Tight race for one promotion spot

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What effect will one up from Division Two have?

Derbyshire

Elite performance director: Graeme Welch
Captain: Billy Godleman (Championship), Wes Durston (limited-overs)

Last season
Specsavers Championship: 8th Div 2; NatWest Blast: 9th North Group; Royal London Cup: 7th Group A

In: Andy Carter (Nottinghamshire), Tom Milnes (Warwickshire), Neil Broom (UK passport)
Out: Mark Footitt (Surrey), Wayne White (Leicestershire), Jonathan Clare (released)
Overseas: Hamish Rutherford, James Neesham (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

The arrival of Graeme Welch as elite performance director encouraged much optimism last season, but Derbyshire rarely lived up to it. Mark Footitt was the outstanding bowler in Division Two of the Championship for the second successive season, but an inexperienced squad had little else to celebrate. Wayne Madsen and Billy Godleman, captains old and new, delivered with the bat, but Shiv Thakor disappointed.

2016 prospects

How to replace Footitt, who has decamped to Surrey, is Derbyshire’s first challenge. Welch has raided his former club, Warwickshire, for Tom Milnes; Andy Carter – signed from Notts – has bags of ability but a poor fitness record; and Tom Taylor and Ben Cotton will look to continue their development. Hamish Rutherford can bring zip to the top order, and his fellow Kiwi Neil Broom has dusted off a dual passport at the age of 32. Youngsters such as Matt Critchley (see below) and Harvey Hosein, an excellent wicketkeeper who made a maiden first-class 50 last summer, should also progress. A Godleman captaincy – he has had his share of disciplinary problems – is intriguing.

Key player

Derbyshire can probably assemble enough runs this season – particularly in the Championship – but replacing Footitt is a different matter. It would be a much easier task if Andy Carter stays fit. His wickets come well below 30, but he has managed only 29 first-class matches since his debut in 2009. A tall fast bowler, he is able to mix the short stuff and yorkers.

Bright young thing

Matt Critchley was initially seen as a promising legspinner, but he made history when he became Derbyshire’s youngest first-class century maker with 137 against Northamptonshire last May. It was enough to bring him his first professional deal. Proof of developing legspin would also be enthusiastically received.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Derbyshire’s youngsters have the talent to kick on, but not enough to fill their impressive new media box or make a concerted challenge for honours

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 12/1; NatWest Blast 33/1; Royal London Cup 40/1

Essex

Coach: Chris Silverwood
Captain: Ryan ten Doeschate (Champ); Ravi Bopara (T20, 50)

Last season
Specsavers Championship: 3rd Div 2; NatWest Blast: QF; Royal London Cup: QF

In: Matthew Quinn (UK passport), Aaron Beard (academy), Ashar Zaidi (Sussex), Matt Dixon (UK passport)
Out: Reece Topley (Hampshire), Mark Pettini (Leicestershire), Monty Panesar, Greg Smith, Matt Salisbury, Saf Imtiaz (all released)
Overseas: Jesse Ryder, Adam Milne (T20), Wahab Riaz (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

The 2015 summer could prove to be a watershed in Essex cricket. Ronnie Irani’s appointment as cricket committee chairman brought with it impatience at Essex’s decade of near-misses in limited-overs cricket and contentment with using Division Two of the Championship as a breeding ground. Paul Grayson moved on as coach after two quarter-final defeats and his fellow Yorkshireman, Chris Silverwood, took over, bringing in a third Yorkie, Anthony McGrath as his assistant.

2016 prospects

Essex must compete without Reece Topley whose impatience for Division One cricket, especially now he has graduated to England’s limited-overs sides, has seen him join Hampshire. They have responded by bringing in two fast bowlers with dual passports – Matthew Quinn, who has played for New Zealand A, and Western Australian Matt Dixon. Spin looks weak, with Ashar Zaidi, released by Sussex, carrying heavy responsibility. But Tom Westley and Nick Browne are two classy young batsmen, Dan Lawrence – the third-youngest century-maker in Championship history – is another exciting prospect and Ravi Bopara’s appointment as one-day captain will bring general delight.

Key player

The suspicion that England have moved on from Ravi Bopara, at 30, will disappoint many who keep a fire burning for him through thick and thin. If Bopara can rise above that potential disappointment and bring his ebullience to bear for Essex, the final stage of his career can still be a long and successful one.

