County Cricket: Spin twins alter the Championship equation: Club-by-club guide to new season of four-day games and colourful Sundays by Derek Hodgson

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A NEW NAME sparkling at the top of the Championship table in September is a possibility that has raised expectations all around the 18 counties as the season proper starts on Thursday. Northamptonshire and Somerset, who, along with Sussex and Durham, have never won, are among the contenders this year and as the contest will be played out over 17 four- day fixtures a new era is guaranteed.

Somerset will get top billing on the circuit, the team all want to see, from the leg-spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed, to the dashing opening batsman, Mark Lathwell, and the Hadlee clone, Andrew Caddick. The captain, Chris Tavare will have to work extra hard this year to ensure that at least one spectator leaves the Taunton ground shouting 'Boring, boring'.

Northamptonshire, with Allan Lamb and Curtly Ambrose presumably free of Test commitments, must have a good year and, given the captain's penchant for spectacular performances and equally spectacular pitfalls, will never lack attention. They could lead the table by the end of May and not lose that lead.

Essex, seeking a third successive Championship that would really put them in the big league, can never be discounted but whether their seam bowling will withstand the strain of four-day cricket is questionable. Their answer will probably be to win most of their matches in two and a half days, as usual.

Spin partnerships will be a vital component and it will be interesting to see which county produces the most successful pairing: Childs and Such (Essex); or Emburey and Tufnell (Middlesex); or Udal and Maru (Hampshire) or maybe even Stemp and Batty (Yorkshire)?

The spinners themselves will tell you that in addition to having captains confident enough to give them long spells and proper field settings (no panicking when the tempter sails out of the ground) they also need the groundsman's help. Permission to use a pitch already worn in a one-day match, with the agreement of the captains, is encouragement for the game's artistes and goes a little way to redressing the balance lost when pitches were covered. Umpires are inspecting for ball-tampering at the end of each over. One said last week: 'Naturally, we'll follow the regulations, but we know who the suspects are and it will be in their matches that the ball will get special attention.'

The Benson and Hedges Cup competition, starting today, has a new overall bonus, in addition to the Gold Award for each match. There will be a pounds 1,000 prize for a batsman making more than 400 runs; for a bowler taking more than 20 wickets and for a bowler taking all 10 in an innings. Any bowler performing the last feat would be entitled to think he should receive greater recompense for his labours.

One pleasure denied statisticians this year will be the working out of scoring rates to decide who qualifies in the Benson and Hedges zones; those have been abolished. The Cup is now a straight knock-out.

The Sunday League will be a theatre all of its own with a burst of coloured costumes. At a time when this competition is becoming more populist, street-wise and youth-oriented, the Sunday League itself changes into what is, for the first time, a comprehensive test of professional cricketing skills. Sundays and Mondays now become the days of decision, two long, hard days for the players.

But then, the game has always been in some crisis, as the latest Wisden confirms. No doubt the Cricket Correspondent of the Hambledon Intelligencier and Corn Exchange pointed out in 1793 that cricket was doomed unless the buffoons in Dorset Square applied themselves and spent less time quaffing claret and eyeing the wenches of the town.

The fact is the trees are in blossom, Australia are here, pre-Test bookings are reaching record levels, domestic cricket is being presented in three new packages (Britannic Championship, Benson and Hedges Cup, Equity and Law Sunday League). It's another opening, another show.

COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP: Latest odds: 5-2 Essex; 7-1 Middlesex, Surrey; 8-1 Kent; 10-1 Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire; 14-1 Lancashire, Warwickshire; 16-1 Worcestershire; 20-1 Hampshire, Somerset; 33-1 Sussex, Leicestershire; 50-1 Gloucestershire; 80-1 Yorkshire; 100-1 Glamorgan; 150-1 Durham.

SURREY

SURREY have been striving to win the Championship again for almost as long as Yorkshire, but the return of Waqar Younis, will stir talk of the pennant at The Oval. The pitches there have often been too flat to force a result in three-day games but, after a determined attempt last year to inject some pace, and the addition of an extra day's play, Surrey are expecting results.

There are few new arrivals, hardly surprising when Surrey won both the Second XI Championship and the Bain Clarkson last year, and they could figure in all four competitions.

