After a winter that seemingly lasted a lifetime County Cricket is back! The sun is shining, the whites have been ironed and the memberships have been purchased and here at View From The Outfield, we have you covered every game week with our in-depth previews and reviews.
We start in Division one and new boys Essex who host Lancashire at the newly named CloudFM County Ground in Chelmsford. This is the Eagles first return to the top flight since their disappointing 2010 campaign that saw them relegated at the first time of asking under Paul Grayson. Now, though, under the guidance of Chris Silverwood and Ryan ten Doeschate, there is renewed belief that they can make a real splash in Division One this time around. They start their campaign by welcoming the Red Rose to the city of Chelmsford with a strong looking batting line-up with the likes of Tom Westley, fresh from a strong winter with the Lions, a reenergized Ravi Bopara and the promising left-handed opener Nick Browne, who will be partnered by Varun Chopra at the top of the innings with former England skipper Alastair Cook missing with hip soreness. It will be a line-up that will be tested to the full by a talented Lancashire bowling attack bolstered by the inclusion of England Test hero James Anderson who will surely enjoy the early season Chelmsford wicket. He, alongside, Kyle Jarvis and Ryan McLaren are an attack that is more than capable of taking 20-wickets in a match.
Anderson won’t be the only acclaimed Test bowler on show as the Eagles welcome former Lancashire left-armer Neil Wagner to their ranks. The Kiwi is set to be handed his Essex debut fresh from a successful winter for his country. Wagner, alongside Jamie Porter, will be crucial on their opening forage back into division one as they hunt for a win on their return. Finally, on the Eagles team news front is the surprise exclusion of James Foster, who will take a backwards step in the longer format to give the returning newcomer Adam Wheater full reigns behind the stumps for the hosts, whilst there will also be a full debut for Simon Harmer, a South African spinning option who joined the club on a Kolpak deal over the winter.
For Lancashire, who will be looking to improve on last season efforts in Division One, and will see this opening day fixture against newly promoted Essex as the ideal chance to get off to a winning start, they are boosted by the arrival of Shiv Chanderpaul and newcomer Dane Vilas – who is set to be handed a debut by Chapple alongside the aforementioned McLaren. Whilst there will be relief that the hand injury sustained by England hopeful Haseeb Hameed was only minor and the youngster is fit enough to return to the side.
Weather watch: Friday: Dark Clouds with highs of 12, Saturday: Sunshine with highs of 20, Monday: cloudy with highs of 13, and the final day will be played under white clouds with highs of 12.
Toss: Bowl first and hope for early wickets.
Match odds: Essex: evens, Draw: 17/10, Lancs: 10/11
Squads in full:
Essex: Ryan ten Doeschate (C), Adam Wheater (w/k), Varun Chopra, Nick Browne, Simon Harmer, Neil Wagner, Aaron Beard, Tom Westley, Ravi Bopara, Dan Lawrence, Matt Dixon, Jamie Porter, Callum Taylor
Lancashire: Steven Croft (C), James Anderson, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Alex Davies, Haseeb Hameed, Kyle Jarvis, Toby Lester, Liam Livingstone, Ryan McLaren, Stephen Parry, Luke Procter, Dane Vilas
Elsewhere, in Division One, Warwickshire travel to the Oval looking to better their disappointing campaign last summer. New coach Ashley Giles returns to the Edgbaston set-up alongside former Bears stalwart Jim Troughton hoping to get off to a flying start despite a tricky opening few fixture. “It is going to be really tough this year with 25 percent of the teams in Division One going to be relegated. That's a high percentage and everyone is aware of that, but if we focus on what we do well, we are in good fettle.
"We have tried to prepare as well as we can for these first 12 days of cricket because they are really important. I feel that we are in a good space. Now it's a question of getting down to The Oval, having a look at the conditions down there and the wicket and of course we will have the option of what to do with the toss as the away team.” Troughton told the Bears official site.
The visitors will hope that a change in personnel will bring fresh ideas and impetus after last season’s campaign under Dougie Brown fizzled out with only the success in the Royal London One-Day cup rescuing a dismal campaign for the Midlanders. News of a new contract for Ian Bell is welcome ahead of this tricky looking trip to London, but you would think they have a decent looking top order with Bell and Trott expected to do the bulk of the run scoring for the Bears. There are concerns though in the lower order and opening spots with only youthful options available to Giles with Ian Westwood missing through injury. On the bowling front, new signing Olly Stone misses the trip with a cruciate ligament injury that is expected to keep him out until June, but they do have the experience Jeetan Patel back to bolster the bowling attack.
