In the last of a three-part Championship special our experts ponder who can stop Will Smith's side.
Last Updated: 08/04/10 11:38am
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 a 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 last of our three-part Championship special, we asked them for their first division predictions...
skysports.com: Yorkshire were the last side to win three Championship titles back-to-back, in 1968. Is there any reason why Durham can't add to their successes of 2008 and 2009?
Bumble: Durham are nailed-on winners. They are absolutely nailed on. Do yourself a favour and make some money by backing them. Their attack should win them plenty of games plus they've got a good captain in Will Smith and a fantastic coach in Geoff Cook! He's got them very well-organised and the addition of Ian Blackwell last year was a great all-round signing. I think they've just got too much for everybody!
Bob: I agree with Bumble. It's difficult to put a case for anyone but Durham simply because of the strength of their squad in seam bowling. Steve Harmison, Callum Thorp, Liam Plunkett - I could go on. It's an embarrassment of riches! Hampshire have worked hard to improve their squad yet they may still be a little light in seam bowling as the Rose Bowl pitch is a bit flatter these days.
Nick: I've fancied Notts over the last couple of years as an alternative to Durham but I'm not sure I'm going to go with them again this season. If Ryan Sidebottom can resolve his fitness issues he will push for an England spot but might have to stay on the fringes. That could work in Mick Newell's favour given Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann will be missing for much of the summer. Hashim Amla and David Hussey should weigh in with plenty of runs but Mark Ealham's retirement leaves a big hole. He filled up a lot of overs with his experience and nous and added solidity to the middle order as well.
Nasser: For me it's as much about the players each county has lost as much as the players they have. As Nick says, Notts will be without Swann and Broad for most competitions whereas Durham's squad is going to be there nearly all of the time and is crammed full of fantastic players. They've also got a pitch that can do something - it nibbles around early-season and also turns a little bit so you can get results at the Riverside. Liam Plunkett has slipped below Tim Bresnan a little bit in the England pecking order so he could be around more and Michael Di Venuto heads what once again looks like a strong batting line-up.
Paul: It is possible to put a case for another side other than Durham because they will be affected by Test calls and, like any team, who knows what injuries they might sustain. But after seeing how they've started the season in Abu Dhabi against the MCC I honestly can't see anybody challenging them.
skysports.com: The destiny of the title sounds a done deal! Which team might step in, though, if things don't go to plan for Durham?
Nasser: Notts look in good shape to me and in Hashim Amla they've got a very fine player - for the first part of the season at least! In the time he's around I'm sure he'll have a massive impact because he's got to be one of the form players of world cricket of the last two or three years. Amla's also the right type of guy to have around. I think he'll work hard with the younger players and churn out big runs - watch out for those double hundreds. I also like Kent; they are well led by Rob Key (pictured, above with Amjad Khan) and with the likes of Martin van Jaarsveld and Geraint Jones in their ranks have a strong, deep batting line-up. If Yorkshire can keep the politics of the place, they are more than capable of getting results at home.
Bumble: Nasser's right. Kent could definitely have a dash because they should never have gone down in the first place! Paul Farbrace has got them set up well and I'm sure they'll be competitive and eager to prove the doubters wrong. Yorkshire have plenty to prove after giving the captaincy to Andrew Gale. I'm not inside that club but from the outside it always seems that politics hold them back. Everybody's having their two penneth. I hope people just let Martin Moxon get on with it. Gale's a good player and it all comes down to what sort of response he gets from the players around him. I've always had an affection for Yorkshire and want them to do well.
Bob: Hampshire and Lancashire join Durham in my top three, although it remains to be seen how the injury to Dimitri Mascarenhas will affect the Rose Bowl outfit. Ajantha Mendis has gone slightly gone off the boil - sides seem to be a little bit more used to him now - but having lost Imran Tahir to Warwickshire they do need a top-class spinner. Of all the counties I think they've got the best young cricketers - their U19 representatives are probably the best and strongest - so I hope they make their presence felt. Liam Dawson is an interesting cricketer and Kabir Ali is a very capable county seamer who will probably be more reliable than Chris Tremlett. One hopes Simon Jones has better luck at Hampshire than he did at Worcestershire. It's a gamble and I'm glad Hampshire have taken it but I'm not sure we are going to see the 2005 version ever again. If he does go on the park he is a lethal weapon.