Waqar will be supported by Martin Bicknell and Tony Murphy, both fit again, while the spin partnership of James Boiling and Neil Kendrick took 89 wickets last season and is emerging as a match-winning one on the expected wearing surfaces.

Alistair Brown was a startling addition to the batting last season and if he continues to attack bowling with such verve and success, he could have a rapid rise. Stewart, Darren Bicknell, Lynch, Ward and Thorpe provide a strong batting nucleus and the captain's major decision on team selection may concern himself: will he keep wicket in the Championship?

At least he can pick and choose because, in addition to Neil Sargeant, Surrey have added another wicketkeeper in Graham Kersey, from Kent. It should be a happy year at county cricket's friendliest club.

BAC: 13. NWT: 1st round. B & H: Semi-final. SL: 4.

Arrivals: Graham Kersey, Danny Kelleher.

Departures: Rudi Bryson, Keith Medlycott, Mark Feltham, David Ligertwood, Jon Robinson.

YORKSHIRE

'SPOILT for choice,' declared the captain, Martyn Moxon, after the team returned undefeated from South Africa.

Moxon's first problem is to find a place for Richie Richardson when he arrives from the West Indies in mid-May. Craig White, a future Yorkshire captain, now also bowling seam, will be hard to shift from No 4, Metcalfe and David Byas are competing for No 3 and Moxon will be reluctant to split his successful opening partnership of last summer with newly capped Simon Kellett. All this is ammunition to those Yorkshiremen who have been insisting that the team needs a Test fast bowler, rather than batsman, as the overseas professional.

The finger Moxon broke in Australia has healed, but Peter Hartley strained his back in South Africa and remains the only bowler in doubt as the established first-teamers face a challenge from the new wave of quick bowlers, Mark Broadhurst, Stuart Milburn and the latest, Chris Silverwood.

Richard Stemp joins Phil Carrick and the off-spinner, Jeremy Batty, to give Yorkshire a force for four-day matches. The remarkable financial turn-around, from record loss to record profit in one year, and quickening interest from sponsors and public, all suggest that this could be Yorkshire's best season since 1987.

BAC: 16. NWT: 2nd round. B & H: Did not qualify. SL: 15.

Arrivals: Richie Richardson, Richard Stemp, Michael Foster, Michael Vaughan, Stephen Bartle, Richard Kettleborough.

Departures: Sachin Tendulkar, Kevin Sharp, Chris Pickles, Steven Bethel, Ian Houseman.

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE

PHIL NEALE is the new director of cricket, succeeding Mike Procter and it is his partnership with the captain, Allan Lamb, and the chief executive, Steve Coverdale, that will be a factor in the county's credible attempt on a first Championship.

Neale's brief includes recruitment and the second team, areas that Procter was less concerned with, but Neale and the coach, Bob Carter, will be concerned with a first team that, in quality, could displace Essex as England's most successful.

Lamb emerged last summer as an enterprising captain, leading the team to victory at Lord's, despite the fiasco of a writ served while on his way in to bat. The captain is not a diplomat, but no one questions his courage, nor his zest for victory; now, older, wiser and with his Test ambitions at least shelved, he could have his most impressive domestic summer.

To get at Lamb, opposing bowlers have first to pass Fordham. Felton and Bailey. Capel, Curran and Ripley can all bat, Ambrose, Taylor and Cook are a Test-match attack.

The doubts about Northamptonshire revolve around the strength of their reserves. Mal Loye and Neil Stanley, the Blues Richard Person and Richard Montgomerie, the all- rounder Tony Penberthy, and the spinner Andy Roberts, will all have important parts to play if the Cobblers are to achieve an ambition that dates back to 1878.

BAC: 3. NWT: Winners. B & H: Did not qualify. SL: 13.

Arrivals: Craig Rika, Jamie Tomlinson.

Departures: Richard Williams.

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

TRENT BRIDGE experienced a major upheaval last summer with the arrival of Mike Hendrick as team manager and the subsequent departures of Chris Broad, Eddie Hemmings and Kevin Cooper.

Hendrick remains unabashed: 'We were top-heavy with senior players and we had to make room for the ambitious younger ones or lose them.' In rebuilding, he has first to form a new opening partnership and it seems likely the team will start with Paul Pollard and Mark Saxelby. The middle order, Tim Robinson, Mark Crawley, Derek Randall, Paul Johnson chooses itself. Then come the two Test all- rounders, Chris Lewis and Chris Cairns, followed by Bruce French and the bowlers.

