Durham (Prediction: 5th)
After losing Graham Onions for most of last season, Durham were always going to struggle to retain their County Championship title, and were satisfied with 5th place. But they exceeded expectations by winning the Royal London One Day Cup, and this season they will again be on the hunt for trophies. They have signed no new players, but John Hastings is back for the entire season, and if their seam attack can stay fit, they should have a good year.
Hampshire (Prediction: 7th)
Hampshire won promotion back to Division One after a three-year absence in 2014, largely due to a major improvement in their bowling, which has been a problem in the County Championship in recent years. That attack has been broken up somewhat – Matt Coles has returned to Kent and Kyle Abbott is unlikely to play a part this year – but Jackson Bird, Andre Adams and Fidel Edwards should fill the void. Their batting looks strong too; Will Smith proved an excellent signing last year, and Jimmy Adams, Michael Carberry and James Vince join him in a formidable-looking top order. Once again they should be competitive in the one day competitions, with Yasir Arafat joining from Sussex.
Middlesex (Prediction: 8th)
Middlesex only stayed up by the skin of their teeth last season, and once again they were poor in the limited-overs tournaments. A relatively weak batting line-up has been hit with the loss of Chris Rogers, and his replacement, Adam Voges, will now miss most of the season. But they are looking for another overseas player, and the return of Nick Compton (right) and likely availability of Sam Robson all season will help. But in an extremely competitive division, Middlesex may struggle unless their formidable-looking bowling attack maximises its potential.
Nottinghamshire (Prediction: 1st)
Notts underachieved slightly in 2014, but the signings of Will Gidman, Greg Smith, Brendan Taylor, Vernon Philander and Ben Hilfenhaus mean that they look incredibly strong this season. With James Taylor remaining out of England’s test side, and Alex Hales missing out on the IPL, they should boast a star-packed team for the majority of the season. Championship success will be their main aim, and they will be desperate to end a t20 hoodoo which has seen them lose home quarter-finals in each of the past four seasons.
Somerset (Prediction: 4th)
Somerset had another disappointing season in all competitions under Dave Nosworthy last season, and the management have made major changes over the winter to ensure an improved showing in 2015. Matt Maynard comes in as Director of Cricket, and Steve Snell has taken charge of the academy. The losses of Nick Compton and Alviro Petersen have been tempered by the signings of Jim Allenby and Tom Cooper, while Abdur Rehman returns after struggles to bowl teams out twice resulted in ten draws last season.
Usually so strong in limited over formats, they struggled last year and failed to advance in either tournament. The likely loss of Craig Kieswetter for the entire season could mean another struggle, but Sohail Tanvir, Corey Anderson and Chris Gayle will strengthen the t20 line-up.
Fans will hope that Jamie Overton comes back with a vengeance after a tough 2014, and he could be the difference between success and failure in the County Championship. If Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton continue their good progress, a pace attack that also includes Alfonso Thomas and Tim Groenewald will be formidable. There will also be emphasis on James Hildreth to step up in the batting line-up, while it remains to be seen whether Marcus Trescothick has another 1,000-run season left in him. Such is the competitiveness of Division One this year, it will not be a surprise if Somerset are relegated or are champions.
Sussex (Prediction: 6th)
Sussex had a good season in the County Championship last year, finishing third, but struggled in the limited-overs competitions. Steve Magoffin will lead the bowling attack once again, and they have taken punts on Tymal Mills and Ajmal Shahzad. In such a strong division, the batting may be a cause for concern. Ed Joyce remains quality, and Luke Wright had an excellent 2014, but they need more runs from the rest of the line-up. If Mills and Shahzad are erratic, Sussex could be in danger. Furthermore, it is difficult to see where a limited-overs improvement will come from – they have lost Yasir Arafat and Rory Hamilton-Brown, and their only overseas t20 signing is the evergreen Mahela Jayawardene.
Warwickshire (Prediction: 3rd)
Warwickshire had an excellent 2014, winning the t20 Blast and finishing runners-up in the One-Day Cup. Few changes were made, or even needed, over the winter. Their bowling attack, which includes Chris Woakes, Boyd Rankin, Chris Wright, Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel is as strong as ever, while their batting line-up has a good mix of experience and youth. Talented young batsman Sam Hain is one to watch – another good season for him could result in a Lions call-up. Warwickshire should be Championship title contenders, but the possible absences of Woakes and Jonathan Trott for long periods of the season may mean it is just beyond them.
Worcestershire (Prediction: 9th)
Perennial yo-yo club Worcestershire are back in Division One, and once again they are favourites for relegation. But don’t write them off – if Daryl Mitchell, Jack Shantry and new signing Alex Gidman can make the step-up to this Division, they could be in with a chance of survival. Saeed Ajmal is joining for the latter part of the season, and if they are not too far adrift when he arrives, he could single-handedly keep them up.
Yorkshire (Prediction: 2nd)
Despite the probability of plenty of England call-ups hitting the White Rose this season, they remain one of the bookies’ favourites to take the title. Six of their players are with England in the West Indies, and will miss the early stages, but it is possible that some of those players will be available for the remainder of the season depending on which XI England go with. Even if they are hit by call-ups, they will still be able to call on high quality players in the form of Ryan Sidebottom, Jack Brooks, Tim Bresnan, Alex Lees, Cheteshwar Pujara and Aaron Finch. They have a shot in the t20 format with the acquisition of Glenn Maxwell, and the number of Yorkshire players in recent England Under-19 squads recognises the talents of their younger generation.
