There are indeed plenty of cases to make for Yorkshire to be the favourites for this year's County Championship title, however not much has been spoken about the outsiders; those who are less favoured to go all the way and topple the reigning champions. There are plenty of strong squads spread out across this year's Division One – Middlesex, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire all look set to contend and the recently promoted teams in Surrey and Lancashire will be sure to provide healthy challenge.
Let's first have a look at these contenders to the throne.
Middlesex certainly look set to be there or thereabouts this season – the addition of James Fuller from Division Two Gloucestershire looks shrewd, a man who has offered up genuine pace for Gloucestershire for the last five seasons, taking 89 wickets at 35, a very handy average to say the least. His pace offers Middlesex some decent options – although bowling has never really been a problem, the addition of Fuller adds yet more beef to their often injury affected pace attack. One problem Middlesex may face, especially during the early season – is the new toss (or not) rule put in place to give away teams the option of bowling first. During April and possibly May this advantage may do them some harm – everybody knows that conditions tend to favour swing bowling during the early season matches at Lord's. This offers up some interesting contests, with matches at home to Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire at HQ in early Spring, who both possess very strong bowling attacks.
Warwickshire have somewhat dwindled over the past couple of seasons, injuries and international call-ups have to an extent prevented the Bears from really putting in a full season's effort which has led to the club petering out come September. Hopefully, this season that will be put right, with Ian Bell and Chris Woakes currently not in the England team, but sure to be challenging for places – Warwickshire might just be the beneficiary of some early season performances to put their names in the hat. This could, however, lead to problems later on in the season – the management of their seam attack is crucial. It has some serious depth but sometimes seeing off the tail end of the opposition has caused a problem, not least in the first match of this campaign, versus Hampshire. Rikki Clarke, Keith Barker, Chris Wright, Boyd Rankin and Woakes himself look like an attack that many will envy. The batting also looks strong – Bell, Jonathan Trott, Sam Hain and Varun Chopra are all batsmen with a good reputation in the county game, Hain himself gains English citizenship after this County Championship season and could, with some good runs behind him, throw his name into the hat for an England call up.
Nottinghamshire always seem to put in a performance in the Championship, strength in their batting department is usually followed up with some decent bowling performances at the often swing-friendly Trent Bridge. One looks at their bowling attack and thinks perhaps they are lacking a little experience, Harry Gurney, Jake Ball and Brett Hutton do lack some experience – but raw talent is definitely on show and should hopefully come to the fore this season. Results can often be expected at Trent Bridge, and Nottinghamshire boast some real match winners in their team – Samit Patel's batting and useful left-arm spin often turns the screw; and while James Taylor's recent shock retirement will weaken their batting – the experience in their batting line-up provides the backbone to what should be a good campaign. The addition of Australian test-capped paceman Jackson Bird should prove a real capture too, at county level he should provide a real threat. Expect another decent season from Nottinghamshire.
Durham are my outside bet for this year's Championship; a very decent bowling attack supported by some very experienced and level-headed county professionals with the right mix of young talent could just provide Durham with the perfect balance to mount a challenge this season. Young Keaton Jennings has had a barnstorming start to the season with centuries in both innings versus Somerset, and this definitely could be the season he makes that opening position his own. Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions are a quality new ball pair – Rushworth will look to push on from his 83 wickets last term. While the Northerner's batting can be unreliable players like Jennings, Scott Borthwick – once capped by England, and the young up and coming Jack Burnham on their day can produce the goods that can propel Durham to what could be an unlikely success story. Again home comforts may be harder to come by for Durham this term due to the amended toss but one must surely back their bowling attack as one that should be looking to take 20 wickets regularly at home. After two seasons of consolidation since their glory year of 2013, Durham should be looking to push on and despite suffering financial constriction since that success, their young talent should be looking up rather than down this season.
This year's County Championship, to me, looks more unpredictable than some are touting. Yorkshire will certainly face a tough task to make it a hat-trick of titles, and with the competition certainly looking stronger than ever this we should have an exciting campaign in store. Here's to some fantastic cricket this season.
By Charlie Jennings - (@AVCJX)
No other cricket county have won the English domestic Championships more than Yorkshire, who have secured the title an unprecedented 33 times.
The White Rose start the 2016 campaign after back-to-back title winning seasons in 2014 and again in 2015, and the chance to secure a hat-trick of titles looms large for the club from the north of England.