Andy Pick is now fit again and will have Cairns or Lewis as his opening partner. Hemmings must be missed, but Hendrick points out Andy Afford took more wickets last season. But who will be the other spinner? Hendrick sees early opportunities for the slow left-armer, James Hindson, and the off-spinner, Richard Bates.

All the county's matches are to be played at Trent Bridge where the opposition will once again find Nottinghamshire batting on a flattie which turns, in hours, into a green-top flier as soon as they go into bat. If Lewis and Cairns stay fit, Hendrick should win something in his first full summer.

BAC: 4. NWT: 2nd round. B & H: Did not qualify.

SL: 17.

Arrivals: Steve Sylvester, Mathew Dowman.

Departures: Chris Broad, Kevin Cooper, Eddie Hemmings, Jon Wileman.

GLAMORGAN

GLAMORGAN'S hopes of a strong finish to the Championship season, after five victories, were hampered by last summer's indifferent weather. What was achieved was a general recognition by members and public that the club and team deserved better, and 1993 starts with optimism.

Hugh Morris resumes the captaincy, Alan Butcher joining the Essex hierarchy, and leads, with Stephen James, a strong batting order, in which Viv Richards and Matthew Maynard are capable of thunder and lightning. Roland Lefebvre's arrival from Somerset brings some all- round strength to the lower order.

Glamorgan's immediate concern will be the bowling. Steve Watkin and Robert Croft needed more consistent support last year; Lefebvre increases the competition for places and Mark Frost, Steve Bastien and Darren Thomas provide the challenge.

Colin Metson would get most votes as the specialist wicketkeeper to succeed, or supplant, Jack Russell while Croft remains an off-spin prospect. His ability to score runs will also give him an advantage. Steve Barwick is expected to use his off-breaks more often.

Glamorgan's effort in publicising the game, in their support and coaching in schools, will be rewarded eventually; winning a trophy could shorten the waiting.

BAC: 14. NWT: Quarter-finals. B & H: Did not qualify. SL: 16.

Arrivals: Gary Butcher, Roland Lefebvre, Alistair Dalton, Robin Jones, Scott Purdie.

Departures: Alan Butcher, Chris Cowdrey, Mark Dobson, Daren Foster, Sam Kirnon.

ESSEX

IF Essex win their third successive Championship - and they will start favourites - they can confirm an era of dominance not achieved in English cricket since Surrey in the 1950s and Yorkshire a decade later; it would be their seventh pennant in 15 years.

No county caps were awarded last year, which suggests that Keith Fletcher and Graham Gooch were not entirely satisfied with the team's progress, yet there are some outstanding candidates for 1993, Knight, Lewis, Shahid and Ilott among them.

Essex's foresight in ensuring that the staff always contained one or more class spinners will be rewarded this year when, in four-day cricket, John Childs and Peter Such will certainly come to glory; the arrival of Gul Khan, born in Gujrat but schooled at Ilford and Swansea University, will mean that, with Nasser Hussain and Nadeem Shahid, there are three leg-spinners in residence.

Neil Foster, in his benefit year, Pringle, Ilott and Topley guarantee a seam attack for any English condition and Gooch and the new vice-captain, Paul Prichard, will ensure that Essex maintain their hostile fielding. Their rivals can hope that Test calls might disrupt them, but with the fast-scoring Salim Malik returning, they might be better rewarded by praying for continuous rain over Chelmsford.

BAC: 1. NWT: Semi-final. B & H: Did not qualify. SL: 2.

Arrivals: Muneeb Diwan, Gul Khan.

Departures: Adrian Brown, Keith Butler, Mark Waugh.

SUSSEX

IF 1993 is to be the year when leg-spin, personified by Australia's Shane Warne and India's Anil Kumble, returns as a force, Sussex, with England's best, Ian Salisbury, can look forward to becoming a major power.

They ended last summer with innings victories over Lancashire and Yorkshire, not perhaps the feat it once was, but nevertheless, with Salisbury taking 23 wickets in the two matches, an indication of what Sussex might achieve.

That is why the veteran Eddie Hemmings has arrived to form, with Salisbury and Brad Donelan, a trio of spinners with a balance of experience and enthusiasm. Sussex will be a dangerous team on the third and fourth days, but how will the seam attack fare when the opposition wins the toss on a flat pitch at Hove?

