The cricket season starts here – Alec Swann’s preview

Northants v Middlesex pre-season friendly, County Ground, Wantage Road, Northampton.
Northants v Middlesex pre-season friendly, County Ground, Wantage Road, Northampton.
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The 2013 cricket season got under way this morning with the first round of County Championship matches.

Here our cricket correspondent Alec Swann gives his thoughts on the relative merits of each sides chances in the months to come.

Yorkshire

Back in the top flight after a one season absence, the Tykes are going in the right direction. They have the side to do well in everything and a one-day title isn’t out of the question. They won’t win the Championship but they won’t struggle to stay up either. Don’t rule out a bit of strengthening in the batting department.

Championship 5th (Div One), YB40 winners, FLt20 quarters.

Durham

Paul Collingwood’s ascension to the captaincy midway through last season brought about a significant improvement in their fortunes. And for that reason they should be challenging at the top again. If they start strongly they could be difficult to stop and England will largely leave them alone.

Championship 2nd (Div One), YB40 group, FLt20 quarters.

Nottinghamshire

Were in a good position at one stage last year before they faltered in the second half of the season. A strong squad, even without their international players and with no-one off to the IPL, is capable of competing in all three competitions and it is the Championship where they will really fancy their chances.

Championship 1st (Div One), YB40 group, FLt20 runners-up.

Surrey

Should really be one of the domestic game’s heavyweights and the coup in signing both Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting shows they intend to return to those heights. I can’t see them having enough to finish on top but they will give it a good go and will be worth a punt in the limited overs formats.

Championship 4th (Div One), YB40 runners-up, FLt20 quarters.

Derbyshire

Winning Division Two was a fantastic achievement and to stay in the top flight has to be the limit of their ambitions. But they simply don’t have the strength in depth to prosper, despite the superb signing that is Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and a place in the bottom two beckons.

Championship 9th (Div One), YB40 group, Flt20 group.

Somerset

They come close often enough and this year will be when Marcus Trescothick’s side finally deliver. I can’t see the Championship being their route to silverware but they will always fancy their chances in the white ball formats given the powerful batting line-up at their disposal.

Championship 5th (Div One), YB40 semi-finals, FLt20 winners

Sussex

The seasiders will be more of a force in the one-day game but will occupy mid-table safety in the four-day game. They have the bowling attack to win games, especially if Monty Panesar isn’t required by England, but they are a solid rather than spectacular outfit.

Championship 6th (Div One), YB40 group, Flt20 semi-finals.

Middlesex

They did pretty well last year given that they had just come up but it won’t be the same this time around. The Londoners have good players at their disposal and gained a jump on their rivals with the signing of James Harris, but there are better equipped sides in the top flight.

Championship 8th (Div One), YB40 group, Flt20 group.

Warwickshire

Can they defend the title they won in some style last time out? A well-balanced and well-led side will be in the mix again but they could come up just short. Ashley Giles’ replacement as coach - Dougie Brown - will have plenty to work with and they will definitely be competitive across the board.

Championship 3rd (Div One), YB40 semi-finals, Flt20 quarters.

Worcestershire

They did well to stay in the first division for a couple of years but is difficult to see how they will bounce back at the first attempt. Strength in depth is not a New Road specialty, losing Vicram Solanki wasn’t ideal, and a middling season is ahead.

Championship 5th (Div Two), YB40 group, FLt20 group.

Leicestershire

The Foxes’ modus operandi these days seems to be providing players for other counties. A squad without much in the way of depth is set for five months of struggle and their results will reflect that fact. Those who are there will get the opportunity to shine and Niall O’Brien might just have a point to prove when he faces his former employers.

Championship 9th (Div Two), YB40 group, Flt20 group.

Lancashire

Just like their White Rose neighbours last year, they will wonder just how they managed to be in the second tier. But they are and a demanding following will expect them to bounce straight back, and this reporter does to. Like Durham, they won’t provide many for the international arena which will be a benefit.

Championship 1st (Div One), YB40 group, FLt20 quarters.

Hampshire

They will have been disappointed not to secure promotion last time out and expect that to be rectified this time around. Usually one of the teams to beat in one-day cricket and that won’t change. Their off-field activities point at a top division club and sooner rather than later that’s where they’ll expect to be residing.

Championship 2nd (Div Two), YB40 group, Flt20 group.

Northamptonshire

They can’t (surely) do as poorly as last year and stronger bowling attack promises some improvement. A few limited overs victories and a decent four-day campaign would qualify as a successful year but the bookies have them at long odds for a good reason.

Championship 6th (Div Two), YB40 group, FLt20 group.

Essex

A very consistent 20-over outfit - the acquisition of Shaun Tait certainly won’t hurt - it is time that Essex showed what they are made of in the four-day arena. They should be capable of pushing for promotion but the IPL dollar, and the absence of Owais Shah, could hamper them in the early stages of the campaign.

Championship 4th (Div Two), YB40 group, Flt20 semi-finals.

Kent

2012 was a vast improvement on 2011 as some shrewd recruitment paid dividends. They now need their younger players to consistently supplement the more experienced brigade and they will run the top two places in the Championship close.

Championship 3rd (Div Two), YB40 group, Flt20 group.

Gloucestershire

They have has good news with the development of their ground being given the go-ahead but don’t expect them to be challenging for silverware on the field. Coach John Bracewell demands they are competitive but a lack of consistency throughout the side, especially with the bat, will prove costly.

Championship 8th (Div Two), YB40 group, Flt20 group.

Glamorgan

Shenanigans away from the pitch occupy too much time in Cardiff for a club who need to improve dramatically. The Twenty20 might be their trump card - Dirk Nannes is a good buy - but it is hard to see how they will cause significant ripples in the four-day arena.

Championship 7th (Div Two), YB40 group, Flt20 group.

ODDS

CHAMPIONSHIP (Division One): Warwickshire 4/1, Nottinghamshire 5/1, Somerset 5/1, Durham 6/1, Surrey 6/1, Yorkshire 8/1, Sussex 8/1, Middlesex 8/1, Derbyshire 20/1.

(Division Two): Lancashire 11/4, Kent 4/1, Hampshire 4/1, Essex 6/1, Worcestershire 6/1, Glamorgan 14/1, Leicestershire 16/1, Northamptonshire 16/1, Gloucestershire 16/1.

YB40 (Group A): Sussex 8/1, Nottinghamshire 10/1, Warwickshire 10/1, Kent 16/1, Northamptonshire 28/1, Worcestershire 33/1, Holland 100/1.

(Group B): Surrey 9/1, Hampshire 12/1, Essex 14/1, Durham 14/1, Lancashire 16/1, Derbyshire 40/1, Scotland 500/1.

(Group C): Somerset 5/1, Yorkshire 10/1, Middlesex 10/1, Leicestershire 28/1, Glamorgan 40/1, Gloucestershire 40/1, Unicorns 500/1.

TWENTY20 (North Group): Nottinghamshire 7/1, Yorkshire 10/1, Lancashire 11/1, Durham 20/1, Derbyshire 28/1, Leicestershire 28/1.

(South Group): Surrey 7/1, Sussex 7/1, Hampshire 10/1, Kent 16/1, Essex 16/1, Middlesex 25/1.

(Mid/West/Wales Group): Somerset 4/1, Warwickshire 14/1, Gloucestershire 20/1, Northamptonshire 20/1, Glamorgan 28/1, Worcestershire 33/1.

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