Have your say @TheCricketerMag
Yorkshire or Hampshire by Rob Key (Sky Sports pundit, former Kent captain and England batsman)
It depends where you sit on the Kolpak thing, but from a cricket point of view Hampshire have recruited well. They managed to just hang on to their first-division status last season and I think they are a good side this year. They have a good batting side, with George Bailey and Rilee Rossouw; James Vince is also likely to play the whole season and Michael Carberry is fit to play and desperate to prove a point. When they got back to Division One a while ago it was Kyle Abbott who led the attack. He’s the signing of the year. He is a fantastic bowler for English conditions. I like Liam Dawson, a good all-round cricketer, and Mason Crane has got into the New South Wales side. They are a good outside bet.
Yorkshire are probably favourites because they have not lost too many players. They have a winning culture, albeit with a new coach in Andrew Gale, and they still have Ryan Sidebottom in his last year, so they will be right up there.
Middlesex have had a great record over the last few seasons and there is a lot of talk on the circuit about Toby Roland-Jones. The general word is that he is the hardest bowler to face on a flat pitch. They will also have Steven Finn for a bit. Ollie Rayner had a good 2016. I like what Angus Fraser has done there, going right through the system. So Middlesex and Yorkshire are my two favourites, with Hampshire as an outside chance.
Surrey or Somerset by Mick Newell (Notts director of cricket and an England selector)
I expect Middlesex to launch another title challenge. Their big plus is a lot of experience in both batting and bowling. They know how to win games, especially at Lord’s, where the pitches have been pretty flat. I think you need six or seven good pace bowlers to win a Championship – and Middlesex have the likes of Tom Helm, who hasn’t played a lot of first-team cricket, but has shown what he can do with the Lions.
Surrey and Somerset are two other teams who could win it, because they both play on pitches at home that turn. Surrey now have two spinners – Zafar Ansari and Scott Borthwick – who can bat in the top six. Throw Gareth Batty in as well, and you have a very mixed attack with lots of options. Jack Leach bowled fine for the Lions in the second ‘Test’ against Sri Lanka A, and I see no reason why he can’t make a serious impact. Somerset have both Overtons.
You’d expect to see Yorkshire and Warwickshire up there too. They’ve appointed coaches from within, Gale and Jim Troughton, and the players are the same solid bunch, so it’s not as if new coaches will be going in and ripping it up. The Yorkshire captaincy might have come at a good time for Gary Ballance. With him out of the England set-up he could really get his teeth into it.
Results from March: Who looks better equipped to win next winter’s Ashes?