Franklyn Stephenson remains a formidable bowler, but his years with Nottinghamshire confirm he is best when conditions favour seam and swing. Adrian Jones needs to add other disciplines to his speed, but Tony Pigott is well-suited to first change. Sussex otherwise will have to rely upon steady medium pace.

The responsibility of captaincy did not affect Alan Wells's excellent batting record and the team responded well to some enterprising leadership. From mid-May the batting will be reinforced by the arrival of Bill Athey, who has class and technique.

BAC: 7. NWT: 2nd round. B & H: Did not qualify. SL: 11.

Arrivals: Bill Athey, Eddie Hemmings, Shaun Humphries, Danny Law, Keith Newell, Michael Peirce.

Departures: Robin Hanley, Alan Hansford.

WARWICKSHIRE

WARWICKSHIRE would probably top the list of under-achievers of the 1990s. Since their NatWest Trophy win in 1989 they have twice reached the semi-finals and finished twice in the top six of the Championship; they remain the nearly-there team.

With a Test-match attack of Donald, Small and Munton, capable all-rounders and various spinners, operating mostly on an Edgbaston square that is not the featherbed it was, Warwickshire have some powerful advantages at home and should be difficult to defeat away.

Dermot Reeve, replacing Andy Lloyd, who has retired, will be a positive captain. His zest spills over on those around him. Donald will almost certainly be claimed by South Africa in the summer, so Reeve will want a cushion of points when he loses county cricket's most destructive fast bowler. There has to be a question mark about the spinners, Paul Booth and Neil Smith, because of their relatively limited exposure in the Championship.

Andy Moles and Roger Twose emerged as a reliable opening pair last summer, Dominic Ostler and Trevor Penney showed ability, but most outsiders believe that what Warwickshire need is a Test-class batsman in mid-order. They could be Championship challengers, but one of the one-day competitions seems a more likely target. All home matches will be played at Edgbaston.

BAC: 6. NWT: Semi-final. B & H: Did not qualify.

SL: 8.

Arrivals: Charles Mulraine, Matthew Robinson.

Departures: Andy Lloyd.

LANCASHIRE

WHENEVER Lancashire's committee came under fire the late chairman, Cedric Rhoades, would deftly divert criticism with a pungent red herring. His best wheeze was to prime someone to suggest letting women into the pavilion. In the ensuing uproar team performances were overlooked.

Bob Bennett has no such issues to cloud the agenda for an AGM, but he knows that Lancashire have to achieve something this season. For four seasons now Lancashire have had, on paper, the strongest team in England, but the Championship, last shared in 1950, last won outright in 1934, remains distant.

Wasim Akram and Phillip DeFreitas should be the best opening bowlers, but their record is more than patchy. That Waqar Younis has taken more wickets for Surrey in two years than Wasim has for Lancashire in four reinforced suspicions about value for money.

There are questions, too, about the spin attack: Alex Barnett had an expensive introduction, Mike Watkinson looks as if he might become a top-class off-spinner, but seems to prefer seam, while neither Dexter Fitton, nor Gary Yates won an established place.

The batting becomes more powerful. Gehan Mendis is fit again, Mike Atherton, Nick Speak, the captain, Neil Fairbrother, and Graham Lloyd, form an unmatched middle order.

BAC: 12. NWT: 2nd round. B & H: Quarter-final. SL: 11.

Arrivals: Jon Henderson, Nathan Wood.

Departures: Danny Morrison, Graeme Fowler, Paul Allott.

KENT

KENT'S suspicions that had they been able to keep three or four fast bowlers upright and firing they might have added to their seven Championships in recent times prompted the recruiting of two more quicks this winter. Dean Headley joins from Middlesex with experience and reputation, while Duncan Spencer is a 21-year-old, born in Burnley, who learned to bowl fast in Australia.

Kent's batting remains impressive: Benson, Taylor and Cowdrey averaged more than 45, Hooper and Ward passed 1,000 runs and March and Fleming reached 700.

Apart from the newcomers, Kent can choose a seam attack from McCague, Igglesden, Ellison and Penn. Hooper's crafty spin is supplemented by Richard Davis and Minal Patel, while Simon Willis, 18, is the new wicketkeeper deputy for Marsh.

