Big hits this summer: Insiders' guide to the new cricket season

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Mark Chilton Lancashire captain

How do you see the season going for your county?

Nottinghamshire showed last season that you can win promotion from the Second Division and compete at the higher level straight away and we think can challenge right from the off. If we stay fit, we can be competitive.

Who will win the First and Second Divisions?

We believe we can win the First Division but if not us, then you would have to say that Nottinghamshire, as reigning champions, have a good chance. I quite like the look of Middlesex as well. Happily, I haven't had to look very closely at the Second Division sides this year but with the squad they have Surrey are the obvious choice.

Who is the unsung player to watch out for at your club?

We have not signed a second overseas player so there are opportunities for younger players to stake their claim and among ours we have hopes for Tom Smith, a 20-year-old all-rounder, and for Karl Brown, a batsman who is only 17 or 18. Of the older players, Stuart Law (pictured) was disappointed with his season last year and is looking good for a better summer this time.

Is there an Englishman not currently involved in the full England set-up who you think could force his way on to the Ashes tour?

I was impressed by Liam Plunkett when we last played Durham. Here at Old Trafford Sajid Mahmood, capable of bowling at around 90mph, can be a handful for anyone.

Who is the overseas players to keep an eye out for this season?

Mohammad Asif looks interesting for Leicestershire, while in the First Division Warwickshire's Daniel Vettori is a very high quality spin bowler who can score runs.

Who is county cricket's Golden Oldie (or the next Shaun Udal)?

Nick Knight is to retire at the end of the season but at 36 is still a very good cricketer. I wouldn't be surprised also to see Mark Butcher come back strongly after his injury problems.

Should the season be starting now?

And do you play too much cricket? Ideally you would wait a bit longer to start the season but how do you reduce the four-day fixture list by two or three games and still keep a reasonable competition? I would have a 50-over league and a 50-over knock-out and perhaps get rid of the 40-over competition.

What is your favourite town to visit for an away game?

I look forward to games in London because I have pals down there and it gives me the opportunity to see them over dinner if we are playing at Lord's or the Oval. And your least favourite? I like the Rose Bowl but Southampton can be quiet. Northampton and Leicester are not the most inspiring places to stay in.

What is your favourite county ground?

Lord's - an inspiring arena with such a sense of history and a special place in the game.

What is the coldest you have ever been and how many layers did you have on?

Old Trafford at the beginning of any season is as cold as anywhere, especially since they removed one of the stands. There seems to be a howling gale across the field all the time. Fortunately, we now have thermal vests.

What will the score be in the 2006-07 Ashes?

I'm going to go for a 2-1 victory for England. It has been tough since winning last year. When you have reached a pinnacle of performance as they did to beat Australia there is bound to be a bit of a comedown. But if they can get some of the injured players back, they can take on the Aussies again.

Chris Adams Sussex captain

How do you see the season going for your county?

I see it going very well. I am very excited about the season and Surrey's prospects. The whole squad is very optimistic.

Who will win the First and Second Divisions?

Surrey will win the Second Division. But the First Division is different. It is very tight in Division One. I think Nottinghamshire are going to be up there among the title chasers, and so will Hampshire.

Who will struggle in the First and Second Divisions?

I can see Middlesex having a tough time. They struggled to get results last season, getting a lot of draws, which has been OK up to now. But there will be more competition than ever for teams to stay up. I see Leicestershire struggling in the Second Division.

Who is the unsung player to watch out for at your club?

Jon Batty, wicketkeeper.

Is there an Englishman not currently involved in the full England set-up who you think could force his way on to the Ashes tour?

Yeah, me.

Who is the overseas players to keep an eye out for this season?

You can look no further than Shane Warne at Hampshire. On and off the field he is unmissable.

Who is county cricket's Golden Oldie (or the next Shaun Udal)?

Jon Batty, he will be 32 next week.

Should the season be starting now? And do you play too much cricket?

I think the start of the season should be put back to the first or second week in May and finish it in the first or second week in September. In the Championship the likelihood is that in most parts of the country in April the weather means games will finish as draws or be abandoned. Teams do get results in the first games in April, but those results can distort the County Championship table, because many counties do not get to complete a game. I still think there is an element of too much cricket played. OK, we do get more time off, but what happens is that counties will get blocks of play and blocks of rest. You can have seven or eight days off in a month, then have not a day without either travelling or playing for another block. I think they need to have another look at the fixture list and ensure there are three days between matches, for example, so there is a complete day without travel.

