The County Championship returns, and not a moment too soon
It is back. Toby Roland-Jones’ hat-trick is still fresh in the memory (196 days after the event), we have eight teams in Division One, 10 in Division Two, and the sun has only gone and put his finest Beret on.
A lot has happened between Middlesex’s thrilling victory at Lord’s; Article 50 has been triggered, there was a world-shaking courgette shortage. Trump.
Confusing, ridiculous and troubling times indeed. Probably best to block out the grating noise of the wider world with the gentle, therapeutic chugging of Ryan Sidebottom’s run-up or the oaky crack of Ian Bell’s blade. Sounds good.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the first round of matches.
Surrey v Warwickshire, Kia Oval
Last season: 5th Division One
Players in: Scott Borthwick & Mark Stoneman (Durham), Kevin Pietersen (T20). Overseas: Kumar Sangakkara (SL), Aaron Finch (Aus, T20), Moises Henriques (T20)
Players out: Steven Davies (Somerset), Gary Wilson (Derbyshire), James Burke (loan, Leicestershire), Azhar Mahmood (released)
One to watch: Ben Foakes toured again with England Lions this winter and, according to Surrey’s director of cricket, Alec Stewart, who does know about such things, is destined to keep wicket in Tests. More than 750 Championship runs and 46 catches last season; expect a further step-up from the 24-year-old this season.
Squad: Gareth Batty*, Zafar Ansari, Scott Borthwick, Rory Burns, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Jade Dernbach, Ben Foakes (WK), Mark Footitt, Stuart Meaker, Kumar Sangakkara, Dominic Sibley, Mark Stoneman.
Last season: 6th Division One
Players in: Olly Stone (Northamptonshire), Grant Elliott (NZ, Kolpak, T20). Overseas: Jeetan Patel (NZ), Colin de Grandhomme (NZ, T20)
Players out: Varun Chopra (Essex), Laurie Evans (Sussex), Richard Jones (Leicestershire), Recordo Gordon, Jonathan Webb, Freddie Coleman (released)
One to watch: Fast bowler Olly Stone, whose last act for Northamptonshire – falling in a heap after celebrating Moeen Ali’s dismissal too joyously – would have been amusing but for the severity of the damage. Plenty of footballers have made successful comebacks from anterior cruciate ligament operations.
Squad: Ian Bell*, Tim Ambrose (WK), Liam Banks, Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Alex Mellor (WK), George Panayi, Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Sunny Singh, Grant Thornton, Jonathan Trott, Chris Wright.
Did you know?
Essex v Lancashire, Chelmsford
Last season: 1st Division Two
Players in: Varun Chopra (Warwickshire), Adam Wheater (Hampshire), Simon Harmer (Kolpak, SA). Overseas: Neil Wagner (NZ), Mohammad Amir (Pak)
Players out: Graham Napier (retired), David Masters (retired), Jaik Mickleburgh & Tom Moore (released)
One to watch: With 902 runs at 42.95 last summer, Dan Lawrence, at just 19 years of age has impressed for both his county and England at under-19 level.
Squad: Ryan ten Doeschate*, Aaron Beard, Ravi Bopara, Nick Browne, Varun Chopra, Matt Dixon, Simon Harmer, Dan Lawrence, Jamie Porter, Callum Taylor, Neil Wagner, Tom Westley, Adam Wheater (WK).
Last season: 7th Division One
Players in: Dane Vilas (SA, Kolpak), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WI, Kolpak), Brooke Guest. Overseas: Ryan McLaren (SA), Junaid Khan (Pak, T20)
Players out: Tom Smith (retired), Nathan Buck (Northamptonshire), Gareth Griffiths (Leicestershire), Luis Reece (Derbyshire), George Edwards, Alviro Petersen (released)
One to watch: 23-year-old Liam Livingstone scored 815 runs at an average of 50.94 for Lancashire last summer, scoring two hundreds. More recently, Livingstone hit back-to-back centuries for England Lions, only the second batsman – alongside Kevin Pietersen – to record a hundred in both innings of a first-class Lions match.
Squad: Steven Croft*, James Anderson, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Alex Davies, Haseeb Hameed, Kyle Jarvis, Toby Lester, Liam Livingstone, Ryan McLaren, Stephen Parry, Luke Procter, Dane Vilas.
Did you know?
Liam Livingstone scored 815 runs at an average of 50.94 for Lancashire last summer
Yorkshire v Hampshire, Headingley
Last season: 3rd Division One
Players in: Azeem Rafiq. Overseas: Peter Handscomb (Aus), Travis Head (Aus, T20)
Players out: Andrew Gale (retired)
One to watch: Although he seems to have been around forever, Matt Fisher captained England Under-19s in the one-day series in India this winter and has the chance to put 12 months of hamstring grief behind him.
Squad: Gary Ballance*, Tim Bresnan, Ben Coad, Peter Handscomb, Andrew Hodd (wk), Jack Leaning, Alex Lees, Adam Lyth, Steve Patterson, Azeem Rafiq, Will Rhodes, Josh Shaw, James Wainman.