Carl Hooper, like, most of the West Indians, will not appear until mid-May, while Patel is recovering from an operation and McCague is recuperating from injury. Kent's exclusion from selectorial raids - not one player was chosen for either of England's winter tours - may be hurtful to Kentish pride, but makes the task of the coach, Daryl Foster, less complicated. McCague is under observation and, if Kent run as strongly as they did last summer, his name may be joined by others when September's selections are made.

BAC: 2. NWT: Quarter-final. B & H: Runners-up.

SL: 5.

Arrivals: Dean Headley, Duncan Spencer.

Departures: Graham Kersey, Andrew Tutt, Tim Wren.

WORCESTERSHIRE

WORCESTERSHIRE'S extraordinary decline, from champions in 1989 to 17th last season, could be explained partly by a record that showed only three Championship matches were won. Tim Curtis, who succeeded Phil Neale in time to face this setback, welcomes four-day matches in the belief that class, over the longer period, will tell.

Neale has now departed to become Northamptonshire's cricket director, Graham Dilley has retired and Richard Stemp moved on to Yorkshire so that the arrival of a fast-bowling overseas professional in Kenny Benjamin is well-timed. With Neal Radford, Phil Newport and Stuart Lampitt available, Curtis has a seam attack to suit most conditions.

England would like to see Graeme Hick bowling more overs, a wish that will be fulfilled, and he and Richard Illingworth, who has had a knee operation, seem likely to carry the burden as the pitch wears. Difficulty may arise when Hick is required by England for six Test matches and three Texaco internationals.

Philip Weston, Curtis's new opening partner, may also be required by England sooner than Worcestershire might prefer and the club will be hoping that Adam Seymour and David Leatherdale contribute runs more consistently. This is a critical season for Worcestershire have to prove to their members and supporters that their days as a leading county are not over.

BAC: 17. NWT: 1st round. B & H: Quarter-final. SL: 7.

Arrivals: Tim Edwards, Kenny Benjamin.

Departures: Graham Dilley, Tom Moody, Phil Neale, Richard Stemp.

SOMERSET

THE arrival of the world's best leg-spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed, to join England's brightest batting prospect, Mark Lathwell, promises an exciting summer in the West. Somerset had an excellent 1992 when Lathwell was in his first season and Mushtaq was playing for Pakistan, so heady ambitions are being discussed in Taunton.

Andrew Caddick advanced so quickly as a seam bowler that he joined Lathwell on the A tour and was also being regarded as a prospect for a full cap on his return. With the experienced Neil Mallender, he forms a balanced spearhead to an attack that looks as well equipped for four-day cricket as any.

Lathwell is well aware of what is known as the 'second-year syndrome,' the difficulty so many young professionals have in impressing their ability on the opposition the second time round, once their form and strengths are known. He went off to Australia, declaring the winter tour as his second season. If he does repeat the form of 1992, Somerset will have to face the possibility of an England call-up.

Andy Hayhurst has made a huge contribution to the Somerset revival, volunteering for the impossible job of replacing Jimmy Cook in opening the innings and, often, being also the first-change seamer. Chris Tavare will continue to make his usual contribution as batsman and leader.

BAC: 9. NWT: 2nd round. B & H: Semi-final. SL: 5.

Arrivals: Mushtaq Ahmed, Paul Clifford.

Departures: Roland Lefebvre, Richard Bartlett, Ken MacLeay, Richard Snell, Gareth Townsend.

LEICESTERSHIRE

LAST summer Leicestershire pleasantly surprised members and supporters fearing disaster after a team of famous players had been dispersed. The part played by the captain, Nigel Briers, in this revival was recognised by his choice in Wisden as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year.

David Millns and Vince Wells found a welcome at Grace Road. Millns was known for his pace at Trent Bridge and finished the summer with an A tour selection. Wells arrived as a possible reserve wicketkeeper and finished as an all-rounder, though his season was clouded by a virus. He takes his place in a seam attack of Millns, Benjamin, Mullally and Parsons.

Leicestershire need another slow bowler and the former Warwickshire off-spinner, Adrian Pierson, joins Laurie Potter in a partnership that could be overworked in a dry summer. Brimson, Cobb and Hepworth might be needed.

