County Championship 2018: Can anyone beat Essex? Will Middlesex bounce back?

Ian Bell’s crisp cover drive, Marcus Trescothick rolling his wrists and rolling back the years... what’s not to love?


Can anyone beat Essex?

Hands up, who saw that coming?

Essex stormed Division One on the back of 70-wicket seasons from Simon Harmer and Jamie Porter, backed up magnificently by those wielding the willow.

There’s a change to the backroom staff with Anthony McGrath taking over from Chris Silverwood - who has taken the role as England’s fast-bowling coach - and Dimitiri Mascarenhas has joined as assistant head coach.

At Essex’s media day last week the overwhelming message from the players was that they will be guarding heavily against complacency and taking it one game at a time.

Can they do it again? How long can they keep that unbeaten run rolling?

Will Middlesex bounce back?

It’s a change of scenery for 2016 Champions Middlesex as Richard Scott’s team face life in Division Two.

Dawid Malan - who had an excellent winter for England - will lead the side when he is not on international duty.

The team hasn’t changed much and their bowling ranks should cause problems in the second tier. 

Talking about Middlesex’s reaction to relegation, Nick Gubbins told The Cricketer: “We’ve brushed it under the carpet as a squad. We’re almost trying to use everything as a springboard, we want to obviously jump straight back up but also use some early-season momentum to springboard ourselves into the white-ball competitions.”


Tres is back for more

How will the Division One new boys fare?

Can either of the promoted clubs follow Essex’s lead in taking Division One by the horns?

Notts arrive with momentum, having won both white-ball competitions in addition to securing promotion last summer, but they  will be without Alex Hales for the red-ball summer, and veteran Chris Read has retired. Steven Mullaney takes over the captaincy role with Tom Moores donning the gloves.

A mix of experience and youth, and the added quality of Ross Taylor signing on for the first half of the season should make Notts competitive in 2018.

There’s plenty of young English talent on show for Worcestershire.

Joe Clarke was named player of the series in the North-South series, scoring 229 runs at 76.33. 

The 21-year-old - who scored 920 Championship runs at 43.80 in 2017 - has long been tipped for international honours. All eyes will be on how he fares in Division One this summer.

20-year-old Josh Tongue and 22-year-old Ed Barnard both claimed 47 wickets in last year’s campaign. Again, it will be interesting to see how they cope with the step up this year.

England’s radar

Alongside clean slates, optimism, rain and hopefully some cricket, this time of year also brings opportunity. With international cricket off the menu, the early-season months provide a perfect chance for the new breed to put their hands up and show the national selectors what they can do.

After a tough winter for Joe Root’s Test team, the XI is far from set in stone. 

There are still question marks over the batting and the likes of Dan Lawrence, and Division One new boys Clarke and Sam Northeast, among many others, will be hoping to throw their names into the hat.

In the bowling department, England chopped and changed their attack, with Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Craig Overton and Jack Leach all making their Test debuts over winter.

England have struggled to take 20 wickets away from home and their are plenty of prospects out there tipped for the top. Ben Coad, Tom Helm, Jamie Overton and Jamie Porter are just four that will be hoping to sway the selectors with early-season wickets.


Joe Clarke looks destined for England

Overseas watch

There are plenty of ‘big-name’ overseas signings to keep an eye on throughout the summer.

Hampshire’s South Africa contingent grows with Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn both set to feature at the Ageas Bowl this summer. Their compatriots Dean Elgar and Morne Morkel have joined Surrey while classy opener Aiden Markram has been signed by Durham.

There have also been reports that Virat Kohli could be bound for a stint at The Oval ahead of India’s tour of England later in August.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Kane Williamson are back at Yorkshire and Ishant Sharma has joined Jason Gillespie at Sussex.

Full rundowns: Division One and Division Two.

Go and watch it…

Ian Bell’s crisp cover drive on crisper spring mornings, Ryan Sidebottom chugging in, Marcus Trescothick rolling his wrists and rolling back the years. What’s not to love?

Then there’s the new crop, the next generation of Test cricketers earning their stripes on the shire tracks.

How calming it is to get away from the relentless international schedule and the galactic buzz of franchise tournaments that dominate vast blocks of the cricketing calendar.

It is a beautiful thing, the County Championship, and despite the doom, gloom and (understandable) concerns over its future, here in the present, it is still alive.

To keep it that way, the game needs people through the gates, if you can, take a seat.

It is easy for the Championship to get lost in a cluttered landscape, but if it ever disappears from the cricketing calendar, it will be sadly missed. Treasure it while we still can.




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