What is your favourite town to visit for an away game?

It is a long time since I have been there, and as long as we are talking about the place rather than the ground, I think Bath is probably my favourite town when I am away from home.

And your least favourite?

That has to be Canterbury.

What is your favourite county ground?

It doesn't exist any longer, but I loved playing at Hampshire's old Northlands Road ground in Southampton.

What is the coldest you have ever been and how many layers did you have on?

That is easy, a a practice match earlier this week against Sussex at Hove. Snow everywhere. I couldn't feel my fingers it was that cold. The layers I had on were not that dramatic, because I had on some thermal underwear. But if you include the thermals then I had three other layers on top, and I was still cold.

What will the score be in the 2006-07 Ashes?

I think there is a good chance of a draw at Brisbane. So I reckon 2-2, and England will retain The Ashes.

Jeremy Snape Leicestershire captain

How do you see the season going for your county?

We have not set any goal except to win as many games as we can, but it is an exciting time for us. Signing Tim Boon as head coach was a great coup after his experience working in the England set-up and he has already brought in some innovative ideas and a strong work ethic. We have some good young players in the squad.

Who will win the First and Second Divisions?

Nottinghamshire work really hard and benefit from solid planning and strategy. Stephen Fleming has a huge influence as captain and I can see them going close to retaining their crown, but Lancashire have great depth and experience. Everyone will be expecting Surrey to do well in the Second Division.

Who will struggle in the First and Second Divisions?

I wonder if Yorkshire might. Teams have eras of success and Yorkshire have reached a point at which some older players have come to the end of their time. In our division, Derbyshire finished bottom last year but they have strengthened considerably.

Who is the unsung player to watch out for at your club?

He is not exactly unsung, but Stuart Broad is one for whom this could be a big year. For a player who is not yet 20 he is mentally mature and self-aware and whose cricket thinking is very good.

Is there an Englishman not involved in the full England set-up who you think could force his way on to the Ashes tour?

I would have to say that Stuart Broad fits that category. He has the potential and there is no reason he could not be a contender by the end of the summer.

Who is the overseas players to keep an eye out for this season?

We are excited about our own overseas signing, the Pakistan pace bowler Mohammad Asif, who played against England and made such an impact against Sri Lanka. I expect Brad Hodge to have a big season for Lancashire as well.

Who is county cricket's Golden Oldie (or the next Shaun Udal)?

Whether there is another Shaun Udal on the horizon I don't know, but the Golden Oldie of the county circuit has to be the destructive near-40-year-old Graeme Hick, whom I describe that way with a lot of respect.

Should the season be starting now?

And do you play too much cricket? I feel we could be starting at the end of April and going through to the end of September. Less cricket would mean more preparation, greater intensity and a raising of quality.

What is your favourite town to visit for an away game?

I always like going back to Durham. It is a beautiful and I went to university there. And your least favourite? That would have to be Durham as well, but only in April. There is nowhere colder.

What is your favourite county ground?

As a venue, Trent Bridge takes some beating. A Test match ground but with real tradition and an attractive setting even though it is in a city.

What is the coldest you have ever been and how many layers did you have on?

Playing in Durham in 2003 I went out wearing something like seven layers including thermal underwear and Lycra. I wouldn't normally admit to wearing Lycra but it was a matter of staving off hypothermia.

What will the score be in the 2006-07 Ashes?

Patriotically, I'd go for 2-1 to England. Our team might not have had such a great time since winning the Ashes, but the hype, combined with the emotional discharge involved in playing and winning, was bound to take its toll.

Mark Butcher Surrey captain

How do you see the season going for your county?

I am very optimistic. I think we have progressed nicely in one-day cricket. We are competitive at last in that form, having been competitive in the four-day game for a few years now.

Who will win the First and Second Divisions?

It is as a tight a Championship as it has been for a while. There are no obvious sides like Surrey to pick on in the First Division. I think Warwickshire will be strong, and so will Kent. Hampshire look a good outside bet, but a lot depends on Shane Warne. In the Second Division Surrey have been through an awful time, but I think they will be looking to win the Second Division title in record time, say early August. And I expect Somerset to come straight back up.

Who will struggle in the First and Second Divisions?