The batting is reinforced by the eligibility of Phillip Robinson for the Championship. A proven one-day matchwinner, capable of fast scoring, Robinson is dedicated, as he proved with Yorkshire and could be spurred into a successful new career. Briers and Tim Boon are a sound opening pair and with Whitaker, Potter and Robinson in the middle order, there will be no lack of strokeplay.

BAC: 8. NWT: Runners-up. B & H: Did not qualify. SL: 18.

Arrivals: Adrian Pierson, Phil Robinson.

Departures: Martyn Gidley, Bob Gofton, Chris Hawkes, Andrew Roseberry.

DURHAM

GEOFF COOK is now the county's executive director, an extension of responsibility after the resignation of the chief executive, Mike Gear, so there can be no question in 1993 as to where the buck stops. As the man who founded the team, Captain Cook now becomes a general with not a few thought-provoking problems on his desk.

Somehow he has to bridge the gap between his ageing senior players and the young emerging home-grown talent. Botham, Graveney and Hughes are all in their last years of contract, while Larkins, Parker and Bainbridge are not starting careers.

Cook did send nine young players to various England squads at Lilleshall, but there will have to be a further advance by those blooded in first-class cricket last year, such as Daley, Berry, Glendenen, Hutton and Blenkiron, if the county are to climb the Championship table.

Anderson Cummins, the new overseas professional, will take some of the weight off Simon Brown and Simon Hughes, while Graeme Fowler's arrival to partner Wayne Larkins promises to be spectacular.

Ian Botham's form will be crucial to the winning of matches. He will restart this summer fully fit, after having a shoulder operation last winter, and Durham will be hoping that the arrival of the Australians will ignite the old fires.

BAC: 18. NWT: Quarter-final. B & H: Did not qualify. SL: 8.

Arrivals: Graeme Fowler, David Cox, Jason Searle.

Departures: Dean Jones, Gary Brown.

HAMPSHIRE

A GLORIOUS June and a heart-breaking August summed up last year for Hampshire. After their Benson and Hedges triumph, and talk of the Championship, they ran out of steam and finished 15th.

They were not short of self-analysis, both Mark Nicholas and David Gower graduating to the ranks of the commentators, a dangerous game for current players. Talking of scoring rates, and wafting outside the off stump, is best done, as Geoffrey Boycott shrewdly calculated, when your own playing days are over.

Robin Smith's decision to postpone a shoulder operation is good news, but as he, and possibly Gower, will be required by England for half the summer, Hampshire's Championship aspirations will have to be led by Nicholas and his other experienced batsmen.

There are questions, too, about the seam bowling. Can Malcolm Marshall, at 35, still produce those matchwinning bursts and will Kevin Shine and Jon Ayling stand up to regular four-day matches? Martin Jean-Jacques will fill the gap left by the retirement of Paul-Jan Bakker, while Jamie Byrne, a highly recommended Lancashire-born South African all- rounder, may get an early opportunity.

Shaun Udal, the best young off-spinner, and Raj Maru give Hampshire a versatile spin attack, but once again their best prospects seem to lie in the one-day field.

BAC: 15. NWT: 2nd round. B & H: Winners. SL: 3.

Arrivals: Martin Jean-Jacques, James Byrne, James Bovill, Mark Garaway.

Departures: Bobby Parks, Paul-Jan Bakker.

MIDDLESEX

MIKE GATTING drove Middlesex to the Sunday League championship with the characteristic determination of a captain unwilling to accept any summer as a failure. He was unable, however, to disguise a record that showed overall that Middlesex had a poor season by their standards.

They have a good record in four-day cricket, but their Championship prospects this season raise many questions: Gatting, Emburey and Tufnell return from India with diminished reputations and what was thought to be the strongest spin attack in the country has much ground to recover.

The seam bowling, too, is speculative. Ricardo Ellcock has retired, Dean Headley has left, Norman Cowans and Angus Fraser have to prove themselves fully recovered from surgery, so Neil Williams and Chas Taylor carry much reponsibility.

Neither Gatting, nor Desmond Haynes, the senior batsmen, showed good winter form, although Haynes had a good spring. Middlesex will be looking for a surge from their younger players, such as Roseberry, Ramprakash, Weekes, Pooley and Keech. Mark Feltham's arrival from Surrey strengthens the all-round power.

Middlesex will play all home matches at Lord's, which is a pity; they seemed more at home, with a clearer identity, at Uxbridge.