A hat-trick of Championship titles in the modern era will be a huge achievement for England’s most dominant domestic side. They have, however, already achieved this feat four times, going on to win it four years in a row between 1922-1925. The longest streak, however, belongs to Surrey who held the Championship for seven years in a row from 1952 to 1958.
Yorkshire’s last hat-trick of titles was achieved way back in 1968 and after that the most successful club in England endured a long drought, winning the championship just once between 1968 and 2014. That victory came at the beginning of the century in 2001 and there was another 13-year wait before they won in again in 2014.
There can be little argument that over the last two seasons Yorkshire were deserving champions of England. The club lost just two games in the last two seasons. That level of consistency was the key to their success over the last two seasons.
Looking back to 2014, the Yorkshire squad had eight players who had played for England or went on to play for England in the last two years. The White Rose’s success has been rewarded with national selection for the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, and Gary Balance all of whom have made a name for themselves on the international stage. Indeed, six Yorkshire players featured in the 2015 Ashes victory. It was a true testament of how much the club had moved forward as a team and the players individually. The 2014 team also featured New Zealander Kane Williamson, who has since gone on to captain his country and has been one of the top batsmen in the world over the last two years. Both Joe Root and Kane Williamson have featured in the ICC World Test XI in both 2014 and 2015.
Yorkshire were eventually crowned champions of England in 2014 with a lead of 17 points over Warwickshire who finished second but had won the same number of games as Yorkshire, eight. Adam Lyth finished the campaign as the leading run scorer in the division and went on to open for England in the 2015 Ashes-winning campaign.
The 2015 season, however, was pretty one-sided with Yorkshire running away with it and eventually finishing the year 68 points ahead of second-placed Middlesex.
The campaign showed how the new defending champions were dominant in their trade; their record at home, Headingley, was almost perfect. They won seven of their eight matches there and drawing the other. Warwickshire were the only team to go away with more points than Yorkshire at their headquarters. They ended up with 11 points to the host’s nine in a game that ended as a draw.
The Vikings had not lost a game at Headingley in the season prior to 2015 but had only managed to win half of their games and drawing the rest. It changed in 2015 with the team producing some outstanding performances, notably the one in May in which saw them thump Hampshire by 305 runs. Thanks in part to one of their new international recruits, Cheteshwar Pujara. The Indian batsman had joined the team in 2015 and was part of their squad in the longer formats. Another notable international addition to the squad was the ex-Pakistani skipper Younis Khan who featured during the months of April and May.
Yorkshire begin this season as firm favourites, and some are even tipping them to win the domestic treble. But their captain Andrew Gale knows the task in hand will not be easy, and with so many of their regulars now part of the England squad the captain has backed the youngsters in the team to deliver the goods.
The 32-year-old is not worried about the lack of signings this season, though, with David Willey, the left arm England international the only new recruit. The club have also just retained the services of Kane Williamson for just two months, June and July. The only other international signed this season is Travis Head, the Australian will spend three months with the club from July to September.
"It just says panic stations, really, at this time of the year to go out and sign players," Gale told in one of his interviews with George Dobell for ESPNcricinfo.
"It's not something we want to do at Yorkshire. We back our own players. We put a lot of time and effort into our academy and we have a history of bringing players right though from grassroots to Test cricket and that's the route we will continue to go down.
"We missed six players at the start of last season but we don't see that as a negative. We embrace that. It creates an opportunity for someone else to come into the side. Lads see that opportunity and want to grasp it.
"We think the togetherness of the team and going out with as many Yorkshire men as we can give us an edge. There is a massive togetherness in that dressing room when players see the likes of Matthew Fisher and Will Rhodes grasp that opportunity. It creates a confidence in the young players that they could be the next cab off the rank. We want to continue to do that."
With the likes of Surrey and Lancashire coming up and sides like Warwickshire who are always there or thereabouts in the fight for the top spot, the odds of this season’s title charge being a one horse race are pretty slim, so it promises to be an exciting one.
"We're confident and positive," Gale added. "But we can take nothing for granted. We've won two Championships, but that counts for nothing at the start of the season. But if we win three championships in a row, we'll go down with the legends of Yorkshire cricket."
Writing their names in Yorkshire cricket folklore is a pretty good incentive for the team to go on to fight for the top spot again this season, will they do it? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Written by Benny Singarajan - Follow him @mis4nthrope
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