County Championship round-two previews

The second round of Specsavers County Championship fixtures start on Sunday, with three matches in Division One and three in Division Two. Here, takes a look at the team news.       

Division One

Lancashire v Nottinghamshire

Notts, having claimed an emotional opening victory against Surrey on Wednesday as they digested the news of James Taylor’s enforced retirement, are further boosted by the availability of Stuart Broad for their next three matches. He is likely to form a formidable new-ball pair with Aussie Jackson Bird. Notts’s seam bowling resources are so strong that they have released county stalwart Luke Fletcher to join Derbyshire on loan. Alex Hales is still unavailable – he is due to make his first appearance of the season in their next game against Yorkshire at Trent Bridge starting on May 1.

Lancashire are also set to have an all-international new-ball attack for their first game back in Division One, with Jimmy Anderson available for three games to link up with Neil Wagner, their new overseas signing from New Zealand.

Ashley Giles, the former England coach who guided them to promotion and the NatWest T20 Blast title in his first year in charge, has agreed a contract extension until the end of 2018 with Glen Chapple and Mark Chilton, the former Lancashire captains who are his assistants. 

Middlesex v Warwickshire

Steven Finn will make his first appearance since suffering a side strain in England’s third Test victory in Johannesburg in January, against a Warwickshire team who made an impressive start to the season in a winning draw against Hampshire – where Ian Bell marked his appointment as captain with a big century.

Finn, who was subsequently ruled out of the ICC World Twenty20 with a calf injury, will be joined in the Middlesex team by Nick Compton, also aiming to seal a place in England’s first Test of the summer next month.

Warwickshire may be without their England seamer Chris Woakes, depending on the result of scans on a knee injury sustained at Hampshire. But the 27-year-old has extended his contract until the end of the 2019 season while Chris Wright, who could replace him at Lord’s, and former England wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose have extended their deals until the end of 2018.

“Securing the futures of Chris, Tim and Chris is a great boost to the team as we look to build on a strong performance in our first match of the Specsavers County Championship,” said director of cricket Dougie Brown.

Middlesex finished second last season, their best Championship performance since 1995, but have a bad record against Warwickshire, who have not lost an away game against them since 1988 – and are unbeaten in the last 19 matches between the teams since June 2001.

Yorkshire v Hampshire

Even with Joe Root unavailable and Tim Bresnan out with a calf strain, there is no guarantee that David Willey will go straight into Yorkshire’s Championship team following his winter move from Northants – although he is included in a 13-man squad. As well as Willey, Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett, three members of England’s WT20 squad, Yorkshire feature two batsmen hoping to regain their Test places this summer in Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance – whose century was unable to prevent defeat by the MCC in Abu Dhabi last month.

They have not lost a Championship game at Headingley since the first match of the 2013 season against Sussex.

Hampshire have added Brad Wheal, a South Africa-born seamer, to the 13-man squad they named for their opening game against Warwickshire at the Ageas Bowl, meaning he is one of three possibilities to come in for Reece Topley, who suffered a broken bone in his hand in his debut when batting. England Under-19s leg-spinner Mason Crane and left-arm seamer Chris Wood are the other options. Jimmy Adams is still missing.

Division Two

Glamorgan v Leicestershire

First game as head coach for former Glamorgan favourite Robert Croft, who succeeded Toby Radford during the winter. He has included Timm van der Gugten, an Australia-born Netherlands international who impressed against England in the 2014 World T20, in a 13-man squad. South African opener Colin Ingram is expected to pass a fitness test on a knee injury.

Leicestershire, who finished bottom of Division Two for the third consecutive season in 2015, will again be led by Mark Cosgrove, the well-built Australian who previously played for Glamorgan, in Championship cricket. But they have signed three experienced batsmen with captaincy experience – Neil Dexter from Middlesex, Paul Horton from Lancashire and Mark Pettini from Essex, who will lead them in one-day cricket. Ned Eckersley and Ollie Freckingham are unavailable. Surprisingly, Leicestershire have not lost a season opener since 2007. 

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire

Derbyshire have signed Luke Fletcher on a five-match loan from Nottinghamshire and he could go straight into their side for their first match of the season. They lost Mark Footitt to Surrey over the winter and Billy Godleman, who had been due to take over from Wayne Madsen as captain this season, is out with a fractured left thumb. Hamish Rutherford will fill in and like his fellow New Zealander Neil Broom, who holds a British passport, would be happy to match the impact made by their compatriot Martin Guptill who smashed 227 from 176 balls to set up Derbyshire’s victory in Bristol last April.

Gloucestershire lost their opening match against Essex but could be boosted by the return of left-arm seamer David Payne. 

Sussex v Essex

By Bruce Talbot

Sussex will celebrate the life of Matt Hobden at a ceremony before their opening home game against Essex at the 1st Central County Ground in Hove.

The 22-year-old fast bowler’s death on January 2 cast a long shadow over Sussex’s pre-season preparations and Hobden will never be far from the thoughts of captain Luke Wright and his players throughout the season and beyond.

Wright said: “I remember being in Melbourne at New Year when I got the news in a phone call from (former coach) Mark Robinson. I had just scored a hundred in the Big Bash and went from a feeling of elation to one of utter devastation when I heard the news about Hobbsy.

“There’s no doubt it has affected all of the players in the first few months of 2016 and memories of Matt will never be too far from our thoughts this summer. We are desperate to do well this season and win a trophy and if we are fortunate enough to do so we will dedicate it to Matt’s memory.”

Sunday’s ceremony will see a tree planted in Matt’s memory at the Sea End of the ground, between the club shop and reception area at the County Ground.

The ceremony, which will be attended by members of Matthew’s family, will begin at 10.20am. 

Reverend Kate Lawson of nearby All Saint’s Church in Hove and Zac Toumazi, Sussex’s Chief executive, will address those present, before Matthew’s family plant the tree. Baritone Nick Gee will then sing ‘Sussex by the Sea.’

Sussex hope as many supporters as possible can attend the event.

Players and support staff from both teams will line-up on the pitch at 10.55am for a minute’s silence before the start of the game.

Hobden, who came from Eastbourne, made his breakthrough in 2015 when he took 23 Championship wickets and his raw pace evoked memories of some of Sussex’s great fast bowlers of the past including John Snow.

“He was just such a great bloke to know and to play with,” added Wright. “No one had a bad word to say about him and I genuinely believe he was developing into a cricketer with the potential to play for England.”

Wright and opening batsman Chris Nash, who missed the rain-affected Championship draw against Northamptonshire this week, hope to have recovered from injury to face one of their promotion rivals on Sunday.

Source: ECB

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