County Championship: Know your squads – Part I
Rob Johnston • Last updated on Mon, 03 Apr, 2017, 12:20 AM
Essex won Division Two last season © Getty
Last season: 9th in Division Two
It has been all change at Derbyshire over the winter with Kim Barnett, installed as the club’s new Director of Cricket, wasting no time in putting his mark on things. It was clear that something had to be done: Derbyshire finished bottom of the County Championship without a win last season.
There is genuine hope for better this time out, though, much of it due to an influx of players which has given the squad a depth it lacked last year. Ireland’s Gary Wilson, signed from Surrey, and a trio of South Africans, Imran Tahir, Hardus Viljoen and Daryn Smit, the latter two on Kolpak deals, have all arrived and will add much needed experience and quality to the squad.
The signings of Tahir and Viljoen in particular, will give captain Billy Goddleman a cutting edge that Derbyshire lacked last season when they garnered the least bowling bonus points of any county. Throw in young leg-spinner Matt Critchley, who spent the winter in Sydney working with Stuart MacGill, and reliable fast bowler Tony Palladino and the attack has a decent look to it.
Barnett has also introduced a revamped coaching structure which will see Goddleman and the players effectively managing the Championship and 50-over teams without a head coach. The hope is that this will force the players to take more responsibility for the success of the side. For the T20 campaign, John Wright has been hired as a specialist coach.
Despite the improvements to the squad, expectations should be tempered with a dose of realism. Come the end of the season, Derbyshire are unlikely to be in the mix for promotion but they should fare better than last year and pick up a few wins along the way. After a harrowing campaign last season, that should be regarded as success in itself.
Last season: 4th in Division One (enforced relegation by ECB due to financial failings)
The sanctions placed on Durham by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for financial failings were intended to act as a warning to other counties but they are clearly punitive. Not only will Durham be playing in Division Two this season, they will start with a 48-point penalty.
Typically, Durham have faced their situation with stoicism. Ian Botham has been appointed as chairman and has been bullish in his still targeting promotion while Keaton Jennings, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood have all remained with the county when they could have been tempted elsewhere.
Durham could not, however, hang on to everyone. Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick, both of whom scored over 1,000 Championship runs last season, have moved to Surrey, which leaves the batting looking short. Much will be expected of Jennings, although he should be with England for much of the Test match summer, and captain Paul Collingwood.
The additions of Test batsmen South African Stephen Cook and New Zealander Tom Latham as overseas players will also certainly help plug some of the gap and young Jack Burnham will have to step up as well.
Conversely, the bowling looks strong with Wood, Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth all top-class operators and young left-arm seamer James Weighall showing glimpses of potential. Spinner Ryan Pringle will hope to do better than last year’s disappointing showing, particularly as Durham will be without Borthwick’s leg-spin.
Despite the points penalty and departures, Durham certainly have the class and character to challenge for promotion this season. The strength of their bowling attack should be too good for many of the sides in Division Two and this will give them every chance of reclaiming their position in the top flight at the first time of asking.
Last season: 1st in Division Two
After a fine season last year, Essex will be an unknown quantity in their first appearance in the top flight since 2010. A group of young cricketers have to prove themselves capable of performing against better teams, but in Nick Browne, Jamie Porter, Dan Lawrence and Aaron Beard together with Tom Westley, Essex have a strong nucleus of homegrown talent.
They have also recruited well. Varun Chopra and Adam Wheater, two players with top-flight experience, have arrived, as has top-class South African spinner Simon Harmer on a Kolpak deal. Add in New Zealand fast-bowler Neil Wagner as an overseas player for the start of the season and Essex’s squad looks deeper and stronger than for many a year.
Importantly, Alastair Cook will also be available until July and should play nine or ten Championship games in all. The former England Test captain will be relied on, together with the experienced duo of Ravi Bopara and captain Ryan ten Doeschate, to help the younger batsmen adjust to the greater intensity and quality of Division One’s attacks.While the batting is clearly Essex’s strength, the bowling attack looks perhaps short of another fast bowler. Porter, 23, who has 121 first-class wickets at 27.73, and Matt Dixon will lead the attack with Wagner and Beard and Paul Walter will also have opportunities. Harmer’s spin will be important on the better pitches of Division One but whether Essex can take 20 wickets regularly remains to be seen.
The first target of coach Chris Silverwood will be to avoid relegation but if they have a good start and Cook finds form, they may spring a surprise towards the top half of the division. For the likes of Westley and Browne, a stellar season could also see them pushing for England spots. The future at Chelmsford looks particularly bright.
