Division Two preview
Joe Drabble gives your a guide on Division Two of the LV= County Championship ahead of the start of the new domestic season
By Joe Drabble. Last Updated: April 3, 2012 8:10am
The sun is shining and now the heat is on to win promotion to Division One of the LV= County Championship - let battle commence!
With only the top two going up the competition is set to be fierce, particularly with big guns Hampshire and Yorkshire dropping down from the top flight.
Armchair fans are in for a treat with Sky Sports showing 65 live matches across all three competitions. Each county will be shown a minimum of three times - click here for further details.
Ahead of the opening round on Thursday, we have put together a county-by-county guide and picked out a key player for each team.
Captain: Wayne Madsen
Head coach: Karl Krikken
Overseas: Martin Guptill (New Zealand, first half of season), Usman Khawaja (Australia, second half of season), Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (Pakistan, for t20)
Ins: David Wainwright (Yorkshire)
Outs: Steffan Jones, Luke Sutton (both retired), Greg Smith (Essex)
After a steady if unspectacular 2011 campaign, Derbyshire will be quietly confident of mounting a promotion push following a shrewd winter of business.
Staying afloat was the club's primary concern this time 12 months ago but a profitable season in terms of finances has lifted spirits and allowed them to tie up two high-quality overseas additions for this summer.
New Zealand opening batsman Martin Guptill and Australia left-hander Usman Khawaja will return to the County Ground after encouraging stints last term.
Two notable absentees from the home changing room this summer will be captain Luke Sutton (retired) and all-rounder Greg Smith, who has swapped Derbyshire for Division Two rivals Essex after three productive seasons in the East Midlands. Wayne Madsen has assumed captaincy duties.
Coach Karl Krikken, in charge for his first full season after taking over from John Morris last June, will hope the spin bowling void will be filled by David Wainwright after swooping for the former Yorkshire slow left-armer.
Experienced campaigner Rana Naved will represent the county during this season's Twenty20 Cup, a competition which has seen the Falcons progress from the group stages only once since its inauguration in 2003.
Key player: Wayne Madsen - The newly-appointed Derbyshire captain faces a tough test in his first season at the helm. The South African batsman, who has scored 2,476 first-class runs for the club at 35.88, will have to juggle his role at the top of the order alongside skippering a relatively inexperienced squad. The arrivals of Guptill and Khawaja will certainly help, though.
Captain: James Foster
Head coach: Paul Grayson
Overseas: Alviro Petersen (South Africa, first half of season), Peter Siddle (Australia, for t20)
Ins: Greg Smith (Derbyshire), Charl Willoughby (Somerset)
Outs: Chris Wright (Warwickshire), Max Osborne (released)
Not one Eagle managed to make it past 1,000 first-class runs in 2011, though star turn Ravi Bopara only played in 11 matches due to international commitments and dashing Dutchman Ryan ten Doeschate had an injury-hit start to his summer.
As for the bowling, well one man completely dominated. No one in the country took more wickets than the 93 scalps managed by David Masters, including astonishing figures of 8-10 against former county Leicestershire.
Teenage left-armer Reece Topley also showed promise, but the spin cupboard has been left bare since Danish Kaneria is no longer around. They will be hoping leggie Tom Craddock - a mid-season recruit after doing well for the Unicorns - could be the long-term answer.
Crucially, though, Essex did take the chance last season to blood some of their promising youngsters, with Topley being joined in the first team by the likes of all-rounder Michael Comber, fellow paceman Tymal Mills and wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Wheater.
In the winter they have added some experience to their ranks - Greg Smith is a solid all-rounder (because Essex are short of those) who arrives from Derbyshire and former Somerset seamer Charl Willoughby could form a lethal new-ball pairing with Masters.
But with runs required, Alviro Petersen has been signed as the overseas pro to bolster the batting line-up. The right-hander knows Division Two from his time with Glamorgan last summer and will be keen to make hay before teaming up with South Africa in June.
Key player: Graham Napier - A back injury wiped out his 2011 season, so the 32-year-old will be eager to make up for lost time. While he's still best known for his batting exploits in Twenty20 cricket, Essex need him to fire with the ball. If he does, Napier, Masters and Willoughby could prove to be a lethal combination for batting line-ups in the second tier.