Bright young thing

With Topley gone, and David Masters and Graham Napier coming to the end of long-serving careers, young Essex pace bowlers can make a name for themselves. Aaron Beard, 18, has yet to make his county debut and has had a couple of tough years with injuries, but anybody trusted to turn out for England as a sub fielder at 15 must have something going for them. He has a two-year contract and now needs the resolve and fortune to go with it.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Essex can make runs galore, and look bound to thrill again in one-day cricket, but to win their first trophy since 2008 they could need both their dual passport bowlers to fire.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2 9/2; NatWest Blast 11/1; Royal London Cup 14/1

Can Robert Croft inspired a Glamorgan resurgence? © Getty Images

Glamorgan

Coach: Robert Croft
Captain: Jacques Rudolph

Last season
Championship: 4th Div 2; NatWest Blast: 6th South Group; Royal London Cup: 8th Group B

In: Craig Meschede (Somerset), Nick Selman, Timm van der Gugten (Dutch passport), Harry Podmore (Middlesex, loan)
Out: Ben Wright (retired)
Overseas: Jacques Rudolph, Shaun Tait (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

Glamorgan’s surprise promotion challenge petered out in the Championship – ultimately nobody scored 1000 runs or took 50 wickets – but fourth place still felt like a county punching above its weight. There were few signs, too, that Glamorgan were about to turn Cardiff into a T20 venue to be reckoned with. The outcome was that Toby Radford left as head coach after two years to return to a role of specialist batting coach.

2016 prospects

Chief executive Hugh Morris has reduced debts from £16m to less than £5m since returning to Glamorgan, where he was one of 10 homegrown players (plus Waqar Younis) who won the Championship in 1997. Welsh fervour is back in fashion with Robert Croft appointed head coach four years after he called time on a 23-year career. There is much work to do stirring the passions of south Wales and Croft will be grateful to inherit a promising crop of young players, batsmen especially. Craig Meschede is a good signing and Harry Podmore has six matches to make a Championship impact before his loan from Middlesex ends, but the task is a big one.

Key player

Graham Wagg, at 32, can look back on a career with some ups and downs but 2015 was one of his best with 838 Championship runs – including a double century against Surrey – and 45 wickets, second to Michael Hogan. A repeat would make Croft’s job much easier as he tries to introduce a more settled approach.

Bright young thing

Aneurin Donald was named after the great Welsh politician Aneurin Bevan, architect of the National Health Service, so he should have just the attributes to return Glamorgan to rude health. Donald’s career is still in its infancy – he was not even a regular pick in England’s U-19 World Cup side – but every sign of development for this young batsman will be lapped up.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Morris has stoutly suggested that promotion is a possibility, but with only one side going up it is hard to agree with him. Signs that Cardiff is embracing T20 would be a breakthrough.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 10/1; NatWest Blast 20/1; Royal London Cup 25/1

Gloucestershire

Director of cricket: Richard Dawson
Captain: Gareth Roderick (Champ), Michael Klinger (T20, 50)

Last season
Specsavers Championship: 6th Div 2; NatWest Blast: 5th South Group; Royal London Cup: Winners

In: Chris Liddle (Sussex), Josh Shaw (Yorkshire, loan)
Out: James Fuller (Middlesex), Geraint Jones (retired), Cameron Herring, Robbie Montgomery (both released)
Overseas: Michael Klinger, Andrew Tye, Cameron Bancroft (April-May)

2015 in a nutshell

Gloucestershire pepped up spirits during the first year of a new coaching team – Richard Dawson and Ian Harvey – to such an extent that they won the Royal London Cup final at Lord’s, reviving memories of the times, a decade and more earlier, when they dominated the limited-overs game. Michael Klinger was formidable with the bat and Geraint Jones wandered happily off into the sunset.

2016 prospects

Gloucestershire’s squad lacks depth, especially in the bowling department, which suggests limited-overs cricket will again be their chief focus. Their Royal London triumph could be the catalyst for bigger T20 crowds at Bristol (they missed the quarter-finals by a point last season) and their intent is shown by the signing of a second overseas player, Andrew Tye, whose effectiveness for Perth Scorchers won him a place in Australia’s T20 squad. Cameron Bancroft, the WA keeper/batsman, deputises for Klinger in the Championship. Progress for Chris Dent and Roderick should help the runs tally, but James Fuller’s departure for Middlesex invites questions about their Championship attack. Bet365.com don’t fancy them for a 50-over repeat: they are out at 16/1.

Key player

Wicketkeeper-captains always have it tough, but Gloucestershire have entrusted the role to Gareth Roderick in the Championship with Michael Klinger not back until late May. Roderick, born in South Africa, also bats top order, all of which means that Gloucestershire need him to shoulder a heavy burden if they are to maintain their progress.

