One aim unites all
Our second of a three-part Championship special sees our experts look at division two.
Last Updated: 06/04/10 1:51pm
Bigger, sharper, brighter - the message is clear: cricket has never been better on Sky Sports!
skysports.com's experts will be here throughout the season to give you the low down on what should be a cracking summer of coverage, featuring matches in High Definition.
They'll have their work cut out, though, because as well as showing all of England's home Tests, one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches Sky Sports will broadcast at least 69 county cricket fixtures live - our biggest summer yet!
Throw in the World Twenty20, England's one-day international series against Australia and Pakistan's 'home' series against Australia and it should be a scorcher.
But first things first! As a new English domestic season dawns, skysports.com caught up with Nasser Hussain, Bob Willis, David 'Bumble' Lloyd, Nick Knight and Paul Allott to get their thoughts on the season ahead.
In the second of our three-part Championship special, we get their thoughts on how the second division of the County Championship will unfold...
Got it Sussed
skysports.com: More wins were recorded in the second division than first last season. Who do you think will be the most competitive and come out on top this time around?
Bumble: It's got to be Sussex for me. I think they are in a false position after coming down last season. They've got a squad packed full of decent players and they're young enough too. The batting order looks strong and healthy with Mike Yardy, Murray Goodwin and Ed Joyce forming a strong spine, while the arrival of James Anyon should help compensate for the loss of Jason Lewry. My money's on them to bounce straight back.
Nick: Spot on Bumble. Relegation was surely only a temporary blip for Sussex and I too can see them going straight back up. They'll miss Yardy and Luke Wright should England do well in the World Twenty20, but Mark Robinson has put together a hard-working side. Throw Chris Nash into the mix too and they should have enough firepower to make up for a rather run-of-the-mill attack.
Bob: I can see Gloucestershire challenging Sussex, although I've gone for those two by a process of elimination because I can't really see the other sides doing much! John Bracewell has got rid of some old soaks and has also had his Gloucestershire squad back early. He has been labelled as a one-day coach but I think he's going to put some more energy into Gloucestershire's four-day cricket. Jon Batty could find himself a busy man if Jon Lewis and Steve Kirby produced their best form with the new ball. But will they have enough runs to defend?
Nasser: No-one's mentioned Monty Panesar yet. He's a very good signing for Sussex - for me it's almost a Mushtaq Ahmed-like signing. Hove can turn and he should get wickets down there. The one caveat I'll put on that is that they are using Tiflex balls again in division two and I know he doesn't like them at all. He said it had a tendency to go soft and the seam went and he couldn't get it to grip, so that's going to be a problem for him. Sussex focused a lot on their one-day cricket last season. I think Mark Robinson is a very good coach - I wouldn't be surprised if England are trying to tap him up for the bowling coach role. Sussex are too good a side to stay down. I felt Ed Joyce was a tremendous signing and Murray Goodwin is still churning out the runs; he's been a massive part of Sussex's success over the last decade.
Paul: I agree. I always look at the sides that have just gone down - in this case Sussex and Worcestershire - to see if they can come back and Sussex definitely fit that bill.
skysports.com: Should Sussex rise to the top, who can you see challenging them? Perhaps former Hove hero Chris Adams and his revamped Surrey side could put a spanner in their works?
Nick: Surrey are the side I'm going to be paying most attention to because I'm fascinated to know what's going on there. Chris is starting to put his stamp on the squad; he had a tough first season but there's a new feel to the club now. How is his new captain, Rory Hamilton-Brown, going to get on? Surrey have got the best batsman in the country in Mark Ramprakash but they play on the flattest wicket so someone like Chris Tremlett is going to have to work really hard for his wickets. I can't see them going back up this time - it might be just too early for them. I think they are going to have another year of learning and developing.
Worcestershire have had a rough time of it recently but I wonder if that might just bring the side together somehow. Phil Jaques is on board and Shakib Al Hasan impressed me against England - he seems to have a cracking temperament. If I had to go for anyone to push Sussex I might go for Worcestershire just because their troubles might bring them together as a team and they might produce the goods. Sometimes when things seem to be going against you, you find a little bit extra spirit and fight. Now they'll want to show everyone that they can play and that could make the difference.
