By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
Derbyshire v Middlesex
Derbyshire – Billy Godleman (captain), Ben Slater, Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen, Alex Hughes, Matt Critchley, Gary Wilson (wicket-Keeper), Tony Palladino, Ravi Rampaul, Hardus Viljoen, Duanne Olivier, Will Davis
Middlesex – Sam Robson (captain), Hilton Cartwright, James Franklin, James Harris, Tom Helm, Max Holden, Tim Murtagh, Ollie Rayner, Toby Roland-Jones, George Scott, John Simpson (wicket-keeper), Paul Stirling, Robbie White
Middlesex’s destruction of a Northants side expected to be in the top half of the table was the best possible start and gives them momentum for the campaign. Derbyshire did not play last week, although reports are that their ground was very unlikely to have been fit for play anyway. A week of dry conditions has hopefully worked its miracle, but no one should be surprised if the pitch looks under prepared. With Middlesex’s fast bowling resources, a difficult pitch, should it materialise, is likely to make their eyes light up with anticipation.
Steve Eskinazi has not recovered from illness and Tom Barber has withdrawn from the squad with an ankle injury but Middlesex are likely to field an unchanged side. Captaining Derbyshire is Billy Godleman, a player who made an amazing impact in his debut season with Middlesex. Derbyshire play debutants Ravi Rampaul and Dwayne Olivier in what looks like a more than useful pace attack and hope that it will match Middlesex for pace and aggression. The home side seems to have its starting XI quite clear, naming a squad of XII.
The last time that these two sides met was during the brief Derbyshire sojourn in Division 1 in 2013. On that occasion, Middlesex won both home and away by big margins.
Durham v Kent
Durham – Paul Collingwood (c), Cameron Steel, Aiden Markram, Will Smith, Gareth Harte, Graham Clark, Michael Richardson (wicket-keeper), Stuart Poynter (wicket-Keeper), Matthew Potts, Nathan Rimmington, Barry McCarthy, James Weighell, Chris Rushworth
Kent – Joe Denly (c), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Sean Dickson, Heino Kuhn, Zak Crawley, Alex Blake, Darren Stevens, Will Gidman, Adam Rouse (wk), Matt Henry, Harry Podmore, Ivan Thomas
Kent suffered an unexpected, heavy defeat against Gloucestershire in their opening fixture, which has led to some introspection in the club given their hopes of making a serious challenge for promotion. Durham are still smarting from what they see as a massive injustice done to the side by the ECB last season and are desperate to make a point this season, especially given that this time they will start on level terms and not on -45 points. Kent are looking forward to having the first use of the Chester-le-Street pitch with their seam attack and know that a second defeat may halt their promotion drive before the end of April.
Durham will play South African Test star Aiden Markram, but allow themselves multiple options as they have taken the unusual step of naming two wicket-keepers in their squad of XIII, plus two potential debutants in Nathan Rimmington & Gareth Harte, one of whom seems likely to play. Grant Stewart was injured against Gloucestershire and is replaced by Alex Blake in the Kent XI.
In September 2017, Durham were frustrated by a last-wicket partnership when Sam Billings got out of his sick-bed to deny Durham the win.
Gloucestershire v Glamorgan
Gloucestershire – Dent (c), Howell, Roderick, Bracey, J.Taylor, van Buuren, Higgins, Noema-Barnett, Miles, M.Taylor, Worrall, Norwell
Glamorgan – Hogan (C), Selman, Murphy, Marsh, Carlson, Donald, Cooke, Lloyd, Salter, Carey, de Lange, van der Gugten.
Gloucestershire fans are still rubbing their eyes with astonishment after last week’s win against Kent and greet local rivals, Glamorgan in their first home fixture of the season, Glamorgan having not had a game in the first round. Glamorgan are reportedly smarting at certain season previews that had them as candidates for the wooden spoon and will be keen to put one over their rivals from across the Bristol Channel.