Last season: 8th Division One
Players in: Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw (both SA, Kolpak), Asher Hart (Durham), Fraser Hay. Overseas: George Bailey (Aus)
Players out: Adam Wheater (Essex), James Tomlinson, Andy Carter (both retired), Joe Weatherley (Kent, loan)
One to watch: Liam Dawson may have been fortunate to win a first Test cap this winter, in India, but the hard-working and combative allrounder can push on now with both bat and ball.
Squad: James Vince*, Jimmy Adams, Sean Ervine, Liam Dawson, Gareth Berg, Michael Carberry, Lewis McManus, Rilee Rossouw, Mason Crane, Brad Wheal, Fidel Edwards, Kyle Abbott.
Kent v Gloucestershire, The Spitfire Ground, Canterbury
Last season: 2nd Division Two
Players in: Will Gidman (Nottinghamshire), Joe Weatherley (Hampshire, loan), James Harris (Middlesex, loan)
Players out: David Griffith, Sam Weller (released), Fabian Cowdrey (retired)
One to watch: Daniel Bell-Drummond saw his progress towards top class interrupted by mid-season injury last summer, but the 23-year-old still managed 747 Championship runs at 53.35.
Squad: Sam Northeast*, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Joe Denly, Joe Weatherley, Will Gidman, Darren Stevens, Alex Blake, Adam Rouse (wk), Matt Coles, James Tredwell, James Harris, Mitch Claydon.
Last season: 6th Division Two
Players in: Phil Mustard (Durham). Overseas: Michael Klinger (Aus), Cameron Bancroft (Aus), Andrew Tye (Aus, T20)
Players out: Tom Hampton (released)
One to watch: Matt Taylor has been identified by England’s bowling coaches as one for the future and will also get opportunity at Bristol if he continues to impress good judges.
Squad: Phil Mustard* (WK), Chris Dent, Cameron Bancroft, Will Tavare, Graeme van Buuren, George Hankins, Ian Cockbain, Jack Taylor, Craig Miles, David Payne, Liam Norwell, Chris Liddle, Ollie Currill.
Sam Northeast scored 1,337 runs at 83.56 for Kent in 2016
Leicestershire v Nottinghamshire, Grace Road
Last season: 7th Division Two
Players in: Gareth Griffiths (Lancashire), Callum Parkinson (Derbyshire), Richard Jones (Warwickshire), James Burke (loan, Surrey), Dieter Klein, Colin Ackermann (both European passport). Overseas: Clint McKay (Aus), Luke Ronchi (Pak, T20), Cameron Delport (SA, T20)
Players out: Jigar Naik, Ollie Freckingham, Michael Burgess, Atif Sheikh, Rob Taylor, Niall O'Brien (released)
One to watch: Colin Ackermann has great pedigree. Expect to see him among the second-tier’s most prolific batsmen.
Squad: Mark Cosgrove*, Colin Ackermann, Aadil Ali, Zak Chappell, Harry Dearden, Ned Eckersley, Gavin Griffiths, Lewis Hill, Paul Horton, Clint McKay, Mark Pettini, Ben Raine, Tom Wells.
Last season: 9th Division One
Players in: Ben Kitt. Overseas: James Pattinson (Aus), Daniel Christian (Aus, T20), Ish Sodhi (NZ, T20)
Players out: Will Gidman (Kent), Sam Wood (released)
One to watch: A Worksop College product, those who have watched Brett Hutton over the past couple of seasons have noted his rising potential with bat and ball.
Squad: Chris Read*, Stuart Broad, Luke Fletcher, Harry Gurney, Alex Hales, Brett Hutton, Jake Libby, Michael Lumb, Tom Moores, Samit Patel, James Pattinson, Greg Smith, Riki Wessels.
Did you know?
Northamptonshire v Glamorgan, The County Ground
Last season: 5th Division Two
Players in: Nathan Buck (Lancashire), Max Holden (loan, Middlesex). Overseas: Rory Kleinveldt (SA), Seekkuge Prasanna (T20)
Players out: Olly Stone (Warwickshire)
One to watch: Drafted in from Lancashire league cricket, and given a first full contract at the age of 28 in July 2016, Richard Gleeson has the pace to trouble top batsmen. Has he the durability?
Squad: Alex Wakley*, Nathan Buck, Josh Cobb, Ben Duckett, Max Holden, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Levi, Rob Newton, Adam Rossington (WK), Graeme White, Ben Sanderson.
Last season: 8th Division Two
Players in: Marchant de Lange. Overseas: Jacques Rudolph (SA)
Players out: James Kettleborough, Dewi Penrhyn Jones (both released), Mark Wallace (retired)
One to watch: Kiran Carlson displayed temperament and character, as well as a special talent, to score a maiden hundred at 18 after coming in at 34 for 4 at Chelmsford last September