Bright young thing

George Hankins broke the record set by Kent’s Daniel Bell-Drummond for most runs in a season at Millfield School last season and continues their tradition of producing county cricketers by winning a two-year contract. Fresh back from the Darren Lehmann academy in Adelaide, he already had some sizeable 2nd XI scores to his name.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

After winning the Royal London Cup, Gloucestershire will seek to spice up their T20 cricket which will make South Group stronger than ever.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 10/1; NatWest Blast 20/1; Royal London Cup 16/1

Tom Latham appears a solid signing for Kent’s top order © Getty Images

Kent

Head coach: Jimmy Adams
Captain: Sam Northeast

Last season
Specsavers Championship: 7th Div 2; NatWest Blast: QF; Royal London Cup: QF

In: Adam Rouse
Out: Brendan Nash (released), Ben Harmison (released)
Overseas: Tom Latham, Kagiso Rabada (July)

2015 in a nutshell

Kent were a delight to watch in limited-overs cricket last season, but could not follow up the plaudits with trophies as they exited in the quarter-final stage in both competitions. In the likes of Sam Northeast, Sam Billings (one of only three England players signed up for an IPL deal) and Daniel Bell-Drummond they have an exciting crop of young players who are bringing fresh live to Canterbury under the wise observation of Rob Key.

2016 prospects

Kent do not have the appearance of serious challengers in Division Two of the Championship, for all their batting depth, but they have been lifted by a six-week mid-season spell for the young South African quick Kagiso Rabada. Early season will be more challenging for Sam Northeast’s exciting young squad, especially with Sam Billings on IPL duty: Tom Latham has the batting attributes to help them through the tough days. In one-day cricket, though, they can surely push for a trophy. South African-born Sean Dickson can add to that batting lustre, and all it needs is one young pace bowler to take his opportunity for them to be a limited-overs side to be reckoned with. With many seeing England’s T20 future as wedded to international grounds, they need to make themselves heard.

Key player

With question marks around their pace bowling stocks, Kent’s potential trump card lies in two offspinners at either ends of their career, James Tredwell and Adam Riley. Riley had a second-season dip in 2015 after he was prematurely touted as an England possible in his breakthrough year. Kent remain convinced Riley has all the attributes to become an international spinner and are delighted to have tied him to a new contract.

Bright young thing

Kent have any number of bright young things when it comes to batsmen, but they are sorely in need of extra pace bowling resources. They will hope that Matt Hunn, a 6ft 5ins fast bowler, will make further strides this summer after winning a few headlines last season with five wickets against the Australian tourists but the solve the problem long term they might have to widen their developmental base.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Kent’s formidable T20 batting line-up gives them an excellent chance of reaching Finals Day, even without a heavy overseas spend, but it would take a summer of turning pitches for them to challenge for the Second Division title.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 9/1; NatWest Blast 20/1; Royal London Cup 20/1

Leicestershire

Director of cricket Andrew McDonald

Captain Mark Cosgrove (Champ); Mark Pettini (T20, 50)

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 9th Div 2; NatWest Blast: 7th North Group; Royal London Cup: 9th Group A

In: Paul Horton (Lancashire), Neil Dexter (Middlesex), Wayne White (Derbyshire), Kevin O’Brien (limited-overs), Mark Pettini (Essex)
Out: Matthew Boyce (retired), Andrea Agathangelou, Dan Redfern, Alex Wyatt, Neil Pinner (all released)
Overseas: Clint McKay, Umar Akmal (T20), Rilee Rossouw (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

It tells you everything you need to know about Leicestershire’s form over recent seasons that 2015, when they finished bottom in the Championship, the Royal London group and won only four times in the NatWest Blast, was seen as a step in the right direction. Energised by the appointment of Wasim Khan as CEO and Andrew McDonald as coach, the club secured a first Championship win since 2012 and might have won a couple more but for inexperience. Their limited-overs form remained grim, however, and a small financial profit was overshadowed by an auditor’s report that expressed “significant doubt about the club’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

2016 prospects

Boosted by the recruitment of several experienced players – all likely to feature in the first team immediately – it seems reasonable to anticipate further progress from Leicestershire. To move into mid-table in the Championship, more will be required from Ned Eckersley – who endured a modest 2015 – and the club will have to find a stronger opening partnership. Ben Raine and Angus Robson are likely to be the most important of the young players. Raine claimed 59 Championship wickets in 2015 and also contributed more than 500 runs. Off the pitch, Leicestershire have installed floodlights – crucial to their long-term survival – agreed a ground sponsorship deal and arranged to host women’s matches. They have also shaken up the coaching staff and agreed a loan from the local council. From a subterranean base, they are improving.

