coughlin and Chris Nash are two prime examples. My prediction? They’ll probably be fine.
It’s time to talk about Yorkshire next. They’re not quite the powerhouse they once were but overseas batsmen like Cheteshwar Pujara (early season) and Kane Williamson (mid-season) will surely score shedloads of runs. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Tom Kohler-Cadmore, a former Worcs lad who broke all kinds of records at my old school, will get on. He has stacks of talent. It might not be plain sailing for the Yorkies though. Ryan Sidebottom has retired (due to age) and Adil Rashid has retired too (for completely different reasons).
Lancs will be keen to finish above their northern rivals, and it will be interesting to see how Haseeb Hameed and Liam Livingstone progress. England really need these two exciting players to kick on. The Red Rose have also made a couple of astute signings in Graham Onions and Keaton Jennings, who both arrive from poor old Durham. I quite like the looks of Lancs’ squad on paper. Alex Davies is an exciting prospect and Saqib Mahmood will be determined to live up the early hype. And then there’s Jos Buttler, who always seems to get a mention despite the fact he’ll probably do sod all (again). Overall I think Lanky’s lot will probably do quite well this summer – although the emergence of the Lancs Action Group suggests all is not well behind the scenes.
Hampshire are up next. James Vince will lead them in all forms of the game this year – they obviously expect England to drop him like a stone – and he might actually score more than a flirty thirty at some point. Sam Northeast should prove a very useful signing indeed (especially as he’ll never, ever, in a million years, ever, be picked for England), and overseas signing Hashim Amla will probably make enough runs in the first three months of the season to carry the batting on his own. The young player to watch will obviously be Mason Crane. If you study him carefully you’ll learn all about the subtleties of his wrist action … as he stirs endless cups of tea in the dressing room.
Last but certainly not least are Somerset. Their fans are assured to enjoy the summer even if the team flops. There’s no better place to watch cricket than Taunton. Tom Abell and Dom Bess are two highly talented youngster who should do well, and the Overton brothers will be chomping at the bit to impress the England selectors. The only possible hindrance is the likely absence of Jack Leach, who might be away on test duty a fair bit. Oh, and then there’s the unavailability Cameron Bancroft, who won’t be joining as their overseas player after all. Not sure what the story was there? Some local dispute I imagine.
As always ladies and gentlemen, your thoughts are always welcome in the comments below. Who are you tipping for glory? And why haven’t I written a division two preview? The answer to the latter is obvious really. I just couldn’t be arsed.
My one wish is New Road stays under the ECB radar and Worcs can keep their players. Hopefully ECB will pick Leach or Crane instead of depriving Worcs of the “Beard that’s Feared”. My money is on Worcestershire – of course !.
Good stuff Andy. We’ll win it all.
I’ll be interested to see whether Pennington gets a good run in the side.
He’s got something about him…
For one moment I thought age was getting to me……I thought you said Paddington.
Good review James. One thing, Surrey are always tipped by the bookies every year, in spite that we haven’t won since 2002. Morkel is a great signing IF he stays fit. We tend to sign players who immediately pick up an injury; Footitt, Marsh etc. Always surprises at Surrey.
A few other thoughts:
Feel a bit sorry for York’s with all their call ups. History suggests last year’s winners will struggle – will Cook find form? Hampshire shouldn’t be in Div 1 and Somerset should stop producing raging turners and 2 day games at Taunton. Middlesex will probably come up next year, pity because I find them pretty boring, but at least I can avoid Lords this year.
Couldn’t disagree more about Somerset..
I’d prefer it if at least 3 or 4 sides produced turners, gives a bit of variety and helps to produce both spinners and better batsmen.
I’m tipping Yorkshire myself, about time the talent in their side actually produced. Lancashire look strong too though the weather is always against them.
Not much quality in the overseas signings on the whole…
Are Yorkshire going to be able to take 20 wickets regularly?
They’ve not only lost Rashid, Plunkett and Willey but I gather Coad is already injured.
That is a good question, and possibly one I hadn’t considered properly.