Captain: Mark Wallace
Coach: Matthew Mott
Overseas: Moises Henriques (Australia, opening weeks of season), Marcus North (Australia, from late April/early May)
Ins: Simon Jones (Hampshire), Michael Hogan (Western Australia, on UK passport)
Outs: Mike Powell (Kent), Adam Shantry, David Brown (both retired)
It has been another winter of change for Glamorgan, who will be led throughout 2012 by a third different captain in three seasons - Mark Wallace.
The Glamorgan gloveman, who made his debut for the club back in 1999, has been handed the reins after South Africa opening batsman Alviro Petersen rejected an offer to return to Wales, instead joining Essex for the early part of the season before the Proteas' series in England.
Wallace and head coach Matthew Mott will acknowledge that a promotion challenge may well be beyond their reach given the quality of some of their Division Two rivals, however there were signs last summer that a top-two finish may not be completely out of the question.
Petersen was one of three Glamorgan players to pass 1,000 runs in the four-day campaign but it was in the limited-overs competitions where the powerful right-hander really made his mark and his absence at the top of the order will certainly be felt.
Australian coach Mott has acted by recruiting compatriots Moises Henriques and Marcus North as overseas cover, while Western Australian pace bowler Michael Hogan, who holds a British passport, could prove a shrewd piece of business after he penned a three-year deal.
Hogan and the returning Simon Jones will spearhead a bowling attack of which no player took 50 wickets last summer. Veteran spin twins Dean Cosker and Robert Croft will once again have a big part to play in what is the latter's testimonial year.
Captain: Alex Gidman
Director of cricket: John Bracewell
Overseas: Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka, for t20)
Ins: Dan Housego (Middlesex)
Outs: Jon Lewis (Surrey), Vikram Banerjee, Chris Taylor (both released)
For the first time in 17 years, Gloucestershire will start the domestic season without one of the most potent seam bowlers on the county circuit - Jon Lewis.
Former England seamer Lewis has swapped Bristol for The Oval as he attempts to challenge himself in Division One with Surrey and the Gladiators will face a real battle without him.
Lewis once again finished as the club's leading wicket-taker in first-class cricket last summer with 65 scalps - 14 more than Will Gidman, who took 2011 by storm, becoming the first player since Phil Simmons in 1996 to claim 50 wickets and surpass 1,000 runs.
It would be asking a lot to expect Gidman to repeat those heroics this term, however he may well have to due to a significant lack of transfer activity during a close season which has seen the club's hopes of developing their Nevil Road ground quashed.
A failure to have those plans approved has also resulted in Chris Taylor's controversial exit from a club he served for 12 seasons. Taylor, who finished as Gloucestershire's leading run-scorer with 1,139 runs in 2011, is claiming unfair dismissal after his new deal was dependant on improvements made to the ground.
Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan returns as the club's marquee signing for the Friends Life t20, while batsman Dan Housego arrives from Middlesex in search of regular first-team cricket.
Key man: Will Gidman - After a stunning 2011 season, Gloucestershire will be hoping for more of the same from former the ex-Durham all-rounder. Gidman, the younger brother of captain Alex, racked up the runs and wickets for the West Country club and the absence of paceman Lewis and batsmen Taylor and Hamish Marshall means there will be extra responsibility on his shoulders.
Captain: Jimmy Adams
Team manager: Giles White
Overseas: Simon Katich (Australia), Shahid Afridi (Pakistan, for t20)
Outs: Michael Lumb (Nottinghamshire), Simon Jones (Glamorgan), Dominic Cork (retired), Nic Pothas, Friedel de Wet, Johann Myburgh, Jamie Miller, Benny Howell, Tim Ravenscroft (all released)
Pre-season favourites Hampshire are strongly tipped for an instant return to Division One, and after a quick look at their squad it is easy to see why.
The Royals' first-class season never really got going last summer and a failure to win any of their first nine fixtures meant relegation looked a certainty before the Friends Life t20 campaign got under way in June.
Now retired Dominic Cork led the side to Finals Day on home soil, but there was to be no fairytale ending for the former England seamer as Somerset edged the semi-final on a 'Super Over' eliminator.
