Where: Edgbaston, Birmingham
Ins: Olly Stone (Northampton), Jeetan Patel (NZ, Overseas), Colin de Grandhomme (NZ, for T20 Blast), Grant Elliott (NZ, for T20 Blast)
Outs: Richard Jones (Leicestershire), Recordo Gordon (Released), Laurie Evans (Sussex), Luke Ronchi (Leicestershire)
Key Man: Ian Bell
2016 Season: County Championship 6th; Royal London One Day Cup: Winners; T20 Blast Group Stage
2017 Odds: County Championship: 11/2; RLODC 10/1; T20 Blast 12/1
Your View: Our Warwickshire correspondent Charlie Jennings predicts a tricky season under the new coaching duo of Jim Troughton and Ashley Giles, and believes relegation is a distinct possibility.
Following an inconsistent 2016, a winter of change ensued – Ashley Giles returned to Edgbaston as Sports Director, while Jim Troughton has replaced Dougie Brown as First Team Coach. Despite these changes, it looks set to be a difficult season ahead for the Bears.
2016 was a strange year for Warwickshire, a below-par County Championship season left the Bears fighting relegation going into the last round of fixtures. A win against Lancashire secured their first division status for another summer, 2016 MVP Keith Barker, and CC leading wicket-taker Jeetan Patel overpowering a Lancashire side which survived by the skin of their teeth following other results.
Giles and Troughton will be relying heavily on their bowlers again, as they look to improve on last season's write off – and will look to the more experienced names in their squad to give them the batting solidity that they lacked so much during last year's campaign. Keith Barker – one of the most dangerous bowlers on the county circuit – should flourish again with ball in hand, while with the bat can be expected to provide more than useful runs. Jeetan Patel, fresh from returning once again to the New Zealand Test side in early 2017, will no doubt use his experience and follow up a brilliant 69 wickets in 2016 with plenty more this year. Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and Sam Hain will have a heavy burden on them to provide the runs to support the bowling attack, last year they only managed 4 hundreds between them – this will need to improve as Warwickshire last year called far too often on Barker, Patel and Chris Woakes to provide invaluable lower order runs. Tim Ambrose and Rikki Clarke are the only other recognisable experienced batsmen in the top 7, with both opening positions up for grabs – maybe we will be seeing William Porterfield's belated return to the side, and hopefully to form. Youngsters Alex Mellor, Andy Umeed, Ateeq Javid and Matt Lamb will be looking for further opportunities to showcase their talents and particularly for Umeed and Mellor - two regulars in the side towards the end of last season – will be looking to prove their doubters wrong when facing the new ball. The sale of Laurie Evans to Sussex has undermined what already looked a frail batting lineup, and I would expect the batting to be examined thoroughly this season against some very intimidating bowling line-ups.
In the shorter forms of the game, Warwickshire are fairly consistent; last year being crowned Royal London One Day Cup champions despite never really putting a full performance together – and should performance levels improve, the Bears can be expected once again to be there and thereabouts in regards to the 50-over competition – the loss of Laurie Evans will reduce the firepower with the bat, but if Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell can again provide the volume of runs they did in last season's competition, qualification from the group stage would be the very least I would expect. The acquisition of Olly Stone from Northamptonshire looks to be very shrewd and will provide useful death bowling options in both 50 over and 20 over competitions.
As for the T20 Blast, the signings of experienced pros Colin de Grandhomme and Grant Elliott for the entirety of the competition should provide what was lacking so often last season – quick runs at the back end of the innings. Ian Bell and Sam Hain will again be key to any hopes the Bears, under their Birmingham guise, have of progressing from the group stage. Bowling shouldn't be a problem. Jeetan Patel, young leg-spinner Josh Poysden and Ateeq Javid were all solid performers last year; whilst seamers Olly Hannon-Dalby, Olly Stone, Chris Wright and Mark Adair will be looking to fill the void left by Chris Woakes' rise to stardom over the last year or so.
Warwickshire can expect a tough season, with relegation a distinct possibility. Relying heavily on their bowling last season, they will need their batsmen to stand up and be counted.
County Championship: 5th
Royal London One Day Cup: Semi Final defeat
T20 Blast: Group Stage exit
You can follow Charlie @AVCJX on Twitter
Where: Ageas Bowl, Southampton
Ins: George Bailey (Aus, overseas), Asher Hart (Durham) Fraser Hay (UK Passport), Kyle Abbott (Kolpak), Rilee Rossouw (Kolpak)
Outs: Adam Wheater (Essex), James Tomlinson (Retired), Andy Carter (Retired) Ryan McLaren (Lancashire), Tino Best (released), Gareth Andrews (released), Yasir Arafat (released), Joe Weatherley (Kent, season-long loan)
Key man: George Bailey
2016 season: Championship: 8th (survived due to Durham's points deduction), RLODC: 5th, T20 Blast: 8th
2017 odds: Championship: 12/1, RLODC: 10/1, T20 Blast 12/1
Your View: Our Hampshire correspondent Hector Cappelletti believes Hampshire could enjoy a better summer this time around but can't help but feel the cricketing world wants the Southampton-based club to spectacularly fail following a controversial winter.
