Where? Lords, North London
Outs: Andrew Balbirine (Released), Max Holden (Northants, Loan)
Key Man: Toby Roland-Jones
2016 season: Championship: Winners, RLODC: Group stage, T20 Blast Q/f
2017 odds: Championship 18/5, RLODC: 14/1, T20: 12/1
Let me take you back to 23rd September, all eyes were on Lords, not to mention particularly keen interest in Leeds and Taunton, three teams dreaming of Championship glory going into the final day of the season. With the stakes so high, 21,000 of the Middlesex faithful (not to mention a loyal group from Yorkshire) made their way through the famous entrances at Lords over the four days. After a contrived deceleration and 9 wickets following some superb bowling, Toby Roland-Jones beats Ryan Sidebottom’s defences to secure Middlesex’s first Championship since 1993. After such a roller coaster of emotions that only cricket can provide, no one can begrudge the celebrations that followed.
This season will be an all together different challenge for James Franklin’s men, no longer able to sneak under the radar, they will no doubt be the prize scalp. Middlesex start their season with a trip down the M3 to face Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl. It is largely as you were on the transfer front, with the return of the ever-reliable Adam Voges as the overseas player a welcome one; especially now the Australian has hung up his baggy green cap and committed himself for a whole summer in NW8. Key to success in the Championship this year will be if Nick Gubbins can repeat his superb batting performances from the top of the order, he can’t possibly beat an average of 61.25, can he? With the ball, aside from Toby Roland-Jones, look out for the highly rated fast bowler Tom Helm, if the 22-year old can keep himself fit I can see him blasting through many a batting order.
With the success of last year with the red ball, it is easy to forget that Middlesex successfully navigated their way through the T20 Blast South Group only to lose to eventual champions, the Northants Steelbacks in the quarter-final stage. Looking ahead to their white ball prospects, Middlesex should enjoy Eoin Morgan’s presence for the T20 Blast fixtures in July and August, after hopefully leading England to Champions Trophy glory in June. Add into the mix Paul Stirling and the return of Kiwi Brendon McCullum for the Blast to give catching practice to members in the glorious Lord’s pavilion and you have one exciting batting line up.
Where I think Middlesex will finish:
County Championship: 2nd
One-Day Cup: 5th (South Group)
T20 Blast: 4th (South Group)
Preview written by Harry Hill – You can follow him on Twitter @HarryHill96.
Where: Bristol County Ground, Bristol
Ins: Cameron Bancroft (Overseas, Aus), Michael Klinger (Overseas, Aus, One-Day competitions), Andrew Tye (Aus, T20 Blast) and Phil Mustard (Durham)
Outs: Hamish Marshall and Tom Hampton (Both released)
Key man: Liam Norwell
2016 season: Championship 6th, RLODC 8th, T20 Blast Q/F
2017 Odds: Championship promotion: 14/1, RLODC: 20/1, T20: 16/1
Jon Foster from @Glosfans looks ahead to a competitive looking season for Gloucestershire but hopes his side can sneak into finals day after missing out last season in the last eight.
The County Championship looks to be very competitive, even with two promotion places available again. For Gloucestershire to be successful and challenge for promotion the squad would probably have to remain relatively injury-free and be more consistent with both bat and ball.
Without Klinger and Marshall, the batting will lose plenty of experience. Chris Dent (1243) is the only available batsman who scored over 1,000 Championship runs last season and will be looking for more of the same, while others will need to become more consistent.
Cameron Bancroft, with the prospect of a full season of Championship cricket this time, will have the task as overseas player of attempting to fill Michael Klinger’s sizeable boots! He did look to be adapting to early season conditions in his short spell last season, although it is a lot to ask.
The arrival of Phil Mustard, who scored steadily last season, including a century, after rarely featuring in the Championship side for Durham, could allow Gareth Roderick to discard the gloves and concentrate on his batting and captaincy of the four-day side.
Without a specialist batsman brought in to replace Marshall, this should allow opportunities for other batsmen to stake a claim, in particular, George Hankins, who after being named England’s player of last season’s Under 19 series against Sri Lanka went on to score a maiden Championship century and show plenty of promise.
Graeme van Buuren in his first season of county cricket adapted well and was scoring consistently as well as picking up wickets until an injury ended his season prematurely and he should feature strongly again.
A return to fitness and form for Will Tavare who had an injury plagued season last year would be an added bonus, while Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell, who have become more one-day specialists recently, may also be given more opportunities in the longer format.
On the bowling front, a lot looks to depend on the pace quartet of Matt Taylor, who spent the winter at the England pace bowling Academy, Liam Norwell, David Payne and Craig Miles. While Matt Taylor was injured for much of last season the others all picked up plenty of wickets, but they will probably need to fire as a unit more consistently, without so many off sessions/days, if Gloucestershire are to mount a serious promotion challenge.
Jack Taylor and Graeme van Buuren who should both be included as all-rounders are the most likely spin options in four-day cricket.
