County Champions Surrey begin their defence of their title with a home game against the side who denied them unbeaten season last year, Essex.
Essex will have fond memories of playing at the Oval after ending their county campaign last season with a dramatic win over Surrey. With bragging right on the line, a battling last wicket stand between Ryan ten Doeschate and Matt Quinn saw the Eagles over the line to seal a one-wicket success, and in doing so stopping the ‘Rey from ending the season unbeaten, a feat ten Doeschate’s men managed in 2017.
Surrey will surely begin the campaign as bookies favourites again with the ‘Rey’s star-studded line-up is sure to cause plenty of problems this season. Rory Burns, Scott Borthwick, Mark Stoneman, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes have all enjoyed a stint in the England set up recently and provide a daunting top six. Whilst, Morne Morkel returns to lead the line for Rory Burns’ men, and he will be backed up by Tom Curran, new signing Liam Plunkett and Rikki Clarke in a formidable bowling attack.
Surrey enjoyed a productive pre-season and will be looking to get their defence off to a positive start. Michael Di Venuto’s men drew with the MCC – after dominating for large spells in the Middle East, and poor light saw them also draw with Durham MCCU, but their batsmen look in fine touch with Ollie Pope smashing 251 vs the MCC and Stoneman, Borthwick and Ryan Patel all hitting centuries in the final warm-up game.
Liam Plunkett could make his first-class debut for Surrey following his winter move from Yorkshire, whilst England hopefuls Burns, Foakes, and Pope are all likely to be in the starting XI for the hosts.
Essex, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce-back following a disappointing start at the Ageas Bowl. Anthony McGrath’s men were simply blown away by their South Coast Counterparts eventually succumbing to an innings defeat. There were few positive to take from the match in Southampton but the early season form of Ravi Bopara – who struck a second innings century will give the Eagles hope that it was a mere blip.
In Alastair Cook, they have a man who enjoys batting at the Oval, and he too will have fond memories of the batting in South London. The former England skipper struck one final international century in his final appearance in a Test uniform last Summer. Essex will need him to impress again if they are to right the wrongs of their opening fixture.
Injury to Adam Wheater (out for six weeks with a finger injury) and Michael Pepper (missing following an appendix operation) has seen the Eagles utilise the loan market, bringing young Rob White from Middlesex on a two-month long contract, he will deputise behind the stumps while Wheater and Pepper recover from their respected fitness problems.
Peter Siddle, who jetted into England after winning the Sheffield Shield in his native Australia with Victoria will be a welcome return for ten Doeschate’s men, who struggled for breakthroughs in Hampshire with the big Australian set to return to the side against Surrey.
Joe Root will look to continue his early season form as Yorkshire travel south to the Ageas Bowl to face Hampshire.
The England captain struck an unbeaten 130 to save the game for the Tykes at Trent Bridge in game week one of the 2019 campaign. Root, shared a mammoth unbroken stand with Gary Ballance as Yorkshire batted the entirety of the final day to secure a draw. The 28-year-old will get the opportunity to bat at another test venue as he continues his preparation ahead of a busy summer of cricket for England with the World Cup and then the Ashes.
Duanne Olivier will look to continue his decent start to his new career as a county pro, after giving up his South African test hopes to become a full-time Yorkshire player. He began life with a five-wicket bag to be the pick of the bowlers as Nottinghamshire racked up the runs in the first innings in Nottingham.
Of course, there is still a chance albeit unlikely for Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance to receive a call-up to the Ashes such is the wide-open vacancy in the top order for England, they will both hope that time in and around Root will help keep the duo firmly in the mind of the England selectors and captain.
Hampshire meanwhile are looking to make it four championship wins on the spin following their opening game week smashing of Essex.
Against Essex everything seemed to click in Adrian Birrell’s opening game as coach, after being inserted by the Eagles following an uncontested toss they racked up the runs and then simply blew their counterparts away with the ball with Kyle Abbott and Fidel Edwards’ particularly impressive taking a five-wicket haul each.
Sam Northeast struck an important and simply magnificent 169 to lead Hampshire to a massive 525-8 to take the game away from Anthony McGrath’s Essex. His early season form will be pleasing for Birrell with the former Kent man already well on his way to the 451 runs he amassed last summer.
Aiden Markram completes the South African trio, and he made a promising debut and will look to continue to impress ahead of the World Cup in England this summer. Edwards and Abbott will be given the task of removing Root and if their excellent bowling display against Essex is anything to go by it will be a great test for the England skipper.