It’s not a great time to be a Hampshire fan at the moment. Indeed, the club has managed to achieve the status of persona non grata in the English domestic game courtesy of the Kolpak controversy whilst supporters feel as welcome in the cricketing community at large as a bad smell in a small lift. Best not mention Durham or First Division cricket in the same sentence. Sotto voce utterings and an almost traditional Hampshire slow start to the summer is all but obligatory to the point where one almost hopes that the season doesn’t start too well.
Time was when Hampshire was known as ‘Happy Hampshire’ and were one of those clubs that supporters from elsewhere liked to see do well. Now the club lives in the hideous carbuncle currently known as the Ageas Bowl and, one feels, is viewed as Oscar Wilde’s cynic: price of everything, value of nothing.
Not all is doom and gloom, though. Despite the headline grabbing signings of Kyle Abbott and Rilee Russouw dominating the winter column inches Hampshire’s squad has quietly enjoyed impressive progress. Left-handed opening batsman Tom Alsop performed reasonably well with the England Lions whilst leg-spinner Mason Crane ripped through Australian grade cricket line-ups before earning a most surprising call-up to the New South Wales Sheffield Shield team. Alsop is likely to receive plenty of game time as he appears a natural successor to the evergreen Jimmy Adams but questions remain as to whether Crane will be marginalised by English cricket’s distrust of spin bowlers and its penchant for producing unfriendly wickets.
James Vince will once again captain the team and, after a brief, unsuccessful spell with the England test team, is likely to play much of the season. Adams and Alsop are likely to fill two of the top three slots with the third hopefully occupied by the recovered Michael Carberry; a welcome and pleasing return for the erstwhile England batsman post fighting off a cancerous tumour. Russouw and Australian George Bailey are likely to challenge for the final spots in the batting line-up with crowd favourite Sean Ervine.
Another player enjoying stellar progress is wicket-keeper Lewis McManus, now the number one gloveman after Adam Wheater’s return to Essex. The former Dorset player impressed during the final weeks of the 2016 summer after establishing himself in the Second XI team.
Bowlers will once again be an issue for Hampshire, particularly with regard to fitness. Recent times have not been favourable to Hampshire’s attack as rarely have the club been able to regularly field their strongest line-up. Left-armers Chris Wood and Reece Topley both return from long-term injuries to join the precocious Crane, another evergreen performer in former Middlesex seamer Gareth Berg, Kolpak signing Kyle Abbott, veteran Barbadian Fidel Edwards and the rapidly developing Brad Wheal. Somewhere in amongst that line-up there is a place for all-rounder Liam Dawson. As ever, much will depend on players remaining fit.
Such an advent is very much a case of if’s and buts and pots and pans though. Should new coach Craig White be able to call upon his strongest side for much of the season then Hampshire should possess more than enough to avoid relegation. (again) Perhaps the biggest conundrum is whether Hampshire can rediscover their T20 mojo, though. Finals Day incumbents for half a dozen consecutive summers, the short format squad bombed during the 2016 campaign and never remotely troubled the knock-out stages for a seventh season. The absence of Carberry, Vince and Wood for much or all of the campaign certainly affected the club’s chances but the likes of Alsop, McManus and Wheal enjoyed plenty of match time in the competition and appear to be the next batch of players from the Hampshire Academy to make the step up to the first team.
Times may well be a little uncomfortable for Hampshire supporters at the moment but once the business of playing begins there could be more happier times than the deflating disappointment of twelve months previous.
RLODC: Group stages
T20 Blast: Finals Day
You can follow Hector at @YahoooverCC on Twitter.
Where: Emirates Riverside, Chester-le-Street
Ins: Stephen Cook(Overseas, first half of season), Tom Latham (Overseas, second half of the season), Cameron Steel (Youth Product)
Outs: Gordon Muchall (Retired, Mark Stoneman (Surrey), Phil Mustard (Gloucestershire), Scott Borthwick (Surrey), Asher Hart (Hampshire), Guzman Randhawa, Calum MacLeod, Jamie Harrison (Released)
Key Man: Keaton Jennings
Last Year: Specsavers County Championship: 4th (200 points)*, Royal London One-Day Cup: Group Stage Exit (5th Place), NatWest T20 Blast: Runners Up (Lost to Northamptonshire in final)
2017 Odds: County Championship: 25/1, RLODC: 12/1, T20: 16/1
Your View: Our new Durham correspondent Tom Simmonds looks ahead to a difficult season for the Chester-Le-Street based county.
