By David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu) & Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
The powers at be inside ECB Headquarters cannot go a year without changing the layout of the First-Class game, and yet again the tinker men at the top have decided to change the configuration of the leagues for the 2020 season – with ten teams set to compete in Division One and just eight in Division Two.
With only one dreaded relegation spot available it could well leave a side languishing at the bookend of the table and lots of drab cricket come the end of the summer as team battle it out for the minimal ‘prize’ money available for teams in mid-table mediocrity.
Make no mistake though, after a rather sombre opening gambit, it could well turn into an exciting fight for the top prize – with Surrey, Essex, Warwickshire (a potential surprise package), and Somerset all surely in the mix.
How did Division One finish in 2018?
A very strong Surrey side romped away with the title narrowly missing out on an unbeaten season after Essex edged home by one-wicket during an intense finale at the Oval. In a summer where everything seemed to click for the ‘Rey, runs were plentiful and an attack led by the Curran brothers, Rikki Clarke and the quite brilliant Morne Morkel often proving too hot to handle.
Somerset suffered a familiar feeling of Deja-vu after another stellar season, they will be hoping to be the bride rather than the bridesmaid in 2019 after finishing runners-up for the second time in three seasons. You worry for the west-countrymen that potentially losing Jack Leach to the Ashes could well harm their chances this season. Essex enjoyed another positive season finishing third in their second season back in the top flight; it was always likely that they would struggle to repeat their heroics during the 2017 season after losing coach Chris Silverwood to England.
There was a significant drop off to the teams in mid-table with Yorkshire, Hampshire, and Nottinghamshire all battling more for survival than really challenging for the top. In the end, bonus points meant Nottinghamshire survived by the skin of their teeth in what proved to be a disappointing season for the Outlaws. Hampshire completed their almost now yearly great escape, this time with slightly more time to spare than usual finishing in fifth 11 points clear of relegation. While the White Rose finished in a comfortable fourth place in the end. It proved to be a task too much for newly promoted Worcestershire, who in all honestly looked woefully out of place throughout the entirety of the season winning just two of their 14 games, losing 10. Lancashire joined the Pears in relegation to Division two following a disappointing season for the Red Rose with their one-point deduction for slow over-rate proving pivotal in their demise after finishing level on points with Nottinghamshire.
The Promoted Teams:
Warwickshire and Kent are the new boys in the Division after both easing to promotion in 2018. Kent look strong with many astute signings in the offseason with Matthew Renshaw sure to bring them some vital runs this season alongside the ever impressive Heino Kuhn who will deputise as captain in early season with Sam Billings away on IPL duty. Warwickshire, have a lovely mix of youth and experience, with their ever-present overseas Jeetan Patel likely to prove key with the ball for the Bears, Olly Stone will also be looking to impress early season with half an eye on an unlikely call-up to the Ashes Squad.
The Teams in Division One in 2019:
Top tips for the title:
It could be a wide-open race of the title this summer, with the Division looking the strongest it has been for a long time. Surrey will once again be strong but could be hampered by Ashes call-ups. Somerset will be there or thereabouts again come the business end of the season, as will Essex who will be boosted by having Alastair Cook available for the entire season for the first time in a long, long time. If you want a dark horse, look at the newly promoted teams Kent and Warwickshire who could well surprise a few this season. Nottinghamshire and Hampshire are the teams that will be battling out for the wooden spoon, in my opinion, come September.
A season of change in Division Two:
After just three seasons of an 8/10 configuration for the two divisions, the County Championship will change to 10/8 for the 2020 season. At the end of the season, three teams will be promoted from Division 2, with just one coming back down. With an extra promotion place up for grabs, most of the sides in Division 2 will be thinking that this might just be their year.
How did Division Two finish in 2018?
For much of the season, Division 2 appeared to be a two-horse race between Kent and Warwickshire with both wrapping-up promotion with something to spare. Warwickshire’s innings victory over Kent in the final fixture gave them the Division 2 title. Challenges by Sussex, who finished with two heavy defeats and a draw in their last three games, leaving them a distant third and, more surprisingly, Leicestershire, faded as the season closed. In contrast, Middlesex’s challenge never appeared: although wins in the final two games lifted them to a somewhat flattering fourth, a slow start meant that they were never at the races. Behind them, there was little to choose between the mid-table sides.
At the other end of the table, Glamorgan’s season was about as bad as it could get. Wins in the first and last game of the season bookended ten defeats and condemned the Welsh to the wooden spoon long before the end of the season. Four losses in their first five matches and the other abandoned without a ball bowled left Northamptonshire’s season in ruins. Although they improved as the season went on, only Glamorgan finished below them. And, despite two stunning comeback wins in early season, being dismissed for under one hundred four times, including twice in the same match against Leicestershire and another four times for under 135, left Durham condemned to another season in the bottom three.
The relegated teams:
Worcestershire’s yo-yo relationship with Division 1 has continued. After one year in Division 1, they are back in Division 2. Lancashire have joined them, having fallen just 27 runs – one batting bonus point – short of condemning Nottinghamshire in their place.
The Division Two sides for 2019:
Tips for the Top Three
The Division looks weaker than in 2018 with any one of six sides seemingly candidate to go up. History suggests that one of the relegated teams almost invariably bounces straight back; that looks more likely to be Lancashire than Worcestershire. Middlesex and Sussex will think that surely this is their chance to get back into the top flight after various seasons trapped in the second division. The dark horses might just be Durham, who seem to be climbing out of the deep, dark hole that the ECB dug for them.
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All Charlie Jennings County Championship David Bowden Derbyshire Durham Essex Glamorgan Gloucestershire Hampshire Harry Hil Harry Hill Hector Cappelletti Jamie Ramage Kent Lancashire Leicestershire Mark Kidger Matthew Nichols Matt Layton Middlesex Northamptonshire Nottinghamshire RLODC Season Previews Somerset Surrey Sussex T20 VFTO Predicts Warwickshire Worcestershire Yorkshire