BAC: 11. NWT: 2nd round. B & H: Quarter-final. SL: 1.

Arrivals: Richard Ballinger, Keith Dutch, Mark Feltham.

Departures: Phil Edmonds, Dean Headley, Steve Sylvester, Jon Whittington.

GLOUCESTERSHIRE

THE transfer of Chris Broad and Kevin Cooper, from Trent to Severn, will give Gloucestershire a distinct new look this summer and temper the deep disappointment felt by the club and members at the news that the unlucky David Lawrence split a kneecap again in March, again delaying the resumption of his hugely successful partnership with Courtney Walsh.

Cooper's experience will take some of the burden off Walsh and the coach, Andy Stovold, is hoping that Andy Babington and Mike Smith will bring the seam attack up to complement. Both Smith and Martin Gerrard, the other left-arm seamer, have been coached by John Lever.

Broad and Dean Hodgson could form a formidable opening partnership and, although Bill Athey's style will be missing from the middle order, a fully fit Simon Hinks and Tony Wright give the side some assurance; this is the summer, in which Alleyne, Hancock and Windows could all flourish. Justin Vaughan, capped by New Zealand, is no longer qualified and will be missed.

The accurate left-armer, Mark Davies, who took 55 wickets, is the only recognised spinner, although Marcus Wight, nephew of Peter, headed Cambridge University's averages with his off-breaks last summer and has been given a two-year contract.

BAC: 10. NWT: Quarter-final. B & H: Did not qualify. SL: 8.

Arrivals: Chris Broad, Kevin Cooper, Bob Cunliffe, Marcus Wight.

Departures: Bill Athey, Justin Vaughan.

DERBYSHIRE

DERBYSHIRE have good reasons to be optimistic after their recent experiences and Kim Barnett, in his 10th season as captain, is confident enough to suggest that his team is now good enough to win the Championship. From a distance there seem to be far too many imponderables.

Are Derbyshire strong enough to bowl out the opposition twice on the flat Racecourse square? (Only one match, against Yorkshire, is being played on Chesterfield's livelier pitch). Is the fast attack, led notably by Ian Bishop and Devon Malcolm, capable of sustaining fitness? Is the batting able enough, on wearing pitches, to score quickly against spin?

Barnett would argue that in Cork, Base, Warner and Mortensen he has sufficient back- up seamers. Most of the spinning will be done by the developing Richard Sladdin and the captain himself will be expected to contribute leg-breaks and the odd seam spell.

The batting looks substantial. Barnett and Peter Bowler are the most successful opening pair in the county's history; John Morris has a new contract, Chris Adams and Tim O'Gorman made advances and Frank Griffith is looking to be an all-rounder. Karl Krikken is accepted as one of the best wicketkeepers and he, Cork and Sladdin are all useful batsmen.

Last year: Britannic Assurance Championship: 5th. NatWest Trophy: 2nd round. Benson and Hedges Cup: Quarter-final. Sunday League: 13th.

Arrivals: Amritash Agrawalla, Andrew Harris, David Lovell, Adrian Rollins.

Departures: Andrew Brown, Steve Goldsmith, Martin Jean-Jacques.

----------------------------------------------------------------- PRINCIPAL FIXTURES ----------------------------------------------------------------- APRIL 27: Benson and Hedges Cup preliminary round. 29: Britannic Assurance County Championship starts. MAY 9: AXA Equity & Law Sunday League starts. 11: Benson & Hedges Cup first round. 19: ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA First one- day international (Old Trafford). 21: ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA Second one-day international (Edgbaston). 23: ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA Third one-day international (Lord's). 25: Benson & Hedges Cup quarter-finals. JUNE 3: * ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA First Test (Old Trafford). 8: Benson & Hedges Cup semi-finals. 17: * ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA Second Test (Lord's). 22: NatWest Trophy first round. JULY 1: ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA Third Test (Trent Bridge). Wednesday 7: NatWest Trophy second round. 10: Benson & Hedges Cup final (Lord's). 22: * ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA Fourth Test (Headingley). 27: NatWest Trophy quarter-finals AUGUST 5: * ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA Fifth Test (Edgbaston) 10: NatWest Trophy semi-finals. 19: * ENGLAND V AUSTRALIA Sixth Test (The Oval). SEPTEMBER 4: NatWest Trophy final (Lord's). * includes Sunday play -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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