Attention at the newly-named Ageas Bowl now turns to the future, with younger players James Vince, Danny Briggs, Liam Dawson, Matthew Bates and Chris Wood all tipped for big things.
The mixture of youth and experience at Hampshire certainly looks a winning combination on paper, with captain Jimmy Adams, Michael Carberry and foreign import Simon Katich all expected to register big runs in Division Two.
Another left-hander, Michael Lumb, has opted for another crack at top-flight cricket after moving to Nottinghamshire, while veteran wicketkeeper Nic Pothas has been released after nine years' service. Pace bowler Simon Jones has returned to his native Wales with Glamorgan.
Key player: Michael Carberry - After overcoming a life-threatening illness last year, Carberry will be hoping his health worries are a thing of the past as he eyes a potential return to the England set-up. The left-hander, who played one Test against Bangladesh in March 2010, developed a blood clot on his lungs but remarkably returned for nine matches in which he scored 793 runs and a triple hundred. Bowling attacks beware!
Captain: Rob Key
Head coach: Jimmy Adams
Overseas: Brendan Nash (West Indies)
Ins: Charlie Shreck (Nottinghamshire), Mike Powell (Glamorgan), Ben Harmison, Mark Davies (both Durham), Scott Newman (Middlesex, loan)
Outs: Joe Denly (Middlesex), Robbie Joseph (Leicestershire), Martin van Jaarsveld, James Goodman (both retired)
After winning just five of their 16 County Championship fixtures to finish second bottom of Division Two in 2011, Kent have replaced coach Paul Farbrace and made no less than eight new additions to their squad.
Former West Indies batsman Jimmy Adams has been tasked with improving the fortunes at Canterbury as head coach, while Farbrace has joined league rivals Yorkshire as second-team coach.
Run-scoring this term could be a serious concern for coach Adams, who no longer has the services of Joe Denly, the only player to pass 1,000 first-class runs in 2011, to call upon following his winter move to Middlesex.
Adams has acted by snapping up Australia-born West Indies international Brendan Nash for the entire season, an acquisition he and Kent supporters will hope adds extra steel to a middle-order which no longer features Martin van Jaarsveld, after the right-hander opted to return to his homeland to see out the remainder of his career.
Scott Newman will open the batting with Rob Key in Denly's absence after agreeing a short-term deal, while Michael Powell and Ben Harmison will also look to impress after opting for a change of scenery this summer.
Kent's pace attack does, however, look much-improved, with swing specialists Charlie Shreck and Mark Davies arriving from Nottinghamshire and Durham respectively. Robbie Joseph has left the club.
Key player: Darren Stevens - Much of Kent's silverware hopes will once again rest on the broad shoulders of veteran all-rounder Stevens, who continues to flourish in all forms despite his advancing years. The 35-year-old remains one of the most destructive Twenty20 batsmen on the circuit and he is a consistent operator with both bat and ball in the longer form. He'll need some support, though.
Captain: Matthew Hoggard
Head coach: Phil Whitticase
Overseas: Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies), Abdul Razzaq (Pakistan, for t20)
Ins: Robbie Joseph (Kent)
Outs: Harry Gurney, James Taylor (both Nottinghamshire), Paul Nixon (retired), Tom New (released)
It was a case of the sublime and the ridiculous for Leicestershire in 2011 as they scooped the Friends Life t20 title for a third time but were also ranked the worst first-class county on the circuit.
The Foxes gave club stalwart Paul Nixon the perfect send off by winning a thrilling T20 final against Somerset at the Ageas Bowl, beating the pre-tournament favourites by 18 runs.
That success helped lift spirits during what was an otherwise forgettable season for the county, who finished 61 points adrift at the bottom of LV= County Championship Division Two with only one win to their name.
While things can indeed only get better in the four-day format, it is difficult to predict how they will after losing star batsman James Taylor and promising pace bowler Harry Guerney to near neighbours Nottinghamshire in the close season.
Experienced West Indies batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan will attempt to plug the sizable gap left by Taylor after signing a permanent deal, while Pakistan all-rounder Abdul Razzaq returns to Grace Road to help the club's T20 title defence.
