Can anyone stop Yorkshire?

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Can a county compete in all competitions?

Durham

Coach: Jon Lewis
Captain: Paul Collingwood (Champ), Mark Stoneman (T20, 50)

Last season
Specsavers Championship: 4th Div 1; NatWest Blast: 6th North Group; Royal London Cup: QF

In: None
Out: None
Overseas: None

2015 in a nutshell

Durham have been hard-pressed on and off the field since winning the Championship in 2013 and did extraordinarily well to secure a fourth-place finish in Division One in 2015 in a season when Ben Stokes and Mark Wood regularly formed part of England’s bowling attack. Their T20 cricket has been unconvincing and floodlights at Chester-le-Street were a godsend as they sought to pull in the crowds necessary to improve a parlous financial position.

2016 prospects

Finances are biting hard at Durham, enough to raise questions about their long-term survival as an international venue. Enough, too, to mean there has been no rush to replace John Hastings, their wholehearted Australian overseas pro, who will miss much of the summer because of required surgery. It is rare that misgivings can be expressed about Durham’s pace-bowling strength but that is the case this season: a fast start in the Championship when Wood and, possibly, Stokes are on hand is essential or they could find themselves struggling at the wrong end of the table.

Key player

Chris Rushworth was county cricket’s herculean performer in 2015. Forget talk about helpful north-east pitches, his 83 wickets at 20.61 was the best Division One return and his insistent pace bowling was a threat wherever he played. Justly named PCA player of the year, his indefatigable approach sustained Durham all season. More of the same please.

Bright young thing

Durham might have found a regular opening partner for Mark Stoneman in the form of Jack Burnham, who made a good impression for England in the recent U-19 World Cup and finished as the tournament’s leading runscorer despite a quarter-final exit. Life has improved since he was bowled for a duck on debut at Scarborough by a former Durham favourite, Liam Plunkett.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Promotion for Surrey and Lancashire gives Division One a strong look this season and Durham will have to scrap hard to retain their status.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 9/1; NatWest Blast 25/1; Royal London Cup 16/1

Hampshire

Director of cricket: Giles White
Head coach: Dale Benkenstein

Captain James Vince

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 7th Div 1; NatWest Blast: Semi-final; Royal London Cup: Quarter-final.

In: Reece Topley
Out: Danny Briggs (Sussex), Yasir Arafat (Somerset, loan), Basil Akram, Tom Barber, Joe Gatting (all released). Sean Terry (mutual agreement)
Overseas: Ryan McLaren, Shahid Afridi (T20) and Darren Sammy (T20).

2015 in a nutshell

By winning three of their last four Championship matches – including a final day run-chase against Nottinghamshire – Hampshire pulled off a great escape that saw them finish two points above the relegation positions. Before that late run, they had won just once all season. They also made their customary appearance at T20 Finals Day – it was their sixth such appearance in succession – and made it to the quarter-finals of the List A competition.

2016 prospects

This may be a transitional period for Hampshire. With several of their senior players – Jimmy Adams, Gareth Berg and Michael Carberry are 35, Fidel Edwards is 34, James Tomlinson, Will Smith and Sean Ervine are 33, even their overseas players are 33 (McLaren) and 36 (Afridi) – somewhat nearer the end than the start of their careers, the club need to see their younger players progress. Fortunately they do have a decent crop and, in Topley, they have recruited very well. But the next crop of batsmen – Lewis McManus, who scored heavily in pre-season, Tom Alsop and Joe Weatherley – have only four first-class games between them and if they lose Vince to England – and they could well – they look a little vulnerable. They are the bookies’ favourites for relegation.

Key player

Liam Dawson may not be the most eye-catching player in the side but, with bat and ball, he will be vital in all formats. Increasingly valued as much for his ‘power hitting’ as his bowling, he can also block for hours as required in the longer format. His fielding is also excellent. Much will be required from Vince and Adam Wheater, too.

Bright young thing

Mason Crane has only played three first-class games but, such is the excitement over his development, the club were prepared to allow Danny Briggs to leave and some thought he should have been included in England’s squad for the UAE. As a leg-spinner with impressive turn and control, he is undoubtedly an exciting talent. But he is also 19. Expectations should be tempered accordingly. Brad Taylor, a 19-year-old off-spinner, may yet prove to have the more serviceable to a county under pressure to avoid relegation.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

The older players appear to offering diminishing returns and it would be a surprise to see them in the top half of the Championship table. Still dangerous in limited-overs formats but a period similar to the days when Crawley, Udal and Warne departed in close succession may loom.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 18/1; NatWest Blast 9/1; Royal London Cup 8/1

Lancashire at the defending T20 Blast champions © Getty Images

Lancashire

Director of cricket: Ashley Giles
Captain: Steven Croft

Last season
Championship: 2nd Div 2; NatWest Blast: Winners; Royal London Cup: 5th Group B

In:
Out: Ashwell Prince (retired), Paul Horton (Leicestershire)
Overseas: Neil Wagner

2015 in a nutshell

Things could not have gone much better for Ashley Giles in his first season as director of cricket. Lancashire won the NatWest Twenty20 and bounced back into the First Division at the first attempt with a squad with a strong north-west flavour and there was a sense, too, of sound organisation and togetherness at all levels about which Giles could take much satisfaction.