Last season: 8th in Division Two
On paper, last season was a pretty dismal one for Glamorgan. They finished second-bottom in Division Two and won just three games all year. Worse than that, they lost half of their Championship games.
Yet there were signs that the county may be about to have a decent period. A group of excellent young batsmen in Aneurin Donald, David Lloyd and Will Bragg announced themselves with some standout innings even if the consistency required at first-class level was somewhat lacking. These three have the ability to be the heart of Glamorgan’s batting for a decade.
In the bowling department, there was perhaps less to shout about even though Tim van der Gugten and Michael Hogan shared 105 Championship wickets between them. Spinner Andrew Salter has not kicked on and Graham Wagg and Craig Meschede failed to deliver in any consistent way and will need to do better. Young seamer Lukas Carey should get more opportunities this term after impressing in limited opportunities so far.
Hopes for a better 2017 will depend largely on the inexperienced batting line-up finding more consistency, which will need captain Jacques Rudolph, who averaged under 25 last season, in form, and the back-up bowlers giving Hogan and van der Gugten more support. There is plenty of talent in the squad but they need to deliver on a more regular basis.
Eight losses in 16 games last year suggests a lack of fight when the going got tough but it was largely due to a lack of experience amongst a young squad, one further depleted this season by the retirement of Dean Cosker after 20 years. They will be better for it and although a mid-table finish, and no more, is likely this term, Glamorgan are moving in the right direction.
Last season:6th in Division Two
Gloucestershire started their outdoor season earlier than any other county, playing Oxford University on 16th March, and coach Richard Dawson hopes this will give them the ability to start well in the first four games, matches he has targeted as setting the tone for their first-class campaign. There has been no overhaul of the squad despite a middling Championship season last year with only four wins from their 16 games. Experienced wicket-keeper batsman Phil Mustard has joined from Durham and Australian Cameron Bancroft will replace fellow Western Australian Michael Klinger who will only play limited-overs cricket for Gloucestershire this season.
Dawson wants his current group to step up more consistently than last summer, something that will be even more important without Klinger, who averaged over 70 last season, and Hamish Marshall who has retired. Much will be expected of Chris Dent, who scored three Championship hundreds last year, and Graeme van Buuren to replace those runs.
The bowling attack looks marginally the stronger suit with fast bowlers Craig Miles, Liam Norwell and David Payne all proven performers and young Josh Shaw, 21, having plenty of promise too. If Gloucestershire can score enough runs, that attack should have enough about it to take 20 wickets although they do lack a spinner of note for when the pitches firm up in mid-summer.
Gloucestershire may have to settle for a mid-table finish once again in the Championship. Their squad looks more suited to one-day cricket and lacking in four-day class which shouldn’t trouble the better sides. They do have enough about them though to pick up a few wins along the way.
Last season: 8th in Division One (retained top flight status due to Durham’s relegation)
Whatever the wrongs or rights of Durham’s relegation, Hampshire, the beneficiaries, are keen to focus on putting right a season they felt should never have seen them relegated anyway. They lost just four games in 2016 but drew ten which ultimately saw them finish just below Lancashire and, until Durham’s demotion, headed towards Division Two.
This year, the Hampshire squad has a stronger look to it than last season which has given them hope of being involved at the top end this time out. Michael Carberry has returned after a battle with cancer and Reece Topley is also back fit after missing most of the year with injury. James Vince, away with England for much of last summer, will also likely be around far more.
Added to those three has been some canny recruitment. Two high-class South Africans, Kyle Abbot and Rilee Rossouw, have arrived on Kolpak deals and George Bailey will fulfil the overseas duties and captain the team in Championship cricket. Highly thought of young all-rounder Asher Hart has also arrived from Durham.
Throughout the squad there is strength and experience. Liam Dawson, fresh from an impressive Test debut, and Mason Crane, recently selected for New South Wales after a stellar season in grade cricket, are two good spinners and fast bowler Brad Wheal and batsman Tom Alsop, who spent his winter with the England Lions, are two highly promising cricketers. Jimmy Adams and Will Smith lend further experience to the batting line-up.
Whether Hampshire have enough staying power to challenge the best teams over the course of a season is the biggest question mark this year. Too often last season, they lost big moments in games which was one reason why they won just two matches all season. With the extra class of Topley and Abbot in the bowling attack and more batting depth too, Hampshire could well be the surprise package this season.
Last season: 2nd in Division Two
In any other season, Kent would have achieved their goal of promotion to Division One of the Championship last year. With the restructuring of the top division to include just eight teams only one side was promoted which left Kent rueing their misfortune at finishing second behind Essex.