Hampshire make one change from the victory over Essex with Lewis McManus replacing the injured Tom Alsop to deputise behind the stumps.
Somerset will hope to make it back-to-back Championship wins to kick off their season with a victory at Trent Bridge in the second round of action in the County Championship.
The Cidermen secured victory inside three-days after seeing the opening day wiped out due to rain against Kent at Taunton. The impressive Lewis Gregory starred in the opening round of fixtures securing a Michelle fivefer to help Somerset dismiss Kent to on the final day to secure a 74-run win in a low-scoring encounter.
James Hildreth will look to improve upon the 29 cumulative runs he scored at Taunton last week as he hopes to finally break into the England set-up after years of pundits clambering for the 34-year-old to receive a call-up. A steady run scorer in the County Championship, Hildreth has yet to break down the door and will hope that early season runs will be enough for an Ashes call-up at the twilight of his career. He will likely have a watching England Selectors eye on him at Trent Bridge particularly with Stuart Broad on display.
In the reverse fixture last season, Hildreth struck a century, so will have fond memories of playing at Trent Bridge as Somerset thrashed the Outlaws by an innings in the final game of the season. Craig Overton starred with the ball in that fixture, and he will be another name on the scouting sheet of the on watching England selectors.
It is Joe Clarke though who is the most likely to receive a big chance this summer in the England Test side as the newly signed number three has continued his fine form from last summer into this year. The 22-year struck a debut century in-front of the watching Joe Root last week and followed that up with an unbeaten 97 in the second innings only to be denied a second century in as many innings by a declaration.
Clarke has been around the England Lions set-up for some time and has age on his side with selectors more favourably selecting future talent over ageing talent. I am sure that Stuart Broad will be in the ears of Root even more in the dressing room should the youngster continue to pile on the runs this summer.
Speaking of Broad, this is another opportunity to find some bowling rhythm ahead of a busy summer. He bowled with hostility against Yorkshire but could only manage three first-innings wickets, and was largely frustrated by Root and Ballance in the second innings as batting became easier on the final day.
Nottinghamshire will want to go one further and secure victory after dominating for large spells of the Yorkshire game; it should be a good game this between two good sides.
The two promoted teams meet at Edgbaston as Kent and Warwickshire look to get their first wins of the new 2019 County Championship season.
Kent, of course, suffered defeat against Somerset on the opening week of the season at Taunton; meanwhile, Warwickshire kick start their season with what they will see as one of their ‘must win’ fixtures.
The Spitfires were let down by their batting after they dismissed Somerset for 171 in the first innings with Mitch Claydon particularly impressive on his first foray in Division One, he bagged 5-46. Young Harry Podmore also enjoyed a promising start taking 2-36. Matt Walker’s men even managed to secure a first-innings lead reaching 209 with Sean Dickson and Zak Crawley and Daniel Bell-Drummond all getting starts but failing to kick on.
That is something they will be hoping to rectify in this fixture; they must turn starts into big scores if they are going to compete in Division One. It is a big step up from Division Two attacks to Division One, and they must settle quickly; otherwise, they face a fight to survive this season. Much will rely on Heino Kuhn and Matthew Renshaw who both largely disappointed against Somerset.
They travel to Birmingham with the same squad hoping to collect their first Championship top-flight win since 2010. Warwickshire won the last fixture last time these two met on what was described as the Division Two title decider in 2018.
Ahead of their season opener, Warwickshire will have been buoyed by the news of a new contract for Jeetan Patel – who has become an ever-present overseas professional for the Bears. The Kiwi spinner has become a huge fan favourite at Edgbaston and will as ever play an important role as he will hope to lead his side to comfortable survival this summer.
Sam Hain, Liam Banks and Henry Brookes represent the Brummie community for hosts as they look to build a young side good enough to compete in the top flight. The Bears are very excited by Brookes who has been tipped for a future England call-up by our very own Charlie Jennings.
Warwickshire were the dominant side in Division Two last year and will be looking to carry on the momentum from last season. You do worry that they lack Division One experience though, with only Tim Ambrose, Jeetan Patel and Dom Sibley with any real experience in the top flight.
They will bring plenty of energy to proceedings though and will hope that they can get off to a positive start in a fixture they will see as winnable. Their form has been solid in pre-season with a 530-run win over Leeds Bradford Uni with runs for Adam Hose (200) and Will Rhodes (92) and wickets for Aaron Thomason (5-6) and Patel (3-12).
Thomason will perhaps feel a little aggrieved to miss out the squad after bagging those fixtures, but Oliver Hannon-Dalby is preferred to the youngster.
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