2016 prospects

Having regained First Division status can Lancashire stay there? Just to avoid the bottom two might be seen as an achievement. The retirement of Ashwell Prince removes 1,478 Championship runs in Division Two, and will make heavy demands on Alviro Petersen, another South African playing out his career on a Kolpak deal. Haseeb Hameed has rich promise, too, as a top-order batsman, although Division One attacks will present a steep learning curve. Lancashire’s pace attack is in transition so they will hope James Anderson can contribute to a flying start and to see Kyle Jarvis make a further impact. Limited-overs cricket should be less daunting. Strong finances will be the envy of many.

Key player

Much attention was given last season to Lancashire’s highly-effective T20 spinners, Stephen Parry and Aaron Lilley, but if they are to hang in there in four-day cricket then left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan (41 wickets at 31.22 in Division Two last season) needs to transfer those statistics to Division One.

Bright young thing

Saqib Mahmood, a powerful quick bowler of considerable promise, was one of England’s outstanding players at the Under-19 World Cup, finishing with 13 wickets at just 12.69, and he was as effective with the old ball as the new cherry. Born in Birmingham but raised in Rochdale, he has already played three Twenty20 matches.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Lancashire look well equipped for limited-overs cricket, which should pull in the T20 crowds at Old Trafford, but their First Division status will not be easily maintained.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 12/1; NatWest Blast 12/1; Royal London Cup 14/1

Middlesex

Director of cricket: Angus Fraser
Captain: Adam Voges (Champ), Dawid Malan (T20), James Franklin (50)

Last season
Specsavers Championship: 2nd Div 1; NatWest Blast: 9th North Group; Royal London Cup: 7th Group B

In: James Fuller (Gloucestershire)
Out: Neil Dexter (Leicestershire), Gurjit Sandhu (released), Harry Podmore (Glamorgan – loan)
Overseas: Adam Voges, Brendon McCullum (T20), Mitchell McClenaghan (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

Judgement on Middlesex’s season in 2015 depends on which competition you care about most. They had a redoubtable Championship season, finishing second to Yorkshire, sustained by James Harris (69 wickets) with the ball and Nick Compton with the bat. Their limited-overs cricket, though, was dire, with a bottom finish in South Group for the second successive year testing their supporters’ patience in the NatWest Blast.

2016 prospects

Middlesex have turned to New Zealand to address their failures in T20 cricket, winning the race for Brendon McCullum, whose desire they will hope has not been tempered by international retirement, and the pace bowling skills of Mitchell McClenaghan. Dawid Malan, unfortunate not to sneak into England’s T20 squad, is a heavy runscorer now asked to turn things around as captain. In the Championship, Middlesex can again hope for a top-three finish. James Fuller strengthens seam bowling stocks, Ravi Patel needs to impose his left-arm slows in all formats and a big season with the bat for Sam Robson would make them a tough Division One side to beat.

Key player

If Middlesex have a pressing need to improve their Twenty20 form, it is fair enough to ask what game-changing contribution Eoin Morgan, England’s T20 captain, is going to make. Morgan made only one half-century in 10 outings in 2015 (he has only made three in 41 in IPL) and Middlesex will hope this time he returns from Sunrisers Hyderabad with his confidence high.

Bright young thing

Max Holden has yet to make his county debut but Middlesex have been so taken by his batting potential that they have lavished a four-year contract upon him. A left-handed opening batsman who admires Alastair Cook and is said to share his desire to succeed, if not his height: he is 5ft 8ins tall.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Middlesex and Warwickshire are the two counties most likely to scupper Yorkshire’s ambitions for a hat-trick of Championship titles. Their 20-over cricket must surely improve.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 15/2; NatWest Blast 12/1; Royal London Cup 12/1

Luke Wood is a pace bowler to keep an eye on © Getty Images

Nottinghamshire

Director of cricket: Mick Newell
Captain: Chris Read (Champ and 50); Dan Christian (T20)

Last season:

Specsavers Championship: 3rd Div 1; NatWest Blast: 5th North Group; Royal London Cup: Semi-final

In:
Out: Andy Carter (Derbyshire), Gary Keedy, Paul Franks (both retired).
Overseas: Jackson Bird, Dan Christian (limited-overs).

