In our preview of Division One of the County Championship, we generally felt the division looked very strong with only one county with little hope of a challenge for the trophy. Looking now at Division Two, we find a mix of youthful optimism, seasoned veterans and C-list Australians that should combine and compete to make the division interesting, with a couple of outspoken and newly-relegated Chief Executives to add a subplot.
2011: CC2 – 5th; P40 – 3rd in Group A; T20 – 7th in North Group
New Faces: David Wainwright, Peter Burgoyne, Matt Lineker, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (T20)
Goodbye / Good riddance: Greg Smith, Steffan Jones, Luke Sutton
Last season they were “mediocre”, which is a step up from their usual “dire”. Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja return as the overseas players; the former until June, the latter in the second half of the season. Both will be expected to shoulder much of the responsibility for run-scoring. David Wainwright has been promising for a few years now and the move to the Midlands might just be the catalyst for the slow left-armer to improve his statistics. Tony Palladino isn’t a bad county bowler and we suspect he’ll repeat last season’s 50-wicket haul and once again lead the county’s bowling averages. But come September time, we can only see us reaching for the thesaurus to find another suitably pedestrian word to describe the season.
2011: CC2 – 7th; P40 – 3rd in Group C; T20 – 6th in South Group
New Faces: Greg Smith, Ben Foakes, Charl Willoughby, Alviro Petersen, Peter Siddle (T20)
Goodbye / Good riddance: Chris Wright, Max Osborne
The arrival of Alviro Petersen from South Africa via Cardiff should help Essex improve on last year’s hugely underwhelming performances. It is too soon yet to know if Ravi Bopara is likely to be on international duty for most of the season, but he and Owais Shah, at least on paper, should also contibute enough for Essex to at least threaten to challenge in the limited-over tournaments. David Masters had his Annus Mirabilis last year; if he remains evergreen and Reece Topley continues to develop then their bowling attack should also take plenty of wickets in division two of the championship.
2011:CC2 – 6th; P40 – 5th in Group C; T20 – 7th in South Group
New Faces: Simon Jones, Michael Hogan, Marcus North, Moises Henriques
Goodbye / Good riddance: Mike Powell, Alviro Petersen, Adam Shantry, David Brown, David Harrison
Another winter of turmoil in south Wales, with Alviro Petersen opting to head to Essex rather than continue with Glamorgan. Mark Wallace is the county’s new captain, their third in as many seasons. Moises Henriques and Marcus North share the overseas role, both handy enough players but neither seem the calibre of Petersen. Sadly the days when Simon Jones would lead an attack are long gone, however if James Harris can stay fit all summer he should take plenty of wickets – and Michael Hogan from Western Australia may be a shrewd acquisition. And let’s not forget the spin twins: Robert ‘Almost 42’ Croft and ‘Dean ‘Just Turned 34’ Cosker will continue to turn their arms over. If somehow the county manage to challenge for promotion, we’ll frankly be amazed.
2011: CC2 – 4th; P40 – 6th in Group C; T20 – 8th in South Group
New Faces: Dan Housego
Goodbye / Good riddance: Jon Lewis, Vikram Banerjee, Chris Taylor
Sadly, the main cricket-related news coming out of Gloucestershire this winter concerned the decision of Bristol City Council to refuse planning permission for the improvements to their County Ground home. Rather than give a mini-essay on the merits of the development plan-led system, the potential influence of the National Planning Policy Framework and the intricacies of the planning application, we’ll focus on matters on the pitch. With Jon Lewis following the path of five pound notes down the M32/M4/M25/A3 to the Oval, Gloucestershire really do seem to be outsiders for any silverware this year. Dan Housego isn’t the most enthralling signing and so far the only overseas player confirmed is someone called Muralitharan for the T20s. The squad looks fairly inexperienced; excellent contributions from the Gidman brothers will probably the minimum requirement if the county are to have any hope of improving on last season.
2011: CC1 – 9th; P40 – 4th in Group B; T20 – SF
New Faces: Simon Katich, Sean Terry
Good bye / Good riddance: Dominic Cork, Nic Pothas, Johan Myburgh, Friedel de Wet, Michael Lumb, Simon Jones, Jamie Miller
A winter of squad-trimming has seen some fairly big names depart Southampton; but no doubt the re-arrival of Simon Katich and continuing hiring of Shahid Afridi – the latter for the T20s only – will have involved some relatively large sums of money. The squad does look a little short in depth as a result of the cricketing topiary, but the first choice XI including the likes of new captain Jimmy Adams, Michael Carberry, Neil McKenzie and some promising young bowlers should at least have Hampshire challenging for promotion back to Division One.