Liam Norwell came through a 2nd XI game v Glamorgan this week and bowled with enough pace and success to suggest that he is ready for a comeback, which leaves Gloucestershire with an interesting choice as to who should miss out to replace him, with Craig Miles and Kieron Noema-Barnett looking to be the most likely players to be sacrificed from a squad which features four front-line seamers and four all-rounders. Glamorgan give a debut to Shaun Marsh who sees his time with Glamorgan as a route back to the Australian side, while Glamorgan will hope that he reinforces their middle order and provides plenty of runs. The Glamorgan strength looks though to be in their experienced pace attack, while Gloucestershire had the youngest of the six teams in action last week.
Northants v Warwickshire
Northants – Wakely (captain), Proctor, Levi, Rossington, Cobb, Keogh, Duckett, Crook, Bracewell, Hutton, Gleeson, Sanderson, Newton
Warwickshire – Patel, Ambrose, Bell, Brookes, Hain, Hose, Lamb, Rhodes, Sibley, Sidebottom, Stone, Trott, Wright
Northamptonshire suffered a heavy defeat against Middlesex at Lord’s last week and were distinctly unhappy with the amount of help to the bowlers offered by the pitch. Warwickshire had somewhat the worse of the draw with Sussex, needing to bat out time to save the match, which was achieved fairly comfortably in the end. Warwickshire will hope to reinforce their credentials for a quick return to Division 1, while Northamptonshire hope to set the record right having looked very badly off the pace against Middlesex, but will rue the fact that they have to meet what appear to be the two strongest sides in the division in their first two games.
While Gleeson in particular looked very good against Middlesex, the Northants attack will need to reflect on the fact that they should have dismissed Middlesex for no more than about 140 and lost the game probably on the first day, by bowling the wrong length and line; when they did get it right, a rash of missed chances in the field, some of them very simple, did not help. For Warwickshire, Keith Barker has a hamstring strain, which may lead to a return for Ryan Sidebottom. Olly Stone’s performance – pace and aggression – against Sussex stood out for the Bears, who will want to break their duck against a Northants who were shaken by their poor performance last week.
Leicestershire v Sussex
Leicestershire – Carberry (capt), Abbas, Ackermann, Chappell, Cosgrove, Dexter, Eckersley, Griffiths, Hill, Horton, Javid, Klein, Parkinson, Raine.
Sussex – Ben Brown (c/wk), Will Beer, Michael Burgess, Harry Finch, Ollie Robinson, Phil Salt, Ishant Sharma, Stiaan van Zyl, Stuart Whittingham, David Wiese, Luke Wells, Luke Wright
Sussex had a strong performance in their rain-ruined game against Warwickshire and were, on the last afternoon, the only side who could have won the game. However, if they are to get back into Division 1, they need to start registering wins and get some momentum. This is one of the fixtures that Sussex will have targeted for a win in close-season. Often over the last few seasons, Leicestershire have looked frankly out of their depth: the sequence of wooden spoons in 2014, 2015 and 2017 was broken by the 7th place in 2016; they have reinforced for the 2018 campaign in the hopes of doing better this time around.
There are optimistic noises coming out of Grace Road about the campaign. Leicestershire have Michael Carberry as captain for 2018: he will make his Leicestershire bow in this game. They name a squad of fourteen, giving multiple options. Ateeq Javid, signed from Warwickshire, covers for Ned Eckersley, who Is an injury concern. Mark Cosgrove is fit to return to the squad after illness and overseas signing Muhammad Abbas should make his Leicestershire debut, leading the attack. Zak Chappell and left arm quick Dieter Klein are competing for places along with Ben Raine, Gavin Griffiths and, old Middlesex favourite, Neil “Fireball” Dexter. While, should a spinner be required, Callum Parkinson will play. For Sussex, things are much simpler. Academy bowler Will Sheffield drops out of the Sussex squad from the game last week. Sussex though will be encouraged by the impact made by Ishant Sharma – who, briefly, gave them hopes of winning with his post-Tea burst – and David Wiese, while Ben Brown led from the front with his anchor role.
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