Key player

Clint McKay will earn his money as overseas player. Impressive in 2015, he will again carry a heavy load as strike bowler and workhorse and will also be expected to fulfil the role of senior-pro in the dressing room. The fact that he was leading wicket-taker for Sydney Thunder as they won the BBL bodes well. He is vice-captain of the white ball side.

Bright young thing

Aadil Ali, schooled across the road from the ground and a member of the treble-winning second XI side of 2014, made a good impression as a well-organised, patient batsman in 2015. It would provide a huge morale boost to the club if he can build on that promising start. It’s worth keeping an eye on Atif Sheikh, too. He’s left-arm, fast and has plenty of scope for improvement.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

It was always going to take time to for Wasim Khan to turn things around at Grace Road and we are still in the early stages of the recovery. But, with some well-targeted recruits, Leicestershire’s results should improve.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 25/1; NatWest Blast 25/1; Royal London Cup 50/1

Monty Panesar will try to revive his career back at Northamptonshire © Getty Images

Northamptonshire

Director of cricket: David Ripley

Captain: Alex Wakely

Last season:

Specsavers Championship: 5th Div 2; NatWest Blast: Final; Royal London Cup: 5th in Group A

In: Richard Levi, Ben Sanderson, Monty Panesar.
Out: David Willey (Yorkshire), Stephen Peters (retired), Kyle Coetzer, Maurice Chambers (both released)
Overseas: Rory Kleinveldt, Seekkuge Prasanna (T20, possibly more).

2015 in a nutshell

To reach T20 Finals Day for the second year in three – and to be the only side not from a Test ground among the four on each occasion – represented a fine achievement. They only lost three times in the Championship, too – only Surrey and Lancashire were beaten less often in Division Two – but a lack of bite with the ball meant they only won three games. Only Leicestershire won fewer. Financial problems led to the departure of several players, including the much-prized David Willey, although after some procrastination, Ben Duckett stayed.

2016 prospects

At full strength, Northants still have a relatively strong, well-balanced side. They also have, in Saif Zaib, Duckett and Olly Stone, some talented, young and homegrown cricketers who can enjoy fine careers. The problem is their lack of depth. So desperate are the finances of the club that they have only 15 full-time professionals and the burden on the seam bowlers, in particular Stone, Azharullah and Rory Kleinveldt, is likely to be impossibly onerous. It is therefore understandable that the club have signed Monty Panesar, whatever his erratic behaviour and fitness issues, to shoulder some of the burden. Rob Newton and Duckett may also be pressed into service as opening batsmen. With so little depth, though, this could be a long, tough season on the pitch. Off the pitch, financial troubles threaten to drag the club under.

Key player

It doesn’t take long to understand why Alex Wakely is captain. Calm, positive and good natured, he is just the sort of character required to coax this side through a long and no doubt testing season. He times the ball pleasingly, too. But Northants could do with him turning all those qualities into more tangible rewards in the form of runs. A total of four first-class centuries and average of 30 is modest for one so able.

Bright young thing

Olly Stone is the sort of bowler every county in the land would want: young, quick and blessed with a good attitude, he is a former captain of the U-19s and once claimed the best figures by an England bowler (11 for 79) in an U-19 Test against South Africa. But he also has a history of back trouble – he withdrew from the EPP this winter because of it – and hardly needs the burden that seems inevitable in a 15-man squad. Saif Zaib, a 17-year-old left-arm spinning allrounder, is worth watching, too.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

A decent cricket department – and some fine young players – deserve better than the management from which Northants currently suffers.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 11/1; NatWest Blast 25/1; Royal London Cup 33/1.

Sussex

Head coach: Mark Davis

Captain Luke Wright

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 8th Div 1; NatWest Blast: Quarter-final; Royal London Cup: 9th Group B

In: Danny Briggs (Hampshire).
Out: Michael Yardy, Steffan Piolet (both retired), Chris Liddle (Gloucestershire), Ashar Zaidi (Essex), Callum Jackson (released), Matt Hobden (deceased), James Anyon (retired)
Overseas: Ross Taylor, Mustafizur Rahman (limited-overs)

2015 in a nutshell

Hugely disappointing. Despite investing heavily in their cricket budget (the club made a loss of £141,000), Sussex’s winless 50-over campaign was followed by relegation in the Championship. The club paid for a glut of injuries to their seamers, the absence of a quality spinner and a loss of confidence from their batsmen caused, in part, by some poor surfaces in Hove. Their long-serving head coach, Mark Robinson, subsequently left to work with England’s women, Ed Joyce stepped down from the captaincy and Michael Yardy retired. Tragedy then followed with highly-rated seamer Matt Hobden dying in an accident over the New Year.