Derbyshire (Prediction: 5th)
Derbyshire have cleared out some dead wood in the winter and brought in talented youngster Shiv Thakor along with overseas talent in the form of Martin Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan. They join a resourceful young squad that features Wayne Madsen and 2014’s Championship leading wicket-taker Mark Footitt. They should be in the promotion hunt, while they would also like to make an improvement in the limited-overs formats – they reached the One-Day Cup quarter finals last season but finished rock bottom of the t20 Blast North group.
Essex (Prediction: 1st)
Could this finally be Essex’s year? They just missed out on promotion last season but they have a talented squad that has been stuck in Division Two since 2011. Tymal Mills has moved on, but a bowling attack featuring Graham Napier, David Masters, Reece Topley and Monty Panesar is one of Division Two’s strongest. Batting-wise, Jesse Ryder under-achieved last season but he is now almost completely out of the New Zealand picture and will be hoping for an improved season. Ben Foakes left for Surrey, but Nick Browne is a talented young run-scorer, James Foster is evergreen and Ravi Bopara may be available for longer periods after England’s World Cup disaster. They will also be desperate to win a limited-overs trophy – they are often there or thereabouts, but haven’t been able to get over the line in the past few seasons.
Glamorgan (Prediction: 7th)
Glamorgan look set for another tough season in the County Championship, with Jim Allenby leaving for Somerset and Murray Goodwin retiring. Colin Ingram and James Kettleborough come in to strengthen the batting, but it remains to be seen whether Craig Meschede can significantly improve a bowling attack that relies heavily on Michael Hogan. They have been a much-improved limited-overs side in recent seasons, but Allenby’s loss will hit them hard in those formats too. New captain Jacques Rudolph has a big job on his hands.
Gloucestershire (Prediction: 9th)
With the loss of the Gidman brothers, Gloucestershire may find life tough again this season. With Michael Klinger not arriving till midway through, Geraint Jones will take the reins for the early period after moving to the club for one last hurrah. But he has a difficult job – the batting line-up will rely heavily on youngsters Will Tavaré and Gareth Roderick, and the loss of Will Gidman will hit the bowling attack hard. Talented Australian batsman Peter Handscomb will be available for parts of the season (dependent on international call-ups) and could revive their t20 side.
Kent (Prediction: 4th)
Jimmy Adams’ side rarely looked like escaping Division Two last season, although there was an appearance in the One-Day Cup semi-final to savour. But the squad has a strong look to it, featuring talented youngsters such as Sam Billings, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Adam Riley, and plenty of experience in the form of Rob Key, Darren Stevens and Brendan Nash. Joe Denly and Matt Coles also return to the club, so it will be a surprise if Kent are not in the promotion race this year.
Lancashire (Prediction: 3rd)
Lancashire finished as runners-up in last season’s t20 Blast, but fell out of Division One once again. Ashley Giles has arrived as head coach, and recruited cleverly in the winter – Nathan Buck and George Edwards are talented young bowlers, while they will have one of Peter Siddle and James Faulkner available for the majority of the season. Alviro Petersen strengthens a batting line-up that is already proven in Division Two, so if the young bowling attack fires, they could be making their Division One return sooner rather than later.
Leicestershire (Prediction: 8th)
A second consecutive wooden spoon last season has led to major changes at Leicestershire. Some of their best talent – Josh Cobb, Greg Smith, Shiv Thakor and Nathan Buck – have moved on, while chief executive Mike Siddall and director of cricket Phil Whitticase have also left. Wasim Khan is now in charge of the county, while former overseas player Andrew McDonald is head coach. Mark Cosgrove has arrived as club captain, and Clint McKay looks a shrewd signing to strengthen the bowling. But despite this and the batting talents of Angus Robson and Ned Eckersley, it may be a few seasons before they can seriously challenge for promotion. They often punch above their weight in t20, and the signings of Grant Elliott and Kevin O’Brien will help them in that regard.
Northamptonshire (Prediction: 6th)
Northamptonshire had a dismal 2014 after an incredible 2013, and recriminations were felt in the playing staff after a winter clear-out. This mainly involved the moving-on of older players, with Josh Cobb and Adam Rossington signed to replace them. Richard Levi will be available all season after agreeing a Kolpak deal, Rory Kleinveldt is too and Shahid Afridi joins for six t20 matches. David Willey is a key player in all formats, especially in limited-overs where Northants have a good chance with the squad they have. But an immediate return to Division One is likely beyond them – other counties look stronger and their young side may not have enough to overhaul them.
Surrey (Prediction: 2nd)
With Kumar Sangakkara signed and Kevin Pietersen available from the outset, Surrey have one of Division Two’s strongest squads and should be right in the promotion hunt. With Ben Foakes joining too, they will be forced to leave out one or two talented batsmen from their XI. It is the bowling that needs improvement – a talented attack featuring Stuart Meaker, Chris Tremlett and Jade Dernbach under-achieved last season. If they maximise their potential this time, the other counties will do well to stop Surrey from returning to Division One. They should be a force in the shorter formats too, especially if Jason Roy can carry on where he left off last season.
Royal London One-Day Cup
The best four-day sides are often the best one-day sides, and holders Durham, Notts, Yorkshire and Warwickshire are the obvious choices for taking the title. Essex are often in the mix for this competition, while Surrey should be too, despite their curious failure in last year’s tournament.
Natwest t20 Blast
T20 in England is always unpredictable, and once again 2015 will probably feature one or two counties who punch above their weight. Hampshire, Surrey, Essex and Notts look strong once again, while Northants look good for repeating their 2013 heroics. Holders Warwickshire have a similar squad to last year, and it would be foolish to write them off. Somerset will have Chris Gayle available if they advance to the knockouts, and he could single-handedly win them the tournament.
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