The first round of Specsavers County Championship fixtures start on Sunday, with three matches in Division One and three in Division Two. Here, ecb.co.uk looks ahead to some of the key battles.
Mark Wood will be hoping to return from injury with a bang at the Emirates Riverside ground against Somerset. The fast bowler was one of England’s stars of an Ashes-winning summer last year, taking the wicket which sealed a series victory at Trent Bridge last August before an ankle injury picked up during England’s tour of Pakistan in October put him on the sidelines. A winter of rest and recuperation followed and he looks to be fit for Sunday.
He will, however, face one of the best batting line-ups in the Championship this year in Somerset. They will be boosted by the signing of 38-year-old veteran Chris Rogers, who is likely to bat at three behind Tom Abell and Marcus Trescothick. Rogers’ last ever ball in Test cricket was a nick through to Alastair Cook from the bowling of Wood and their rivalry will most likely be renewed this weekend.
Wood’s rejuvenated energy with the new ball will be met with Rogers’ gritty determination to grind down bowling attacks across the world – making it one of the key battles between the county sides.
Fiery fast bowler Edwards was Hampshire’s leading wicket-taker in the Championship last season, taking 45 wickets at an average of slightly over 20. His unusual round-arm action has brought success at international level, representing West Indies in 55 Tests.
Edwards will be faced with elegant off-side maestro Ian Bell, who will captain his Warwickshire side this year. Test-match veteran Bell was dropped from the England squad ahead of the South Africa tour so he will be determined to start the domestic season well to push his claim for a recall. The 33-year-old has played an impressive 118 Tests for England and will be hoping to draw on all of that experience at the Ageas Bowl this weekend to see off a Hampshire attack led by Edwards.
England have allowed Taylor to play from the start of the season and he will face Surrey at Trent Bridge in his first match. Taylor will want to get runs under his belt at the start of the domestic campaign in order to cement his place in the England Test side after playing every game in South Africa.
He will have to deal with a new-look Surrey side hoping to build on the momentum they gained with promotion last season. Most notably, they have brought in high-flying left-arm seamer Mark Footitt. The 30-year-old has taken a whopping 158 wickets in the County Championship in the last two years for Derbyshire, but despite being called up for the Test squad to South Africa is yet to make his international bow.
His move to Division One made his England intentions clear for all to see and taking the wicket of Taylor would certainly be of interest to the selectors.
Explosive pace bowler Henry has been brought in by Worcestershire as their overseas player for the first half of the season. The 24-year-old has already proved himself at international level, taking 10 wickets in the four Tests he has played so far in what promises to be an exciting career. He played in English conditions during New Zealand’s tour last summer and will no doubt prove a handful for batting line-ups across the country.
Kent’s captain Sam Northeast enjoyed a fantastic season last year, scoring more than 2,000 runs across all formats. An attractive batsmen to watch, Northeast was handed the club captaincy at the end of last season to replace Rob Key and will want to start strongly in his new role. The 26-year-old has been talked of as a future England batsman so it will be interesting to see how he fares against the energetic Henry.