2015 in a nutshell

After failing to win any of their first five Championship matches – and only one of their first eight – Notts were bottom of Division One at the start of July. But the recruitment of Peter Moores as a consultant coach and the return of Chris Read from injury helped inspire a dramatic recovery that saw them win 14 and draw two of their remaining 20 matches across all competitions, including five out of six in the Championship. But for England calls and a Kumar Sangakkara masterclass for Surrey, they may well have made it to the final of the Royal London Cup.

2016 prospects

England call-ups may bite pretty deep at Trent Bridge this season. But at a club who have sometimes attracted criticism over the lack of opportunity provided to homegrown players that may provide further scope for talented youngsters such as Brett Hutton, Matt Carter and Luke Wood. The increased availability of Stuart Broad may help compensate for the absence of Alex Hales (likely to miss the first two games) and James Taylor for much of the season, while Jackson Bird replaces Peter Siddle as overseas player. Much more will be required from Michael Lumb and Samit Patel if they are to challenge, but with impressive depth and Moores back in his consultancy role, Notts still look strong in all formats.

Key player

You have only to look at the improvement in results when Chris Read returned to the side last year to understand his enduring worth. He remains one of the best keepers in the country and topped the county’s first-class batting averages in 2015. Since 2004, he averages 45.22 in first-class cricket and, at an age (37) when some might be looking to scale back their workload, he has taken on the captaincy of the 50-over side to enable Taylor to concentrate on his international aspirations.

Bright young thing

Had it not been for Sam Curran’s emergence at Surrey, 20-year-old Luke Wood may well have won more accolades in 2015. Like Curran, Wood is a left-arm bowler with the ability to swing the ball back into the right-hander and looks especially dangerous with the new ball. He also made a maiden first-class century last season. Matt Carter, who has taken a 10-for in his only first-class game to date, is also worth keeping an eye upon, though opportunities may be limited for his offspin.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

There is no reason Nottinghamshire should not challenge in all formats. England call-ups may sting, but they should still go close in the white-ball competitions.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 7/1; NatWest Blast 7/1; Royal London Cup 6/1.

Somerset

Director of cricket: Matt Maynard
Captain: Chris Rogers (Champ); Jim Allenby (T20, 50)

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 6th Div 1; NatWest Blast: Eighth, South Group; Royal London Cup: Sixth in group A

In: Ryan Davies (Kent), Roelof van der Merwe (Dutch passport), Yasir Arafat (Hampshire; loan), Michael Leask.
Out: Craig Meschede (Glamorgan, after loan in 2015), Alfonso Thomas, Adam Dibble, George Dockrell, James Regan, Michael Bates (all released), Tom Cooper (released, no longer eligible as domestic player).
Overseas: Chris Rogers, Chris Gayle (T20), Mahela Jayawardene (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

Disappointing. A club that had grown frustrated of just missing out on silverware sunk back into the also-rans and were not safe from relegation until the final weeks of the season. The sad retirement of Craig Kieswetter due to an eye injury especially weakened the limited-overs sides. While the performance of home-grown players was encouraging – James Hildreth was prolific, Marcus Trescothick rediscovered his form, Tom Abell emerged as one of the most promising young batsmen in the country and Craig Overton finished as the side’s highest wicket-taker in the Championship – the imports were generally far less successful. Abdur Rehman claimed 10 wickets from nine Championship matches, while Allenby, Myburgh and Cooper all averaged in the 20s with the bat.

2016 prospects

There is a new look to Somerset in 2016. The ground has a new pavilion and a new name and the Championship team has a new captain. Ryan Davies, the England U-19 wicketkeeper recruited from Kent, may also be a new face behind the stumps. Some of the other recruitments, however, look short-term: four of the imports – two of which are overseas players – are in their 30s and born overseas. Both captains were born in Australia and are in their mid-30s. It suggests a management looking for quick fixes. The batting looks strong, though bowling sides out twice at Taunton remains a challenge. The number of allrounders should lead to limited-overs improvement.

Key player

England recognition – and the Somerset captaincy – may well have passed James Hildreth by at this stage. But, aged 31, he remains a class act with the bat – his reputation, as something of a flat-track bully, is not entirely fair – and he scored more first-class runs than anyone in county cricket 2015. Somerset will need more of the same if they are to survive in the top division.