2011: CC2 – 8th; P40 – 4th in Group A; T20 – QF
New Faces: Charlie Shreck, Ivan Thomas, Benedict Kemp, Fabian Cowdrey, Michael Powell, Ben Harmison, Scott Newman, Mark Davies, Brendan Nash
Goodbye / Good riddance: Joe Denly, Martin van Jaarsveld, James Goodman, Robbie Joseph
All change at Kent, hardly surprising after a disastrous County Championship season in which they only finished ahead of Leicestershire and desperately struggled to put runs on the board, only passing 400 twice in the whole summer. Two of the batsmen most responsible have moved on – Joe Denly to Middlesex and Martin van Jaarsveld to retirement (technically via Leicestershire). In their place come Ben Harmison, Mike Powell and 51allout favourite Brendan Nash, one of the great West Indian batsmen of modern times. Kent’s bowling was nowhere near as poor as their batting and the addition of Charlie Shreck should bolster their attack. A promotion challenge will probably still be beyond them but an improvement on 8th place should be possible, as well as continuing 2011’s decent performances in the limited overs formats.
2011: CC2 – 9th; P40 – 6th in Group B; T20 – Winners
New Faces: Robbie Joseph, Ramnaresh Sarwan
Goodbye / Good riddance: James Taylor, Harry Gurney, Paul Nixon, Tom New
Both the Championship and CB40 brought nothing but disappointment at Grace Road last year; if it weren’t for the incredible T20 success the season would have been a complete writeoff, and in truth it’s difficult to see 2012 being any different. Every passing winter seems to see all the young talent siphoned off by bigger counties with more money and, whilst nobody can begrudge the likes of James Taylor a move to a side where his international ambitions have a better chance of being realised, it makes it very difficult to ever go into April with any confidence at all. Chances of promotion in either format are less than nil, but they can at least hope for a bit more fight to be shown this time around. If they are to do that much of the burden will fall on the experienced heads – captain Matthew Hoggard with the ball and overseas player Ramneresh Sarwan with the bat – but it looks like, once again, their only chance of any success comes in the T20, where they seem a different side.
2011: CC2 – 3rd; P40 – 3rd in Group B; T20 – 9th in North Group
New Faces: Kyle Coetzer, Con de Lange, Cameron White
Goodbye / Good Riddance: David Lucas, Mal Loye, Tom Brett, Gavin Baker
After a surprisingly successful performance in the Championship last year – missing out on promotion by a solitary point – Northants will be targeting Division One once again this time around. With Andrew Hall alongside new signings Kyle Coetzer, Cameron White and (potentially) Shakib al-Hasan forming the backbone of their T20 side, they will surely put up more of a fight in that competition this summer but the focus will probably be on the longer form of the game. Despite their 2011 efforts, they still don’t go into this season as one of the favourites; their squad still looks lacking in batting depth in particular and it’s something of a long shot to expect Hall to repeat his 960 run, er, haul. Division Two is difficult to predict and the Steelbacks are very much the epitome of that, but a lot will depend on whether they can force more positive results this year. 2011’s total of seven draws was the highest in the division and ultimately cost them promotion. Do they have the bowling attack to do that? Probably not, but you never know.
2011: CC1 – 9th; P40 – 6th in Group A; T20 – 6th in North Group
New Faces: Alex Lees, James Wainman, Callum Geldart, Alex Lilley, Dan Hodgson, Phil Jaques
Goodbye / Good riddance: Ben Sanderson, Lee Hodgson, David Wainwright
After a shambolic 2011 campaign saw the White Rose county relegated from Division One and their chairmen fire a hilarious broadside at his own team, Yorkshire, who have brought in Jason Gillespie as First Team Coach, will be looking to bounce straight back this summer. With a number of exciting young prospects – some of whom will be harbouring serious England ambitions – as well as the experience of Phil Jaques at the top of the order, they look to be one of the favourites to do so. While the Championship will certainly be a priority, they will be looking to improve on their rather mediocre one-day performances last year. As yet they have no overseas player at all – Jaques has been signed on a European passport – so who they can get in for the T20 especially could be crucial in that regard. Whatever happens, Yorkshire will be desperate for some success of their own in response to Lancashire’s title win of 2011.