Nick: Somerset have the best batting wicket in the country so, by definition, they are going to find it the hardest to get positive results. I can't see them winning the Championship on that surface unless Murali Kartik has a sensational season but they are unquestionably all the better for having Marcus Trescothick fit, firing and focused in his new role. He brings plenty of skill and experience to proceedings and I wouldn't be surprised to see them pushing hard to improve on last season's third-placed finish despite the departure of Justin Langer.Paul: I expect Hampshire to be pretty strong and could be Durham's nearest rivals because they've also got a strong squad. I'd like to say Lancashire could challenge but I'm not sure they will. They have signed opener Stephen Moore from Worcestershire and Daren Powell, who they have acquired as a Kolpak player, but they've lost Francois du Plessis, who looked as though he was going to breakthrough round about now. James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff probably won't play for differing reasons and at 36 Glenn Chapple isn't getting any younger. It's not as though Lancashire haven't had ample opportunity to recruit players and bolster their squad but I don't think it ranks with the top sides. I don't know if it's financial. You'd expect Lancashire to be right at the front of the queue when the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Adam Gilchrist are being mentioned but that's not the case at present.
skysports.com: There seems to be plenty of competition at the top of the table. Will the battle to avoid the drop be as close-fought?
Paul: Despite what I've just said I'd like to think Lancashire won't be involved in the scrap to avoid relegation. On the basis of what I saw of Essex at the end of last season I'm not convinced they can hold their own at this level unless they improve considerably. I'm expecting it to be a competitive division again this season. I think all counties like this two division system; what they don't like is having to play so many games.
Bumble: Hampshire to me are easy street. When the going gets tough they're off for a cup of tea. I might be totally wrong this season given the quality of some of their signings - Simon Jones and Kabir Ali to name but two - but I'll take some convincing! Lancashire will also struggle because to my mind they are a club that's treading water. They've got some decent players but no star quality until Andrew Flintoff returns! This could be quite a demanding season for them. I hope people let Peter Moores just get on with his job; the same goes for Martin Moxon at Yorkshire.
Nick: I'm convinced Essex will feel the absence of Danish Kaneria (pictured, above) keenly and I also think Lancashire have plenty to prove even though I like Peter Moores as a coach. They had a wonderful start to the season last year and then tailed off, which was worrying to say the least.
Nasser: The big thing for Essex was going up. They are going to have to play a different style of cricket now given that Danish will be away with Pakistan for a large chunk of the season. He's been a phenomenal wicket-taker over the years and a lot of their plans have revolved around bowling him from one end.
Bob: I agree. It's difficult to see Essex's bowling attack getting many good sides out twice so they may struggle. Warwickshire have done well to add Imran Tahir and Varun Chopra, who is a very talented cricketer, to their squad. Chris Woakes is also a handy performer but it depends a lot on what the pitches are like at Edgbaston. If they are batsman-friendly I think Ashley Giles' side will find this season a struggle.
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skysports.com: As ever there are plenty of great cricketers to watch out for - established and up-and-coming. Who will you be looking out for this season in particular?
Bumble: I've never seen them but I've got to mention two Hampshire lads: England U19's James Vince and David Griffiths (pictured above left with Shaun Udal). Dominic Cork tells me that Griffiths, who is a pace bowler, is the business. I'll be keeping my eyes on those two if they manage to force their way into the team. Kent's Sam Northeast is another one with bags of potential who could go well. Yorkshire's Ajmal Shahzad is a lad I expect to really consolidate this year.
Nick: I'm with Bumble on Griffiths - we saw him touch 90mph last year in one of the games we were covering. But he's just one of several I'll be following closely. Right up there is Somerset leg-spinner Max Waller. Kent's Sam Northeast and Alex Blake are another two I'm excited about and then you've got Ben Stokes at Durham, who impressed for England at the U19 World Cup. There's also young Alex Hales at Notts. All of these guys popped up on the radar last year and hopefully they'll continue to develop this season.
Nasser: Like Nick, I'm not so interested in the headline players although I may make an exception for Adam Gilchrist! Is the desire to perform still there? There will be days when he and his ilk light it up but for me the season is about the regular performers, the guys that counties really rely on to put it in day in, day out. Marcus Trescothick and Steve Harmison are right up there for me in that bracket as guys who could, in different circumstances, represent their country.
Bob: Yes, it is going to be fascinating to see how Trescothick goes at Somerset - Justin Langer is a very difficult act to follow. He's able to concentrate solely on performing for his county now and I'm sure he'll continue to progress as a batsman but will the captaincy affect his run-scoring? We'll have to see.
Paul: I'm intrigued to see how Yorkshire's Adil Rashid goes because he should be playing for England. There's Liam Dawson too at Hampshire - his slow left-arm offers variety and he's a good batter too; in short, he's a really good up-and-coming all-rounder.
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.