Bright young thing

Tom Abell was named county cricket’s breakthrough player of the year in 2015. While opening the batting – which seems likely – is a big responsibility for a 22-year-old, it does underline how highly he is rated at Taunton and suggests that he could be pushing for England recognition before too long. Either of the Overtons could also have been in this category.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

In some ways Somerset has never been better or stronger: a well-developed ground, strong finances and a recent history of strong performances – if few trophies – has increased expectations at the club. The presence of Chris Gayle and Mahela Jayawardene for the T20 Blast is formidable. There is a nice crop of home-grown talent, too, which makes the influx of journeymen cricketers on passports of convenience all the more surprising. Improvement in white-ball cricket looks probable, while a mid-table Championship finish should be within their reach.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 17/1; NatWest Blast 17/2; Royal London Cup 12/1

Mark Footitt will need to help make up for Surrey’s fast-bowling injury list © Getty Images

Surrey

Director of cricket: Alec Stewart. Head coach: Michael Di Venuto
Captain: Gareth Batty

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 1st Div 2; NatWest Blast: 7th, South Group; Royal London Cup: Final

In: Mark Footitt (Derbyshire), Mathew Pillans (ancestral visa), Conor McKerr (UK passport), Ravi Rampaul (Kolpak)
Out: Kevin Pietersen (released), Vikram Solanki, Tim Linley, David Balcombe, Chris Tremlett (all retired)
Overseas: Kumar Sangakkara, Dwayne Bravo (T20), Chris Morris (T20), Aaron Finch (July-August)

2015 in a nutshell

Encouraging. In winning promotion from Division Two and reaching the final of the Royal London Cup, Surrey took significant strides of progress. To make that achievement all the more promising, it was achieved largely through the performances of a group of young players – the Curran brothers, Zafar Ansari, Matt Dunn, Ben Foakes and Rory Burns – while senior players such as Kumar Sangakkara, Steven Davies, Gareth Batty and Jade Dernbach provided the example. The departure of the coach, Graham Ford, appeared to take the club by surprise, with Michael Di Venuto – previously Australia’s batting coach – brought in as his replacement.

2016 prospects

It has become notoriously difficult for promoted clubs to find their feet in Division One, but Surrey have the depth and quality to buck that trend. It is possible the loss of Ford could destabilise them, but they look to have a nice mix of youth and experience and – unlike Worcestershire last year, for example – the resources to sustain a challenge throughout the season. How many other clubs could entertain the idea of using a bowler of the quality of Dernbach (who misses the start of the season with a potentially serious back injury) as a limited-overs specialist? They have attracted criticism – much of it fair – for signing two South African-born seamers and Ravi Rampaul as well as their four overseas players, though they still have more homegrown players in their squad than some and a few injury issues (Dernbach and Stuart Meaker, who has a groin injury, among them) at the start of the season. They are, like many big clubs, desperate to improve their T20 form and, with the prospect of a two-division split still real, have again invested heavily in overseas players. There is no reason they cannot improve.

Key player

Rory Burns is not the most glamorous player at the club but he offers solidity and consistency at the top of the order. If he can convert his Division Two form to the higher level, it will go a long way to securing Surrey’s status. Expect more from Meaker, too.

Bright young thing

It bodes well for Surrey that there are several contenders for this category, with Sam Curran an outstanding prospect. But while he is busy with his A levels, the progress of Ben Foakes will be intriguing. Tipped by some within the England set-up as the best young keeper in the county game, he has had little opportunity to keep at Surrey to date. While he averaged in excess of 50 with the bat in the Championship last year, he kept in only five innings as Gary Wilson was preferred. For Foakes’ international aspirations – and arguably for the good of England – Surrey need to provide greater opportunity for him with the gloves this year.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

A season of consolidation in the Championship’s top division seems a reasonable expectation, but they could well challenge in the limited-overs formats. With three seamers having retired, one out injured and Sam Curran sitting exams, perhaps the recruitment of Rampaul, Pillans and McKerr was justified for a promoted club – but it does seem an expression of a lack of confidence in an academy system that appeared to be working very well.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 17/1; NatWest Blast 17/2; Royal London Cup 12/1

Warwickshire

Director of cricket Dougie Brown
Captain Ian Bell

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 5th Div 1; NatWest Blast: Semi-finals; Royal London Cup: 6th Group B

In: Alex Mellor (Staffordshire)
Out: Tom Milnes (Derbyshire), Tom Lewis, Pete McKay (both released)
Overseas: Jeetan Patel (all formats).

2015 in a nutshell

Disappointing by their standards. Entering August with hopes just about alive in all formats, they fell away sharply in the closing weeks looking tired, dispirited and grumpy by the season’s end. They failed to recover from the disappointment of a poor showing on T20 Finals Day and, with dressing room unrest simmering, Ian Bell replaced Varun Chopra as captain.