Surrey, meanwhile have recruited strongly over the winter as they search for a first Championship title since 2002. The arrival of former Durham pair Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick adds vital Division One batting experience and class to a line-up that already boasts a Sri Lankan legend in Kumar Sangakkara, promising youngsters Dom Sibley and Ben Foakes, as well as the established Rory Burns at the top of the innings. You would think that runs wouldn’t be a problem for Surrey this season. On the bowling front, they have the Curran brothers and Mark Footitt all available for this fixture. They will be eyeing an opening game success against a Warwickshire side who look a bowler light.
Weather watch: Friday: Cloudy with highs of 13, Saturday: sunny intervals with highs of 19, Sunday: Sunshine with highs of 21, and the final day will be played under white clouds with highs of 13.
Toss: Bowl first making the most of the cool conditions and get daddy runs on Saturday and Sunday.
Match Odds: Surrey 5/6, Draw evens, Bears 6/5
Teams in full:
Surrey: Batty ©, Ansari, Borthwick, Burns, T. Curran, S. Curran, Dernbach, Foakes (w/k), Footitt, Meaker, Sangakkara, Sibley, Stoneman
Bears: Bell ©, Ambrose (w/k), Banks, Barker, Clarke, Hain, Hannon-Dalby, Mellor, Panayi, Patel, Porterfield, Singh, Thornton, Trott and Wright
Finally, last season's runners-up Yorkshire host Hampshire at Headingley looking to prove a point after last year's near miss at the title. The White Rose field a youthful looking bowling attack as they place half an eye on the future and developing talent that will see them through the next few years as they begin to go through a transition period in Leeds. Tim Bresnan, Ryan Sidebottom and Steven Patterson aren’t getting any younger so the likes of Josh Shaw (who impressed on loan at Gloucestershire last year), Ben Coad and James Wainman will all feature heavily this season, and indeed they are included in the 13-man squad to face Hampshire. It is their batting attack that will harbor much of the hopes of the season with experience in abundance, and the arrival of Peter Handscomb only adds to the class already on display. Skipper Gary Ballance and fellow former England man Alex Lyth has plenty of Division One experience and the pair will be looking to score big this summer to give the England selectors a nudge whilst their mate Joe Root is involved in squad selection now after being made England skipper recently. Jack Leaning and Andrew Hodd make up the rest of the batting line-up for their opening game as they look to get off to a strong start against a seemingly weaker opposition in Hampshire.
Hampshire themselves are looking to prove a point after escaping relegation in bizarre fashion last year. After the ECB bailed Durham out and handed the Northerners a hefty points deduction the Southampton based club climbed out of the relegation places and back to Division One safety. And a winter of change followed, a new coach in former Hampshire seamer Craig White joined ranks and brought along a couple of new Kolpak South African to bolster what was a weak looking line up last year. Kyle Abbott joined alongside Rilee Rossouw in what were at the time surprise moves, both were performing well for their nation when they decided to up sticks and move to Hampshire on long-term deals seemingly willing to turn their back on international cricket for the foreseeable future. There is happier news coming out of the Ageas Bowl though with the return of cancer-stricken opener Michael Carberry who returned to first-class cricket with a predictably classy ton in their university match draw with Cardiff. Reece Topley though misses the class in Leeds as he continues to recover from injury.
Weather watch: Friday: Cloudy highs of 13, Saturday: Sunshine with highs of 16, Sunday: sunny intervals with highs of 18, and the final day will be played under puffy white clouds with highs of 11.
Toss: Clean sweep, bowl first and get amongst the top order in blustery early morning conditions.
Match Odds: Yorks: 3/5, Draw: 0/1, Hants: 7/4
Team News in full:
Yorkshire: Ballance ©, Bresnan, Coad, Handscomb, Hodd (w/k), Leaning, Lees, Lyth, Patterson, Rafiq, Rhodes, Shaw and Wainman
Hants: Vince ©, Adams, Ervine, Dawson, Berg, Carberry, McManus (w/k), Rossouw, Crane, Wheal, Edwards, and Abbott
David Bowden, you can follow him on Twitter @Bowdenwhu
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