Sam Northeast’s team look well placed to be there or thereabouts this time round and should benefit from some limited but shrewd recruitment. Young batsman Joe Weatherley, on loan from Hampshire, and all-rounder Will Gidman, signed from Nottinghamshire, have arrived to complement a talented squad.
Sam Billings is one of England’s brightest prospects and will add much to the squad once finished at the IPL and opening batsman Daniel Bell-Drummond starred for the England Lions in their recent one-day series with Sri Lanka. Fast bowler Matt Coles is perhaps the best quick bowler in the second division and experienced duo Darren Stevens and James Tredwell still have plenty to offer.
It’s also a pivotal season for Northeast himself, described by new coach Matt Walker this week as the best captain in county cricket. Fresh from a hundred during the recent North-South series in the UAE, Northeast is starting to get the recognition with the national selectors that he deserves. Leading Kent to promotion will do his cause no harm.
If there is one area where Kent will look to do better than last season, it is converting handy positions into wins. Eight draws last year was perhaps two too many and much will depend this campaign on whether Coles, Gidman and Tredwell are able to bowl sides out regularly. The bowling attack does look short of another high-class fast bowler.
With Durham and Nottinghamshire both looking strong after relegation from the top flight, Kent will not have it all their own way this season. They do, however, have an experienced and deep squad and the shrewd Northeast at the helm which should see them challenging for promotion at the end of the season.
Last season: 7th in Division One
Lancashire approach this season with a good mix of young potential and experienced campaigners within their squad. Last summer’s seventh placed finish, narrowly avoiding relegation, was not what a club of Lancashire’s size expects but nevertheless was a good result for a squad dominated by young, inexperienced players.
One of those, Haseeb Hameed, made his Test debut for England and another, Liam Livingstone, may not be far away either after a fine winter with the Lions. Rob Jones, Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson were others who shone at various stages and all of them with be better for the experience of last year.
New coach Glen Chapple has recognised the need for some experience to complement the youthful talent and has recruited well. South African wicket-keeper Dane Villas and West Indian batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul have been signed on Kolpak deals and Villas’ fellow South African Ryan McLaren will be the club’s overseas player.
James Anderson will also lead the attack in early season and should be available for more games than last summer even if the England management will want to keep him fit and fresh for a rigorous programme of Test matches over the next year. Anderson will form a high-class new-ball partnership with Kyle Jarvis.
It is unlikely Lancashire will be challenging at the top of the table but nor is it certain they will be involved in another relegation battle. Without Anderson, the attack looks short of class and depth but if experienced players like Chanderpaul, Villas and McLaren can add some nous and backbone to the abundant skill and talent of Lancashire’s homegrown youngsters, they may have a decent year.
Last season: 7th in Division Two
Leicestershire’s four Championship victories last season were further confirmation of progress in four-day cricket after winless campaigns in 2013 and 2014 but it is too soon to yet expect them to be challenging at the top of the division.
New coach Pierre de Bruyn, who replaced Andrew McDonald after he returned to Australia, will have a large squad of 25 players to pick from this season which means competition for places will be high. Whether there is enough quality, however, particularly in the batting, remains to be seen.
Some decent players have arrived over the winter to add more depth. South African’s Colin Ackerman and Dieter Klein have been recruited on EU passports while all-rounder James Burke has arrived on loan from Surrey and seamer Gavin Griffiths has joined from Lancashire. Australian Mark Cosgrove will captain the side and his compatriot Clint McKay will lead the limited overs teams.
Alongside those recruits are a host of young players who have shown glimpses of promise. Adil Ali, Lewis Hill, Harry Dearden and Tom Wells are a quartet of youthful batsmen and Zak Chappell is an all-rounder with plenty of potential but it feels as if much of the run scoring will have to be done by Ackerman, Cosgrove, Neil Dexter and Paul Horton.
The bowling attack will rely on McKay, Ben Raine and Charlie Shrek who combined to take 135 Championship wickets last year. Behind them, though, is little proven depth, even if the recruitment of Griffiths should help. The lack of a frontline spinner hindered Leicestershire last season on good pitches and will likely do so again. Callum Parkinson, 20, signed from Derbyshire, has promise but also a lot to learn.
De Bruyn has spoken of his desire for Leicestershire players to get more out of themselves this season and professes himself impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment he has seen in pre-season. That only goes so far, of course, and although Leicestershire will be competitive this season, they still have work to do before they can think about anything more than a mid-table finish.