Bob: Northants may be hard-pushed to match their third-place finish of last year and I think Middlesex may struggle on flat pitches again, although I will be keen to monitor Steven Finn's progress because I think he's an exceptional talent. Derbyshire probably punched above their weight last season, while Worcestershire haven't got many quality players - Vikram Solanki's holding that squad together with sticky tape - while Glamorgan are perennial strugglers. That leaves Leicestershire and Surrey. It's neither fish nor fowl at Surrey as far as I'm concerned. I'm not happy with some of the imports - Gareth Batty, for example. Wouldn't Surrey be better off investing in a young home-grown spinner? If Chris Tremlett was a race horse he'd have an unreliable squiggle against him in the formbook. He's a talented bowler when he's fit and firing and perhaps a change of environment will do him the world of good. By the process of deduction and because I'm fascinated to see how Matthew Hoggard will captain perhaps I'll go with Leicestershire. They certainly can't do worse than last year!
Nasser: Surrey do concern me. Look at Manchester City in the Premier League last season - you can't just throw a team together and expect to get instant results; it takes time to a squad to gel. Do they have the wicket-takers in their ranks to win on a flat Oval pitch? I'm not so sure. The bottom line, if you are to come up is you have to win games. This has been Essex's issue and why they've relied so heavily on Danish Kaneria. The runs won't be a problem, but wickets? I also fear a bit for Nicky Boje at Northants even though Mal Loye and James Middlebrook are decent acquisitions.Paul: Promotion has to be at the forefront of Surrey's ambition this season given their huge monetary investment in players. Only time will tell. Steven Davies is a great talent but he's been put in the shadows somewhat now by Craig Kieswetter, who is the man of the moment. I'm not sure how good Davies' keeping is standing up but one to definitely keep an eye on as is Hamilton-Brown. I wish him luck because I think he might need it given the paltry number of Championship games he's played!
skysports.com: Surrey won just one game last year - which at least was one better than Worcestershire, who now join them in this division. Who will struggle this season?
Bumble: It's a sad tale at Worcestershire; so many players have jumped ship that it's going to be difficult to replace them all. Shakib Al Hasan is a good cricketer but he's going to miss one hell of a lot of the season. He'll play against England so won't be around until July so in that sense it's another fictitious signing up until then!
Paul: Worcestershire have been decimated. I hope they do okay but I wouldn't be surprised if they finish right down the bottom. Stephen Moore, Steven Davies, Kabir Ali, Gareth Batty - you don't replace that type of player easily.
Nick: Leicestershire are an interesting one. They've got a real mix of experience and some really talented young players. The departure of Boeta Dippenaar and HD Ackerman will hurt them but I really hope they put some results together.
Nasser: This is a tough one to call. I certainly want to wish Matthew Hoggard well. Hoggie's a good lad. He's done well for the variety of captains he's played under, whether it was myself, Michael Vaughan or whoever. I do wish him well but I think Leicestershire are going to have a difficult season even though they have plenty of talent. That said they've got some talented young players in their ranks. I'm looking for lads like James Taylor - the PCA's Young Player of the Year - to prove they aren't just capable of one-off seasons.
Bob: I couldn't agree more. By off-loading the South African duo some of their young cricketers should get more of a chance. Matthew Hoggard may have one more decent season of bowling in him and he'll certainly be a one-off as a captain. Who knows, that might be quite refreshing.
HD Player to watch
skysports.com: It sounds like it could be a cracking scrap this season. Is there any player you'd pay your hard earned money to watch?
Bumble: After his stellar season last year, I'll be following the progress of Leicetershire's James Taylor (pictured, above left, with Darren Gough) very closely. He could score plenty. I'm also expecting Steven Finn to fly through the season after earning his first England Test caps in Bangladesh. He should be a real menace at this level.
Nick: There's a decent crop of emerging talent to watch across both divisions. I'll pluck one name out of that group and say Will Beer at Sussex. His leg-spin really impressed me on Twenty20 finals day and he - like Somerset's Max Waller - could really blossom this season. Watching him bowl in tandem with Monty Panesar should be a real treat.
Bob: I'm a big fan of Rory Hamilton-Brown - I think installing him as captain is a brave move and it would be good to see him fare well. Mark Ramprakash's state of mind is going to be fascinating - I'm not sure he's at one with the Grizzly Adams regime. Whether Chris sees himself as a non-playing captain and Rory as his lieutenant I'm not sure. I hope Rory does things his way on the field but he certainly has plenty on his plate.
Paul: Continuing the Surrey theme, how about Stuart Meaker? He's a young, fast bowler with plenty of promise and potential. I really hope he isn't hampered by any more back injuries because I'd like to see him get a good run of games.
Watch out for the next instalment in our preview series when our experts will reveal who they think will be crowned County Champions...!
Don't forget - this season matches will be screened live online via Sky Player, which is available via skysports.com, plus Sky Mobile TV which is available on selected 3G networks.