2016 prospects

Anything less than promotion will probably be deemed failure at a club with a rich history over the last decade-and-a-half and a budget far bigger than some of its rivals. It is not an unrealistic prospect. The addition of Briggs should correct the spin deficit of last year, while if Ajmal Shahzad can stay fit and Chris Jordan is available, they have, alongside Steve Magoffin, a potent attack. The additions of Mustafizur Rahman and Ross Taylor – both of whom were named in the World ODI team of the year – should improve their white-ball form, while a middle-order of Joyce, Taylor and Wright could prove daunting for Division Two attacks.

Key player

As captain of a squad struggling for equilibrium after change, relegation and bereavement, Luke Wright faces a demanding season. If he can get through without losing his form, fitness or easy-going manner, Sussex should be able to bounce back. His decision not to enter the IPL auction demonstrates his commitment to the role.

Bright young thing

George Garton, an 18-year-old left-arm fast bowler, caught the eye with his pace during the U19 World Cup and looks to be a player of great potential. Phil Salt, an aggressive opening batsman, is worth keeping an eye upon, as is Ollie Robinson. Matt Hobden would have been the obvious man for this category, though, and it is hard to overstate the enormity of his loss.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

So much change in such a short space of time means it is hard to predict how Sussex will fare, but they do have the quality and the depth to improve in white ball cricket and win promotion in the Championship.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 7/4F; NatWest Blast 14/1; Royal London Cup 16/1

Yo-Yo: Worcestershire have bounced back to Division One before © Getty Images

Worcestershire

Head coach: Steve Rhodes

Captain: Daryl Mitchell

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 9th in Div 1; NatWest Blast: Quarter-finals; Royal London Cup: 8th in Group A

In:
Out: Gareth Andrew, Shaaiq Choudhry (both released), Alex Gidman (retired), Richard Oliver (declined new contract)
Overseas: Matt Henry (Apr-June), Kyle Abbott (Jul-Sep), Mitchell Santner (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

Encouraging. While no season that includes relegation can be considered a resounding success, Worcestershire’s Division One campaign was admirable in many ways. By some distance the smallest club (in financial terms) in the top division, they challenged throughout and eventually only fell short of survival by 13 points. Equally encouraging was the emergence of a group of young players – nearly all homegrown and secured on long-term contracts – that promised better times ahead. The seam attack, relentless for much of the season, eventually tired due to over-bowling and the lack of support given by their ineffective overseas spinners. A good T20 campaign was overshadowed by a somewhat farcical quarter-final where the club paid the price – or arguable failed to pay the price – for not hiring floodlights and saw what could have been a showcase event end amid gloom and regret.

2016 prospects

Winning promotion this year -with just one team going up – is likely to prove tough. There is real talent in the squad, but a lack of depth and experience – the captain is the only 30-year-old on the staff following the injury-induced departures of Gidman and Andrew – could inhibit a sustained challenge. The choice of overseas players should help the over-worked seam attack, but a lack of spin options is a potential weakness in all formats. Such is the ability of the young batsmen – and the positive effects of a dressing room united by shared values and culture – that a promotion push can’t be ruled out, and cricket supporters far beyond Worcestershire will be hoping for the speedy return of Tom Fell. A great deal is asked of Brett D’Oliveira as opening batsman and spinner.

Key player

A natural leader in a young side, only five men claimed more wickets than thickset and bustling Joe Leach (who took 59) in the Championship last year and he also added almost 500 runs with the bat. As a key allrounder, vice-captain and calm head on young, broad shoulders, he will relish the fact that much is required of him.

Bright young thing

The 19-year-old Joe Clarke is an unusually talented player with a very bright future. Fast-tracked into the Lions squad over the winter – he was the first teenage batsman to win selection for the A team since Ian Bell – he has so far impressed as an aggressive batsman. But he has aspirations as a wicketkeeper and knows that taking the gloves increases his chances of a future with England. At some stage, Worcestershire may face a tricky decision, with the greatly improved Ben Cox currently much the better keeper and a more than decent batsman.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

There is well-justified excitement at New Road at the emergence of an exciting group of young players. Supporters may have to be patient for another season or two, though, as those players develop and the club struggles to compete with rivals with far deeper pockets. On and off the pitch, though, the future looks brighter than it has for some time.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 9/2; NatWest Blast 25/1; Royal London Cup 33/1

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.


Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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