2016 prospects

Good. With none of their top players currently required by England, Warwickshire go into the season with a strong-looking squad that should be able to sustain their recent T20 form – they have made Finals Day for the last two years – and challenge for the Championship title. The presence of several allrounders – Chris Woakes, Rikki Clarke, Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel – gives the batting line-up daunting depth and, with a variety of seam options, the likes of Boyd Rankin and Chris Wright can be rotated to ensure they remain fresh and effective. Expectation is always an issue at Edgbaston and the dressing room wasn’t especially happy in 2015. But, with Ian Bell very much the man in charge now, confidence appears justified.

Key player

Ian Bell has embraced the captaincy with the energy and enthusiasm of a man who has waited a lifetime for the opportunity. Whatever his perceived diffidence at England level, his status at Edgbaston is gargantuan and may well be demonstrated by some bold, instinctive leadership. Refreshed from a first winter at home in many years, he is hungry for runs not only to drive Warwickshire forward but win back a Test place.

Bright young thing

Sam Hain has already broken Ian Bell’s Warwickshire records to become the youngest man to score a first-class century and double-century for the club. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jonathan Trott at the crease – including several of the mannerisms – he is already established in the Championship side and likely to win more white-ball opportunities this year. Aged 20, he qualifies for England in September.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Contenders in all formats, but especially the Championship. A strong, well-balanced seam attack, excellent overseas spinner and long batting line-up bolstered by several allrounders, should consider anything outside the top three a disappointment. Their challenge appears less likely to be compromised by England calls than their rivals though keeping a dressing room full of strong characters happy may prove key.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 6/1; NatWest Blast 10/1; Royal London Cup 11/1

A Headingley hat-trick for Andrew Gale? © Getty Images

Yorkshire

Head coach: Jason Gillespie
Captain: Andrew Gale (Champ); Alex Lees (T20, 50)

Last season

Specsavers Championship: Winners Div 1; NatWest Blast: 8th North Group; Royal London Cup: semi-finals

In: David Willey (Northamptonshire)
Out: Josh Shaw (Gloucestershire – loan), Rich Pyrah (retired), Moin Ashraf, Dan Hodgson, Jonny Tattersall (all released)
Overseas: Kane Williamson (June-July), Travis Head (July onwards)

2015 in a nutshell

Yorkshire strode to their second successive Championship, spearheaded by Jonny Bairstow’s runs and Jack Brooks’ wickets, but essentially Andrew Gale’s side had matchwinners wherever you looked. Their ability to win competitions and provide players for England (virtually everybody possessed international potential) told of a county reborn, but a semi-final defeat in the Royal London Cup and a shocking T20 season ensured that satisfaction was tempered.

2016 prospects

Yorkshire incontestably have the strongest Championship squad in the country and are favourites to win a third successive title. Their weakness is a lack of spin bowling, which would be exposed if Adil Rashid gets regular England calls, leaving Karl Carver and Tom Craddock hoping for progress. New signing David Willey is just one of seven seam bowlers chasing four spots (one of them, Tim Bresnan, misses the opening six weeks with a torn calf) which leaves options for rotation in the last 16-match season. Bairstow’s summer is likely to be England heavy, perhaps Gary Ballance’s too, so Adam Lyth, Jack Leaning and Alex Lees need strong seasons. Yorkshire’s young T20 side last season was an impatient reaction to the failure of senior players; it will be interesting to see who Lees leads on to the field. Travis Head’s T20 arrival tells of strong links between Headingley and Adelaide fired by Jason Gillespie’s coaching role in both cities.

Key player

Alex Lees, in charge in both limited-overs competitions, is Yorkshire’s youngest captain since Lord Hawke and his challenge is to encourage a more inventive approach in T20 – a challenge not helped by the late arrival of both overseas players. But he also has his batting form to look at after averaging only 33.12 in the Championship last year despite being regularly touted as another young Yorkshire batsman who can graduate to the England side.

Bright young thing

With so many seam bowlers at Yorkshire’s disposal – many handy with the blade as well – it will be a challenge for Will Rhodes to force his way into the side, but he showed up well during Yorkshire’s defeat against MCC in Abu Dhabi and can mature this summer with bat and ball.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

A hat-trick of titles is within range – Middlesex and Warwickshire look the main threats to that – but much attention will also be on Lees can invigorate Yorkshire’s T20 cricket in a way that pulls in full houses at Headingley for more than just the Roses match.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 13/8F; NatWest Blast 7/1; Royal London Cup 5/1F

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.


Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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