Patterson is out too apparently… Don’t think they’ve actually named their starting XI but looks like two of Ben Coad, Josh Shaw and Matthew Waite.
Knew I should have picked Bresnan in the fantasy league!
I’m so disappointed by the County Champions that I doubt I’ll renew my membership. I’ve never, ever watched Essex in the expectation of trophies. Our team is supposed to lose gracelessly, perhaps betting on the outcome, while our administrators lose bags of wedge in hard-to-explain ways. And of course Fozzy is supposed to keep his place no matter how many young England prospects queue up behind him.
3 teams have retained the title since 2000, so I’m hoping we put up a good defence.
Harmer was superb last season, Lawrence & Porter something to prove for England.
Cook available for 3 early games, and maybe mid & end of season.
Players such as Ravi, Westley, Foster & ten Doeschate all experienced.
Between Essex, Lancs & Surrey. But anything could happen.
I agree about Harmer. I saw him bowl at Edgbaston and he outbowled Jeetan Patel on his own wicket – a unique occurrence for the best spinner in the Championship in my experience. Essex may have Patel’s successor to that title. Essex also have an advantage with Porter. He is a really decent 80mph bowler who I expect to continue taking bagfuls of county wickets. But unless the selectors change their minds on past principles (such bowlers having to add 5mph and bat a bit) he will not get near the England team. Losing Woakes for almost all Championship games has been a death blow for Warwickshire so do not underestimate the importance of a front line bowler who cannot get picked for England!
Would someone please explain to me why overseas players are only signed for such short periods now. Surely it should be at least a season long commitment, otherwise it makes a mockery of limiting counties overseas talent. I know test series carry on all year round, but players used to sign up for substantial contracts. I watched a lot of West Indieshire in the 70’s and that crew were available pretty much all season for many years; Kallicharran, Kanhai, Gibbs and Murray were all firm favourites and did a lot of coaching behind th scenes. Most counties had their overseas regulars, who actually lived over here with their families, so what’s preventing them doing the same now. Surely this would give the championship a much needed boost. It would also give players a break from the constant diet of high profile burn out type international matches.
Is this all totally unrealistic ‘pie in the sky’ with today’s itineraries?
Part of the reason is the proliferation of competitions and specialisation of players in one form. Also the rules have changed. In the early 70s Warwickshire could field all the players you mention because Kanhai and Murray qualified as ‘home’ players due to owning property in this country (I learnt this from an old Wisden!).
SA tour Sri Lanka in July and August so that alone prohibits their players from signing up for a whole CC season if they want to maintain an international career.
By the way, if SA win in SL and India lose the series in England (by any margins), SA will go top of the Test rankings.
Australian TV rights announced:
C9 lost it after 40 years. Home Australian ODIs and T20Is disappear behind a paywall for the first time and the formats might well be destined for the knackers’ yard. The journos say more coverage for women’s cricket is the plus and are ready to scream ‘sexist’ at anyone who dares call that out for the BS it is.
To be fair I’ve never seen a convict’s wife weeping like a willow, though seems to be traditional in the boy’s team.
I like women’s cricket but doubt it’ll get many viewers.
Playing cricket on 13th April is just the height of stupidity. The whole thing is a sad farce. If you could design a way to try to make county championship look as ridiculous as possible, you couldn’t come up with a better idea.
I was at The Oval for the Surrey/Warwicks match in early April 2017 and it was blue sky and temperatures in the 70s. Just right for cricket.
It was rather nice at Lords on Saturday too (I had nets there in the morning then watched a few overs). Though the £20 they were charging on the gate would have put a lot of casual fans off – that’s OK if you fancy the whole day in the ground, less so if you only have an hour or 2 free.
Agreed. Jonathan Agnew has made similar points in his Waitrose magazine column, which may help the cause (though he frames it, perfectly reasonably, in the context of producing an Ashes winning team).
First fifty of the season to James Vince and a good weather forecast for next week.
Two small miracles!
Stone took 8 for 80 including 6 of their top 7… That is some bowling.
Anyone know which county matches will be covered by Sky this year?
I’ll assume a depressingly small number….