Dominic Cork and David Fulton deliver their County Championship verdict
Last Updated: 09/04/13 5:27pm
Dominic Cork and David Fulton are once again ready to bring you the latest Championship scores, stories and breaking news from around England and Wales, on Sky Sports News HD.
Former England all-rounder Cork and former Kent captain Fulton dropped in on skysports.com to deliver their team-by-team verdict on this year's County Championship, which begins on Wednesday, April 10.
Sky Sports will show 60 live fixtures this season - including April's Championship clash between Somerset and defending Warwickshire, who set the standard in 2012...
What's your stand-out memory of the 2012 Championship season?
Corky: It has to be Graham Onions' nine wickets for Durham against Nottinghamshire. He'd just been left out of the Test match at Lord's so he drove up to Trent Bridge and bowled absolutely beautifully with pace and swing, plus he ran out Luke Fletcher for good measure! Even though Durham were never in the running to win the Championship, his 9-67 was a fantastic performance. The team performance came from Warwickshire, who dominated Division One all of the way through with their ability to win games.
David: The new-ball partnership between Chris Wright and Keith Barker was crucial to Warwickshire's success. The previous season Barker wasn't getting the ball off the straight and he looked more like a batsman than a bowler but he suddenly began to hoop the ball and left-handers, in particular, found him a nightmare. He was a real find for Warwickshire but you can't ignore Wright. Their partnership probably happened by accident because of the early-season injury to Chris Woakes but in tandem they formed a pretty formidable partnership and on damp wickets were borderline unplayable at times.
So, are Warwickshire still the team to beat?
David: The defending champions always pick up that mantle but, as we've seen with the 2011 champions Lancashire, if you get off to a poor start the team to beat can very quickly become a team that is desperately trying to avoid relegation. Warwickshire haven't strengthened much so there will be a lot of teams pushing them and they'll have to play well...
Corky on Division One
Warwickshire will be strong again because they have such a big squad. They don't see a lot of Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott because of their England commitments - and they may not see a lot of Woakes this summer either - but they've still got a lot of bases covered. Wright - impressive against the MCC in Abu Dhabi - Barker and Jeetan Patel each took over 50 wickets last season, while Varun Chopra scored prolifically for them. They'll surely be up there again this year but, like Man City in the Premier League, I just wonder if they'll find it too tough to defend their crown.
I worry about Somerset's ability to bowl sides out - particularly at home. They have a good bunch of talented cricketers led by Marcus Trescothick and you'd think they'd go on and win something in the next three or four years, but it may be that the Championship is that bit too far for them unless they strengthen their bowling. Abdur Rehman's return later in the season will help but unless they get off to a great start they may find it difficult to get into a position to win the Championship.
Middlesex are a county on the up and they could improve on their third-place finish and go on and win the title this year. Angus Fraser, their director of cricket, has got things well and truly stable and they've got a good bunch of young cricketers. Toby Roland-Jones, who is a similar type of character to Steven Finn, is definitely one to look out for this summer and beyond.
I think he will do well for Middlesex, who proved beyond doubt last year that they belong in Division One. If a few more results had gone their way, they would have pushed Warwickshire all of the way.
Sussex will always be a competitive side because they know how to win trophies - they've got a good formula down there. They've brought in two Surrey players in Chris Jordan and Rory Hamilton-Brown, who will strengthen their batting despite the departure of Murray Goodwin to Glamorgan, while Steve Magoffin is someone who can perform in all forms of the game so they'll always be there or thereabouts. I'm sure that Monty Panesar will play quite a bit for them if Graeme Swann returns to full fitness and plays for England. I think they'll be a solid half-way team but I'm not sure they'll go on and win it.
Mick Newell is a very good coach who will ensure that Nottinghamshire will push in all forms of the game. They've made some excellent signings in recent years - the likes of Michael Lumb and James Taylor - and this season they've added Ajmal Shahzad from Yorkshire. Andre Adams is a big player for them and hopefully, if he stays fit - because he struggled a lot with his fitness last year, he can spur Notts on to rival Warwickshire as the team to beat.
Durham have dominated county cricket for a while but with the likes of Michael Di Venuto and Ian Blackwell retiring they are now are a team in transition. They will start the season in arrears after they were given a two-and-a-half point penalty for breaking the salary cap. It's time to re-group and re-build. They've certainly got a good captain in Paul Collingwood - it's just whether he can rally the troops and inspire them to a season in which they maintain their Division One status.
It will be interesting to see how Surrey go after splashing the cash again. They've signed senior players from the county scene - Vikram Solanki and Gary Keedy - and from the international stage too, in Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting, who are box-office players. If seamers Chris Tremlett and Stuart Meaker can stay fit and bowl to their full capabilities, I'm sure they will do well. They certainly have the pedigree.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul - one of the hardest cricketers to get out - is an excellent signing for Derbyshire. The batting is one thing they'll have to get right very early on now they are in Division One where it's so important to post 400 in the first innings to keep yourself in the game. A lot of people under-estimated them last summer and teams in the top-flight can't afford to make the same mistake. They got off to a great start last summer and if they can do that this season it will put them in good stead but they've got a very tough opener against Warwickshire on April 10.