At first, last season seemed a success for Durham CCC. A fourth place finish in the County Championship combined with an unexpected T20 Finals Day appearance had left an upbeat and positive atmosphere around the North Eastern club. However, in late October the atmosphere ceased to exist. Durham’s financial struggles were well documented, but until then no-one knew that the board had agreed to financial support from the ECB. As a result, the club was handed crippling penalties by the sport’s governing body. Relegation to Division Two was confirmed and Durham will be forced to start the 2017 season on the back foot due to a 48-point penalty. Even before this, everyone knew that 2017 would be a struggle for Durham in the County Championship. Opener Mark Stoneman and leg-spinning all-rounder, Scott Borthwick, both announced moves to Surrey in an effort to reportedly chase England call-ups. Both have regularly passed 1000 runs in recent seasons and the latter has been helpful, contributing regular wickets in the bowling attack. A large part of Durham’s hopes for the season will be dependent on those chosen to replace these two.
In terms of One Day hopes, it seems to be another season of mediocrity for Durham. Whilst last season’s One-Day Cup wasn’t great overall for Durham, there were occasional flashes that this was a side heading in the right direction. But with the removal of Stoneman and Borthwick, it seems Durham will have taken a couple of steps backwards in their squad building. These departures combined with a 10 points deduction for the RLODC makes any hope of ending this season with a visit to Lord’s unlikely. For the T20 Blast, it seems that Durham supporters should probably be braced for the worst. Even the most optimistic fan wouldn’t have predicted Durham’s fairytale run to the final, and whilst the addition of overseas opener, Tom Latham, yet another points deduction just seems to make another long cup run a distant fantasy.
International call-ups will either make or break Durham’s season. Keaton Jennings, almost singlehandedly, dragged the club to success last year with a mammoth haul of over 2000 runs in all formats including 1548 runs at an average of 64.5 in the County Championship. However, the opening batsmen toured with England during the winter and after a scintillating century on debut against India and many reports suggesting England plan to keep him in the squad at number three could mean that Durham spend large amounts of the season without their 2016 hero. Mark Wood is in a similar boat. The Northern paceman is almost certainly going to spend most of 2017 with England, providing his injuries don't resurface. It would be yet another big loss for Durham, the recovering paceman was a regular threat last season with his rockets providing a constant threat to county batsmen, the bowler was an especially key figure in Durham’s T20 Blast success. Of course no-one is expecting Ben Stokes to make a regular return to Durham colours any time soon, the Durham all-rounder now being the England Test vice-captain.
Where I think Durham will finish:
County Championship Division Two: 6th
One-Day Cup: 6th (North Group)
T20 Blast: 8th (North Group)
By Tom Simmonds (@Studentsonsport & @MiddleOffStump)
Where? The CloudFM County Ground, Chelmsford.
Ins: Adam Wheater (Hampshire), Simon Harmer (Kolpak), Neil Wagner (New Zealand – First half of season), Mohammad Amir (Pakistan from June 19th)
Outs: David Masters (Retired), Graham Napier (Retired), Jaik Mickleburgh (Released).
Key man: Jamie Porter
Last Year: County Championship: Division Two Winners, RLODC: Q/F defeat to Warwickshire, T20 Blast: Q/F defeat to Nottinghamshire.
2017 Odds: Championship: 20/1, RLODC: 14/1, T20 Blast: 14/1
Our Essex correspondent David Bowden airs his views on a testing upcoming season for the Eagles.
After a successful 2016 which saw the Eagles finally take flight and reach the promised land of Division One after falling at the final hurdle for a number of years, the Chelmsford-based team will be looking for a steady Eddie season which will see them consolidate their place in the top flight.
Chris Silverwood has quietly assembled a solid looking Division One outfit with some shrewd-looking deals over the winter that will surely boost their survival hopes. The most notable of these are the two overseas arrivals for the campaign, the experienced duo of Neil Wagner and Mohammad Amir will add vital bite and variation to a weak looking bowling attack with only Jamie Porter a recognised experience four-day pace bowler. It will be a big season for Porter who will look to establish himself as the promising bowler that many are saying he is. Having only excelled in Division Two cricket, however, this will be his greatest challenge yet. He, alongside Aaron Beard and Matt Quinn, make up the rest of a bowling line-up that lacks a great amount of experience and variation for Division One cricket, so needless to say the wickets of Wagner and Amir will ultimately decide their fate. What they lack in experience with the ball, they make up with the willow as a number of Division One regulars and England hopefuls give the Eagles hope for plenty of big scoring innings. The arrival of Varun Chopra and Adam Wheater further adds to the class the Eagles possess with the bat, and that is without mentioning former England captain Alastair Cook – who they will hope to see far more of following his stepping down as leader of the national team.