With wicketkeepers Nixon and Tom New (released) no longer at the club there will be plenty of pressure on highly-rated, yet inexperienced, gloveman Ned Eckersley. Injury-troubled quick bowler Robbie Joseph arrives as the club's only seam bowling addition.
Key player: Ramnaresh Sarwan - While Leicestershire fans will undoubtedly be saddened by Taylor's departure to Notts, their pain will be eased if classy Guyanan right-hander Sarwan can rack up the runs this summer. The 31-year-old, who averages over 40 in Tests and one-day internationals, will be keen to play his way into form after not representing West Indies since July.
Captain: Andrew Hall
Head coach: David Capel
Overseas: Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka)
Ins: Kyle Coetzer (Durham), Con de Lange (Blackpool, on British passport)
Outs: David Lucas (Worcestershire), Mal Loye (retired), Tom Brett, Gavin Baker (both released)
Northamptonshire missed out on promotion to the top flight by just a single point last season, a late charge by Surrey meaning they, and not the Steelbacks, accompanied Middlesex into Division One.
Their success last summer was built around solid all-round contributions with bat and ball, though in the end they paid the price for too many draws, having no fewer than seven of them in total (only Essex had more in the second tier).
However, no batsmen managed to make more than a 1,000 first-class runs, skipper Andrew Hall leading the way with 960. The normally reliable David Sales struggled badly, averaging just 17.80.
Chaminda Vaas proved a shrewd overseas recruit, taking 70 wickets and scoring 403 runs, and the veteran Sri Lankan will be back again at Wantage Road this summer. Lee Daggett and Jack Brooks provided steady support, while off-spinner James Middlebrook contributed with both bat and ball.
Con de Lange has become the latest South African to set up in Northampton, though the spinner does not count as an overseas due to his British passport. Kyle Coetzer has also signed after a steady loan spell in 2011 but the squad has not seen massive changes during the winter months.
Now the question is, can Hall's side can one better than last time out? Again the big area of concern is their batting, while this year the division looks much stronger. It will not be an easy task but they must quickly forget about the near miss of 2011 and move on.
Key player: Andrew Hall - the South African was superb with the bat last summer, scoring two centuries and five 50's to fire his team towards the top of the table. However his bowling suffered, and he will want to contribute in both facets of the game this year. Always a highly-competitive cricketer, Hall will be determined to lead Northamptonshire to glory.
Captain: Andrew Gale
Head coach: Jason Gillespie
Ins: Phil Jaques (New South Wales, on UK passport)
Outs: David Wainwright (Derbyshire), Jacques Rudolph (Surrey), Ben Sanderson, Lee Hodgson (both released)
The White Rose county will be seeking an immediate riposte under their new management team after a woeful 2011 campaign so them slide into the second tier.
Former Australia pace bowler Jason Gillespie has been appointed as Yorkshire's head coach and will work alongside director of cricket Martyn Moxyn as the county look to bounce straight back.
The Tykes, who will be led once again by Andrew Gale, certainly have the quality on paper to take Division Two by storm, with Tim Bresnan, Jonny Bairstow, Anthony McGrath, Ajmal Shahzad, Adil Rashid and Ryan Sidebottom all boasting international experience.
Much of last season's league misery was due to a lack of support for Sidebottom with the ball. The former England left-armer took 63 wickets from 16 matches with Rashid (39) the next on the list. That said, Shahzad carried an ankle injury for most of the campaign and, if he can remain fully fit, will be a handful for batsmen this summer.
Gifted youngster Bairstow surpassed 1,000 runs from only 13 matches - the only Tyke to reach that landmark - while McGrath endured his worst-ever season with a meagre 21 average with the bat.
Gillespie has turned to Australian compatriot Phil Jaques to help bolster a top-order weakened by Jacques Rudolph's decision to join Surrey over the Tykes. Left-arm off-spinner David Wainwright has gone in search of regular first-class cricket at Derbyshire.
Key player: Andrew Gale - The Yorkshire captain will be under more pressure than usual after failing to prevent his side's shock relegation last term. Gale, touted as a potential England Test player in years to come, still averaged over 40 with injury restricting him to only 12 matches, but he will need a sparkling summer if he is to get the members back on side.