County Championship cricket: Preview of the opening week of county cricket fixtures
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 10/04/13 6:45am
Keith Barker (left) and Chris Wright celebrate Warwickshire's 2012 title
The new County Championship season gets under way on Wednesday with a full round of fixtures.
With the weather finally looking like turning into spring, it's time for the county game to get into full swing to start off what will be a busy summer of cricket both domestically and internationally.
Only Surrey and Kent will not be in action as the other 16 teams take to the field for the first time, with champions Warwickshire hoping to defend their title.
Former champions Lancashire went from first to worst as they were relegated last year, so they will be looking to bounce back while newly-promoted Derbyshire hope to survive in Division One.
Division 1 Fixtures
Durham v Somerset
Notts v Middlesex
Warwickshire v Derbyshire
Yorkshire v Sussex
Let's start with champions Warwickshire as they take on newcomers Derbyshire who are thrown right in at the deep end at Edgbaston. A tough start for the relegation favourites but if Shiv Chanderpaul can hit the ground running they could stand a chance of catching the home side cold if they are not up to speed.
Yorkshire are back in the top league and start with a home game at Headingley against Sussex, but all is seemingly not well in the camp with quotes from spinner Adil Rashid voicing his discontent with skipper Andrew Gale surfacing the day before the game hardly the ideal preparation.
Paul Collingwood's Durham welcome last year's runners-up Somerset - who make the make the long trip north to embark on a campaign they hope will finally see them take that extra step from perennial bridesmaids.
Nottinghamshire are without England duo Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann as they kick-off the season against Middlesex - Swann is still recovering from an elbow injury while Broad is unavailable, but Notts do have Australian Test opener Ed Cowan making his debut. The visitors are also without two England stars as Eoin Morgan is playing in the IPL and Steve Finn is rested on the orders of the ECB.
In Division Two, both relegated sides Lancashire and Worcestershire meet at Old Trafford as they mount their bids for an immediate return. The hosts are favourites for promotion with Ashwell Prince and Simon Katich leading the batting - and although James Anderson is missing from their season opener they are still expected to make a winning start to the campaign.
Division 2 Fixtures
Essex v Gloucestershire
Glamorgan v Northants
Hampshire v Leicestershire
Lancashire v Worcestershire
England captain Alastair Cook will not be in the Essex side that hosts Gloucestershire, although he will feature in two games before the New Zealand Test series. The visitors could have teenager Cameron Herring making a surprise debut as wicketkeeper after impressing in the final pre-season match.
New signings Murray Goodwin and Michael Hogan will make their Glamorgan debuts in Cardiff against Northants, who have Australian seamer Trent Copeland ready to make his first county appearance just 24 hours after arriving in the country. Stephen Peters will lead the Steelbacks for the first time as captain.
Hampshire are expected to mount a serious promotion push this season after a disappointing 2012, and that starts with a home tie against Leicestershire, who are again expected to struggle. Australian batsman George Bailey will make his debut for the hosts after he signed to form one of the best batting line-ups in either division.