County Championship Preview 2019 - Division 2
County Championship Preview 2019 - Division 2
Writing a preview of the English County Championship Division 2 for 2019 seems a million miles away from watching and blogging about the IPL. However, with the traditional curtain-raiser between the MCC and Surrey taking place in UAE sandstorms we can begin to look forward to the most wonderful time of the year - the English summer! The sights, the smells and the sounds of a county cricket game are still something to dream of through the long winter and the hustle and bustle of modern life. That world is now under severe threat due to changes that will occur from 2020 (that topic deserves another blog at another time) so it is best for all English cricket lovers to make the most of their local county and the type of atmosphere that can only be found within the 4-day game.
Division 2 is likely to see a similar contest to last year with the relegated sides battling it out with Sussex and Middlesex for the right to go back up to the big time. Everyone else will then be locked in a contest for 5th spot and/or to avoid the wooden spoon. Is it sustainable? Is it to the detriment of the English game to support 4 or 5 significantly weaker counties? Whatever your views are, getting down to support your local side has never been more important and in this year of World Cups and Ashes lets hope that the crowds at these games can help bolster a few of these famous old teams, many of whom are hanging on for dear life.
Derbyshire will again be relying on experienced duo Wayne Madsen and Tony Palladino to get them wins in the longest format. Madsen who passed 1000 runs in last year's competition is now just 261 runs shy of reaching 10,000 runs for Derbyshire in first-class cricket. Supporting Palladino in the wicket-taking stakes will be new overseas signing Logan van Beek. Now playing for New Zealand A, van Beek made a name for himself in T20 when he took 3 wickets against England to help the Netherlands to a famous win back in 2016. It seems unlikely that Derbyshire have the strength or depth to challenge the top half of the division.
Given the events of the last couple of years the fact that this stripped down Durham side managed to avoid finishing bottom is something of an achievement. The pitches up at Chester-le-Street will always have bowlers interested and the ever-reliable Chris Rushworth is likely to push 50 wickets once more. Batting wise Durham will hope that Cameron Steel can add consistency to his penchant for a big score. Perhaps the big news and one which will draw attention to the county is the appointment of Cameron Bancroft as their captain. It's an Ashes year, runs for Bancroft could yet lead to a speedy return to the Test stage.
Bottom side in 2018 Glamorgan have brought in a number of youth players as they seek to rebuild the kind of identity that they had around the turn of the century. Billy Root and Charlie Hemphrey have been brought in to try and sure up a weak looking batting line-up and with Shaun Marsh likely to be called up to the Ashes squad Glamorgan will be looking for some overseas cover too. Michael Hogan will be 38 in May but alongside Timm van der Gugten, he will be responsible for taking the bulk of Glamorgan's wickets this year. Off-field there has been a massive overhaul of coaching staff as Glamorgan look to bounce back from a poor 2018.
Gloucestershire's hopes of improving on last year's 5th place finish have not been helped by the loss of last season's leading wicket-taker Craig Miles who has left for newly promoted Warwickshire while all-rounder Kieran Noema-Barnett was released from his contract to return back to New Zealand. Gloucestershire will be hoping that 18-year-old Ben Charlesworth who showed promise with both bat and ball last and has had a stellar winter with England's U-19 squad will be able to step up to the plate to replace Noema-Barnett while Stuart Whittingham has been brought in as bowling cover. Aussie Dan Worral returns as their oversea's player.
2018 was a nightmare season for Lancashire and in particular, their captain and England hopeful Liam Livingstone who didn't manage a half-century all season. Livingstone has since stepped down to be replaced by Dane Villas and you would expect that batsmen of their quality, potentially alongside Keaton Jennings who scored 3 hundreds early last year to get himself back in the England side, will score enough to give them a chance of promotion. Jordan Clarke's departure to Surrey represents a blow to the county in all formats. Aussie Joe Burns comes in to add further weight to the batting.
Leicestershire have undergone a major overhaul of playing staff with experienced players such as Ned Eckersley, Mark Pettini and Michael Carberry all having been released. 22-year-old giant seam bowler Zak Chappell has left for Notts in order to pursue higher honours while bowling all-rounder Ben Raine has returned back to Durham. With Mohammad Abbas having been given an ODI debut by Pakistan this week Leicestershire could suddenly find themselves short of squad depth. The signing of the reliable Chris Wright from Warkwickshire should go some way to bulking up their bowling attack.
Middlesex will undoubtedly be seeking to improve upon their 4th placed finish of last year and in doing so challenge for promotion back to Division 1. The evergreen Tim Murtagh alongside James Harris will once again be a threat with ball in hand and you'd feel if Middlesex can get Steve Finn and Toby Rowland-Jones fit then they will have one of the best seam attacks in the country. Also coming through is a player I wrote about last year, Ethan Bamber who looks to be another fast bowling talent developed by the county. There is depth in the batting too but they need more big scores (only 4 hundreds in 2018) if they are going to get that promotion they so sorely desire.
2nd bottom last year, things don't look likely to improve dramatically this year although Northants have always focused more on white ball competitions. Ben Duckett has left for Notts in order to try and resurrect his international career while stalwart Steve Crooks has finally hung up his spikes in order to pursue his music career full-time. Zimbabwean seamer Blessing Muzarabani becomes yet another Kolpak signing for the club while triumphant WI captain Jason Holder was due to join for a short stint in April but may not be available now due to the WC. Temba Bavuma will join the club from mid-summer onwards.
3rd placed Sussex will hope to go one better this time around and return to the top flight of 4-day cricket. Kolpak signing David Weisse was a force with both bat and ball last year and Sussex will hope for more of the same from him. Keeper Ben Brown continued his good form in 2018 and but for the plethora of other options, England have in that position he would surely be considered for higher honours. In bowling terms, Joffra Archer was too hot to handle last year but his availability may be stretched now that he has gained residency status for England. That being the case much will depend on Ollie Robinson returning the same kind of form he managed last time around (78wickets).
Relegated last year, Worcestershire have lost star batsman and England hopeful Joe Clarke to Notts. In his place though have come Australian Callum Ferguson who enjoyed a successful stint at the club last year alongside Rikki Wessels who moved in the opposite direction to Clarke. Wayne Parnell who was an overseas player at the club last year becomes the latest South African to trade country for county and joins as a Kolpak player. All 3 signings suggest Worcestershire have their sights set on further white ball success but they should have enough with the consistent Darryl Mitchell and Ed Barnard to also challenge in the red ball format.
A fuller account of the top 8 sides in the country competing in Divison1 will follow this blog in the coming days.