Yorkshire are an outside bet for the title. They are well led by Jason Gillespie, a guy who knows about winning from his time with Australia, and they have a lot of exciting youngsters - the likes of Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root (England commitments permitting) - to go with Adam Lyth and Andrew Gale, the captain. Tim Bresnan will have to bowl a bit to prove he's back to full fitness and will be a handful in partnership with Ryan Sidebottom, so they've got a decent chance in getting it right.
Fults on Division Two
I think Lancashire will return to Division One at the first time of asking. A lot of it will depend on how Old Trafford plays. Gary Keedy has left for Surrey so it will be interesting to see if Simon Kerrigan, who had a great year two years ago, can step up and fill those boots. Ashwell Prince on a Kolpak is a great signing but who knows if Kabir Ali has still got it? He didn't have the best of time at Hampshire so he's got a lot to prove. If Glen Chapple stays fit, then Lancashire will get promoted, but it could be a difficult ball game for them if he gets injured. He's still a class act and so crucial to their hopes; his longevity has been amazing and let's hope he has a terrific year.
This year could be another struggle for Worcestershire, though. A lot of their talented, higher-paid players have gone with a view to building towards the future and making a little bit of a profit. They haven't brought in big names but Steve Rhodes is a good guy and works well with Daryl Mitchell, the captain. The players will play for each other but I don't think that will be good enough on its own for them to go back up. They might have a chance in Twenty20 but I don't see them being a force in the Championship. If Alan Richardson gets injured, they'll definitely struggle.
Kent are another side still in transition. It will be interesting to see how James Tredwell goes as captain. Rob Key, who Tredwell replaces, looks as fit as I've ever seen him and if he can translate his batting quality into a lot of runs then handing the reins to Tredwell could be a very shrewd move. There are a lot of good young batters in the squad; it might be too early for Sam Billings and Daniel Bell-Drummond to set the world alight but Sam Northeast should have a pretty steady season. But the bowling is a concern and I don't think they've got enough depth to challenge for the title.
Adam Wheater has joined Hampshire from Essex, which I think is a great signing, although he could scupper Michael Bates' opportunities behind the stumps. Wheater is a fine wicketkeeper-batsman who would play in most teams but couldn't get in at Essex ahead of James Foster. His arrival - coupled to the experience and ability of skipper Jimmy Adams, Michael Carberry, Sean Ervine, James Vince, Liam Dawson et al - means Hampshire would be my tip to go up with Lancashire.
Essex's strength this season will be in their one-day cricket. Alastair Cook will probably play a couple of Championship games before the start of the international summer but they won't see him again thereafter so a lot of their hopes depend on the availability of Ravi Bopara because he is an important player for them. To me they look like 'a bits-and-pieces' team who need to generate a real togetherness. I'd question whether Owais Shah, as good a player as he is, really wants to play for Essex and whether Sajid Mahmood's best days are behind him. I hope I'm wrong on both counts but I see them finishing in mid-table but challenging in one-day cricket where their batters are so dangerous.
Glamorgan have struggled in the last few years but Mark Wallace is a good guy to have as captain. A couple of seasons ago they looked like a side on the up with Matt Maynard and Jamie Dalrymple at the helm but I'm not convinced that many of their up-and-coming players have come through so they've brought in experience in Murray Goodwin, to show some of their good young batters the way (even though he couldn't get a run in four-day cricket last season). I think he can still be a force and if he is, I'd back Glamorgan to take wickets even without Robert Croft. Mid-table is probably the best they could hope for.
There have been more players out than in at Leicestershire. They didn't have the best year financially. Niall O'Brien, from Northants, is a good signing - he'll add some feistiness to them - but the question with Ramnaresh Sarwan, is how much is he going to be around bearing in mind the Champions Trophy is this summer? Josh Cobb is a very good young player but I think the captaincy has come too early for him; personally, I think the captaincy at county level sits better with guys who are in their late twenties or early thirties. Good luck to Josh but I'd prefer to see him develop as a cricketer first. Leicestershire's bowling could be an issue - Nathan Buck needs to have a good season after a poor one last year - and they've lost their leading wicket-taker, Wayne White. They are more geared up for the shorter format of the game and could struggle in the Championship.
In contrast to Cobb someone like Stephen Peters at Northamptonshire has been around the block a little bit; he's much more experienced in terms of captaincy and coach-captain relationships. David Ripley came in after David Capel disappeared last year and quietly got Northants back on track and I think he's a very good foil for Peters. Steven Crook, from Middlesex, is a good signing and I've always like the look of Matthew Spriegel. I don't know why he didn't get more of a go at Surrey but he never seemed to be backed, so I think he's got a bit to prove. They've lost O'Brien but if Andrew Hall is still motivated and fit, Northants could challenge for promotion without quite getting there - but they'll need their bowlers to stay fit because they've lost Jack Brooks to Yorkshire. He'll be missed, particularly early season when it does a bit.
Gloucestershire have been struggling financially and haven't signed strongly as a result. I expect them to struggle for a couple more years but they are hopeful of hosting one of the England v India fixtures in 2014 and if they can do that will improve their finances and they can start to build a squad again. But that's some way off. To be frank I think the next couple of seasons are going to be fairly bleak.
Sky Sports will show each county at least three times, with 60 live fixtures from the Yorkshire Bank 40, LV=County Championship and Friends Life t20.
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