Stifle those yawns, dust off those umbrellas and top up that flask, the County Championship is back. No, wait, where are you going!?
With the IPL holding the limelight for the first few weeks of the season, county sides all over have tried to follow their lead this year, meaning the competition will be absolutely full to bursting with mediocre Australians in 2013. Cowan, Quiney, Klinger, Burns, Magoffin; the names slip off the tongue like a razor blade. And that’s just a drop in the sewage.
While everybody else plucks random young English players from various second XI’s, tips them for international honours by the middle of May and waxes lyrical over Ben Stokes for no apparent reason, we’ve got hard-hitting insight from special correspondents on the ground as well as some hilarious ageism to get things rolling. Division One kicks us off, with Division Two’s in-depth analysis to follow tomorrow (so long as Wikipedia doesn’t crash and the work experience kid shows up).
The unpredictability of Division One was shown by Lancashire’s relegation just one year after they had won the title. This year, the promotion of Yorkshire has added a strong squad to the division, whilst Derbyshire will seamlessly slot into the Worcestershire role of propping up the rest of the league.
Warwickshire are champions and start as favourites with all the bookmakers; but the signings of Oliver Hannon-Dolby and Scotsman Freddie Coleman hardly look the most inspiring. Just about their entire team has been picked in England’s 30-man squad for the Champions Trophy, so they may miss a few players on international duty but, nonetheless, they’re so good we’re going to devote an entire article to them in due course.
As we’re fond of pointing out to chief 51allout cider drinker Nichael Bluth, Somerset have never won a County Championship, but they absolutely rock at coming second, much to Mrs Somerset’s delight, and were runners-up both last season and in 2010. Their squad remains largely the same, but if their young bowlers continue to develop then they will have a good chance this year – especially if Marcus Trescothick can stay fit and score literally lots of runs. Assuming Scyld Berry doesn’t stage a coup d’etat, they will miss Nick Compton for much of the season, however.
Nottinghamshire appear to have a squad of big names (and in the case of Samit Patel, big…nope, that’s too easy), but that was also the case last year when they needed Chris Read to dig them out of a hole every innings. Amusingly, they’ve signed Ed Cowan as overseas player, so expect plenty of slow-scoring collapses at Trent Bridge this season.
In 2012, Durham were bloody awful, until Paul Collingwood took over the captaincy and they became bloody good. With Liam Plunkett moving to Yorkshire their squad has improved (though Ian Blackwell and Michael Di Venuto have both retired), but the club’s finances are screwed and it looks like they won’t be signing an overseas player. Mind you, the lack of Australians in their line-up may be a blessing in an extremely poor disguise anyway. With Collingwood in charge, the impossible is possible. He’s that awesome.
Middlesex have captured James Harris from Glamorgan and should have a very strong bowling attack, even without Steven Finn. With the always impressive Chris Rogers remaining as captain, expect Middlesex to challenge this year…and Joe Denly to finally remind everyone why he was once going to be the future of English cricket. Incidentally, following his retirement Mark Ramprakash returns to Lord’s as dancing coach.
After a well-documented and ultimately sad season in 2012, Surrey seem to be taking a new approach by recruiting some legends of the game – and Ricky Ponting. Whereas Vikram Solanki and Gary Keedy are merely intriguing additions to the nursing home, the appointment of Graeme Smith as captain is very eye-catching. And whilst Smith is due to lead South Africa in the Champions Trophy, Old Man Ponting will be an adequate replacement (he will also play in the T20s); expect lots of rumours of a staggering and in no way anti-climatic return to the Australian side throughout the summer. The galacticos may be grabbing the headlines, but if the mainstays of their starting line-up stay fit then they have a decent side capable of challenging for trophies, and should spark a boom in the local stairlift manufacturing sector as well.
Down in Sussex, their new overseas T20 signing John Hastings is having surgery instead of playing for the Sharks – thus ruining headline writers’ dreams of numerous vernacular battle-related puns. Rory Hamilton-Brown has returned, Murray Goodwin has retired/signed for Glamorgan (which is broadly the same thing) and they will be needing a fine season from Monty Panesar. Sussex always seem to be described as a well-run county, but will that be enough to keep them out of a relegation fight?
Yorkshire have recruited Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett, whilst former England star Anthony McGrath has retired. The Tykes/Vikings/Tetley Tea Folk have a useful squad, but in this strong division could finish anywhere in the middle seven positions. The big question however, is whatever happened to Adil Rashid?
And so to Derbyshire. They were surprisingly promoted last year, their squad is somewhat mundane and they’ve been written off by all and sundry already. However the County Championship teaches us nothing but to expect the unexpected. With Shivnarine Chanderpaul likely to bat all summer long (and probably all autumn as well), they might achieve the remarkable and not just survive but flourish.
But they won’t.
The season starts on 10th April and we can assure you it won’t feature Ravi Shastri on commentary.