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.