With the English cricket season kicking off this weekend, we look at two Counties who are back plying their trade at the top level of the English domestic set-up.
Surrey were relegated from the Division One in 2013 and Lancashire who joined them in 2014 are back playing in the top tier after a stellar 2015 campaign saw both teams losing just once in the 16 games they played.
Lancashire who finished just 10 points behind Surrey had a lead of 54 points to Essex who finished third in the division. The table shows how these two teams ran away with the league and were suitably rewarded with a place back in the top tier.
Now the challenge during this new campaign will be to build on last year’s success and try to maintain their status as a top-flight team. With new regulations seeing two teams getting relegated and just one getting promoted it will be a monumental task for relegated teams to come back to the top tier right away.
Looking at these two teams, Surrey seem to be better equipped to deal with the demands and higher skill set required to stay in the top division in the country. The London team, have, though, lost one of its most talismanic figures in Kevin Pietersen, who scored 355*(396) against Leicestershire last May. Pietersen, who is already in India to take part in the latest edition of the Indian Premier League, played a key role at Surrey during his limited stay with the team last season.
This season despite the obvious loss, the team have made some shrewd acquisitions. The Division Two champions have brought in Mark Foottit from Derbyshire. The left-armed paceman enjoyed an impressive 2015 season finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the Division.
Alec Stewart, the director of cricket for Surrey confirmed in late March that Jade Dernbach is facing a lengthy lay-off from the game with a back problem. But, the signing of Ravi Rampaul from the West Indies as a Kolpak player has made the bitter news about Dernbach a bearable one.
Surrey though are blessed with the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, who will be available for the entire season as the overseas player. With Sangakkara amongst their ranks, the team has a good blend of youth and experience with the Curran brothers, Tom, and Sam. Tom who’s 21 and Sam who only turns 18 in June bring in the youthful exuberance a team needs. With the likes of Aaron Finch joining the team from June-July, Surrey may become a force to be reckoned with this season.
Lancashire, on the other hand, ended the 2015 campaign with four draws on the trot which was enough to see them finish second thanks mainly to their early season form. Unlike Surrey who have brought in some very good players after getting promoted, Lancashire have made no such signings.
The team based in Manchester have lost Ashwell Prince who has retired and Paul Horton moving to Leicestershire. The team, however, may get a few games out of the England international James Anderson whose limited overs international career is all but over. The chances of Jos Buttler another England international that featured in the recently concluded World T20 Championships are pretty bleak, however since the wicket-keeper batsman has already arrived in India to feature in the latest edition of the IPL.
Despite lacking some major names the core of the team has remained the same and it is still a relatively young side. Since winning the Divison One Championship in 2011 Lancashire have gone down twice but have bounced straight back to the top tier at the first time of asking. Their task won’t be as straightforward this time if they do go down with only one team to be promoted from Division Two from this season.
With both Surrey and Lancashire back in the top tier, some of the best domestic talent on showcase get to show their talents at iconic venues like the KIA Oval and the Emirates Old Trafford. The stadiums that feature regularly in England’s international calendar missed out on the best domestic competition in the country.
This season however with games between the northern rivals Lancashire and Yorkshire and the two London teams Surrey and Middlesex meeting in the top division are bound to bring in some decent crowds for a Championship game. With the rise of T20, the County Championship has seen a steady decline in the crowd numbers; the matches between these teams will provide some much-needed interest in the First-Class game.
The rise of these two teams makes it an exciting time for First-Class cricket in the country, with Yorkshire running away with the league for the last two years the rise of these two teams will make it a much more exciting Championship race.
Written by Benny Singarajan, Follow him on Twitter @mis4nthrope.
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