The Gloucestershire squad probably looks better suited (on paper at least) to achieving success in ‘white ball’ cricket, particularly in the shorter T20 format.
In defence of 2015 One Day Cup, the county got off to a poor start in the 2016 group stages losing the first 3 games a start that the club never really recovered from and finished a disappointing 8th in the group. With a better start, this season the county should be looking to reach the knock out stages again.
In last season’s T20 competition Gloucestershire topped the South Group with 10 wins before a disappointing defeat to Durham in the home quarter-final. They will be looking to qualify from the group again and then hope to go one better this season and reach their first Final’s Day since 2007.
Gloucestershire’s strength in One Day cricket over the years has been built on team spirit, rather than individual ‘stars’, with all being capable of playing their part when it’s needed and with the fielders backing up the bowlers and putting pressure on the opposition. While this applies very much today it would be surprising if Michael Klinger, after another successful Big Bash and now concentrating on white ball cricket, didn’t score heavily again. One day specialists Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell, after a winter in the Bangladesh Premier League, will also look to feature strongly again as will the big hitting Jack Taylor. Andrew Tye will bring his Aussie winning mentality to the T20, while Matt Taylor also developed well and proved to be a more than capable bowler in the early power play overs and ‘at the death’.
While Gloucestershire will look to be competitive in all competitions, with a relatively small squad, the T20 competition might be where their best chance of success lies. After dominating the South Group last season before falling at the quarter-final stage there could be more emphasis and a desire to go further this time.
Championship – 4th or 5th
RLODC – Quarter Finals
T20 – Final’s Day, then anything can happen!
Where: Taunton, Somerset
Ins: Dean Elgar (Overseas, South Africa), Steven Davies (Surrey) and George Bartlett (Academy)
Out: Alex Burrows (released) and Chris Rogers (retired, joined coaching team)
Key man: Craig Overton
Last year: Championship 3rd, RLODC Q/F, T20 Blast 9th
2017 Odds: Championship 8/1, RLODC 12/1, T20 Blast 14/1
Our West-Country correspondent Dan Kingdom hopes his Somerset side will be celebrating a successful season come September following a near miss in the Championship in 2016. He pens his views below.
After exceeding expectations last season with an incredibly near miss in the County Championship, coupled with a close RLODC semi-final defeat to Warwickshire, Somerset fans are hoping that the club can win its first major trophy in twelve years in 2017.
Tom Abell is the man charged with leading the team to their first ever County Championship title, with the talented 23-year-old batsman taking over the captaincy from Chris Rogers in a move that raised a few eyebrows. Despite his youth, Director of Cricket Matt Maynard is confident that Abell is already mature enough to lead the side effectively, and he will have Rogers there to help him – the now-retired Australian has been recruited as a batting consultant until 30th June.
It is Dean Elgar who will be taking up the mantle of overseas player. The South African opening batsman had a lean spell with Somerset in 2013, but since then he has improved significantly, securing a regular spot in his country’s test side. He will open the batting with club legend Marcus Trescothick, who will be playing his 25th season with Somerset, while Tom Abell will drop down to number three to give him some time to clear his head after leading the side in the field.
Somerset’s other big winter signing is England wicketkeeper, Steven Davies. He will deepen the side’s 4-day batting line-up, while also adding extra firepower at the top of the limited-overs sides. However, fans will hope that Ryan Davies, the club’s other wicketkeeper, will continue to get chances having ended 2016 strongly.
There are encouraging signs coming from the club’s young bowling attack. Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton recently starred for MCC in the Champion County match, including a hat-trick for the latter. Jamie Overton had a good season last year before injury; if he stays fit this could be the year he realises his potential. And offspinner Dom Bess burst onto the scene late last season with 13 wickets from two matches. He is sure to get more chances in 2017, especially if the Taunton pitch continues to favour spin.
The only concern comes, ironically, from Somerset’s 2016 player of the year Jack Leach. The left-arm spinner took 65 wickets at 22 last season, but he has been forced to alter his bowling action after a small kink was found during a routine ECB test. Recent signs have been encouraging, but it will take a huge effort for him to match last season’s performance. If he does, an England call-up cannot be far away.
Somerset’s t20 cricket was a disaster last season, with just three wins and a bottom-of-the-table finish to show for their efforts. Steve Davies will improve the side, but with Maynard quiet on the subject of a t20 overseas player, it could be another struggle unless the quick bowling significantly improves and more contributions are made with the bat by players such as Jim Allenby and Peter Trego. It is probably the RLODC that is Somerset’s best chance of one-day success, after topping their group in last year’s competition and having shown good 50-over form in pre-season.
But it is the County Championship that the supporters really want, and 2017 probably represents Somerset’s best chance in years of securing the elusive trophy.
County Championship: 3rd
T20 Blast: 7th
You can follow Dan on Twitter @DanKingdom96