The club will be under no illusions as to how tough this campaign will be having tasted relegation in their last foray into the top flight at the first time of asking, but it seems that there is a real plan in place for the Eagles to keep them afloat this time around. The signing of Simon Harmer finally gives them a spinning outlet to hold an end up whilst the seamers plug away at the other end. This squad seems to be the most competitive the county has seen for some time. These are exciting times to be following four-day cricket as an Essex fan and I see no reason why they can’t scrap survival if they can keep their key men fit.
As for the white ball game, they will be looking to end their Quarter-Final hoodoo, and with a strong looking line-up with the likes of Tom Westley, Ryan Ten Doeschate (the new limited overs skipper), Nick Browne and Ravi Bopara in their batting ranks runs shouldn’t be an issue. It is with the ball where the worries lie, the loss of Graham Napier will hit them hard, and once again they will be relying on the fitness of Jamie Porter and the canny wicket taking abilities of their overseas pros and all-rounders. Whilst limited overs cricket may not be the priority for the Eagles this summer, the extra finances from a cup success wouldn’t go amiss for Ronnie Irani and co.
This is a big year for Essex and they will need to get off to a flying start to avoid playing catch up in what is a very competitive top flight.
Championship: A plucky last gasp survival (6th)
RLODC: Q/F defeat
T20 Blast: Group Stage
By David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu)
Where? The County Ground, Northampton
Ins: Rory Kleinveldt (Overseas, all formats), Seekkuge Prasanna (T20 Overseas), Nathan Buck, Max Holden (loan)
Outs: Olly Stone (Warwickshire), Monty Panesar (Released)
Key man: Ben Duckett
Last Year? Specsavers County Championship: 5th (184 points), Royal London One Day Cup: Q/F loss v Surrey, Natwest Blast: Winners
2017 Odds:*: County Championship: 16/1, RLODC: 16/1, T20: 12/1
Our Northamptonshire blogger Harry Hill had his say on the season ahead, here are his views.
Overall last season was a success for Northamptonshire CCC and hopes are high coming into the new season. Despite the notable departure of Olly Stone to Warwickshire, its been a quiet winter on the transfer front for the club. Instead, there has been a focus on retaining the core of the squad, with new contracts for Rob Newton, David Murphy, Richard Gleeson, and perhaps most significantly, for last year’s PCA players’ player of the year, Ben Duckett. The season starts for Northants as they welcome Glamorgan to the County Ground in Division Two, not before a pre-season tour to Barbados to find some form and top up the tan.
Looking ahead to the potential strengths and weaknesses of the playing squad, Northants possess an exciting batting line-up, which scored 300 plus on regular occasions last season. Much of the strength that the squad enjoys comes from its versatility, with all-rounders Rob Keogh, Steven Crook and Rory Kleinveldt offering invaluable depth to both the batting and bowling departments. In the County Championship last year, Northants drew nine games and perhaps missed a ‘strike bowler’, with genuine pace able to rattle through the opposition, particularly on some of the flat pitches they found on their travels in Division Two. The signing of Nathan Buck from Lancashire is a great addition to the squad and will add another dimension to the bowling attack this season.
There are several players to look out for this season, despite a difficult tour with England to Bangladesh in the winter, Ben Duckett remains one of the country’s most exciting young prospects and the 22-year-old would have learnt a lot from the experience. Graeme White had a superb season in 2016, winning ‘national player of the year’ in the One-Day Cup and was rewarded with a call-up to the England Lions squad for the tour to Sri Lanka in March. Additionally, Saif Zaib is another talent out of the academy, and the left-handed youngster will be no doubt be pushing hard for a regular spot in the team this season.
Due to having one of the smallest playing squads in the country, Northants have prioritised One-Day and T20 cricket in the past few seasons, and to considerable success, culminating in T20 victories in 2013 and 2016. I suspect more of the same for the coming season with hopes of reaching the knock-out stages in the shorter formats. The explosive Ben Duckett, Richard Levi and Adam Rossington will always get Northants off to a fast start and reliable skipper Alex Wakely will always secure the innings if required. Steady progress will be the aim in the County Championship, with the heavyweight additions of Nottinghamshire and (albeit points-deducted) Durham joining the reformed 10 team Division Two party. Turning draws into wins will be the demand from Head Coach David Ripley if Northants are going to make a push for promotion into Division One.
Where I think Northamptonshire will finish:
County Championship Division Two: 4th
One-Day Cup: 4rd (North Group)
T20 Blast: 3rd (North Group)