Sides used to be able to survive by not losing games and going for a lot of draws. Warwickshire won the 2004 Championship with just five wins. Now teams that go for draws will be the ones to struggle. Teams will have to aim to win four or five matches, in order to stay up. In the second Division I think Derbyshire will struggle. I began my career with them, so it hurts to see them down there.

Who is the unsung player to watch out for at your club?

I have a hunch Richard Montgomerie is going to have a corking year.

Is there an Englishman not currently involved in the full England set-up who you think could force his way on to the Ashes tour?

I think the next Englishman with a chance of forcing his way into the Ashes squad is Leicestershire's Stuart Broad.

Who is the overseas players to keep an eye out for this season?

Brad Hodge, who will be playing for Lancashire this season.

Who is county cricket's Golden Oldie (or the next Shaun Udal)?

I take my hat off to Graeme Hick, who is going to be 40 in May, but the Golden Oldie is be Kent's left-arm spinner Min Patel, who is 36 in July. He has had a fantastic season in New Zealand for Central Districts.

Should the season be starting now? And do you play too much cricket?

Traditionally we had the B&H Cup in April, which was a good lead-in to the Championship campaign. Now two out of three Championship matches in April can be affected by the weather. That is not right. I don't see the need to finish the season in September. I think we should play cricket into October because of the way the climate has been over the last few years. And, no, I don't think we play too much cricket.

What is your favourite town to visit for an away game?

I love my Arundel week.

And your least favourite?

London. It is the one place I hate going to. I can't explain, I just don't like it.

What is your favourite county ground?

Arundel is my favourite by a country mile. The scenery, the setting, the atmosphere. It's got the lot.

What is the coldest you have ever been and how many layers did you have on?

We played against Oxford University at The Parks and the umpire Peter Willey came off at one point and rang Alan Fordham at the ECB to see if it was possible to come off because of low temperatures. As for layers, I had as many on as there were in my bag.

What will the score be in the 2006-07 Ashes?

2-2, so England will retain the Ashes.

Division One team-by-team guide

DURHAM

Director: Martyn Moxon

Captain: Dale Benkenstein

Last season: CCII 2nd; NLII 2nd; C&G 1st rd; Twenty20 grp

Finally where they belong, and producing England players of note. Of course, that could count against them, but they have a few youngsters queuing up, not least Ben Harmison, Steve's younger brother. When not wanted by England, Liam Plunkett can provide wickets. New captain Benkenstein and Jimmy Maher will add runs aplenty.

Overseas players: M Lewis, J Maher (both Aus). In Maher, O Gibson (Leics), G Park.

Out: G Hamilton, A Pratt (both released), M Gough (ret).

HAMPSHIRE

Director: Tim Tremlett

Captain: Shane Warne

Last season: CCI 2nd; NLI 9th; C&G winners; Twenty20 grp

A formidable squad, even with Kevin Pietersen on England duty. The fragile state of Chris Tremlett's fitness must be a concern, but the uninterrupted presence of Warne will make a huge difference. Wickets from him are a given. Championship challengers. One-day pot-hunters, too.

Overseas players: Warne, D Thorneley (both Aus). In M Carberry (Kent), D Balcombe. Out D Kenway, L Prittipaul (both rel), A Mullally (ret), A Bichel, S Watson, S Katich.

KENT

Director: Graham Ford

Captain: Robert Key

Last season: CCI 4th; NLII 8th; Twenty20 grp

New captain Key, still in competition for an England place, will be hungry for runs, as will Matthew Walker and Darren Stevens. They bat a long way down and have two of the better overseas players. The attack is well balanced, but Key must inject a more ruthless streak in his team.

Overseas players: A Hall, J Kemp (both SA).

Out: M Carberry (Hants).

LANCASHIRE

Manager: Mike Watkinson

Captain: Mark Chilton

Last season: CCII 1st; NLI 6th; C&G SF Twenty20 finalists

Expect a serious title challenge. The attack, even after Muttiah Muralitharan left, compiled a formidable total of wickets. If England call up James Anderson in addition to Andrew Flintoff, there is still Sajid Mahmood, Glen Chapple and Dominic Cork. More runs are needed. They gleaned maximum points three times on way to promotion.

Overseas players: B Hodge (Aus).

In: L Sutton (Derbys), K Brown, T Smith. Out A Symonds, S Crook (Northants), T Rees (rel), W Hegg (ret), M Muralitharan (rel).

MIDDLESEX

Director: John Emburey

Captain: Ben Hutton

Last season: CCI 6th; NLI 2nd; C&G 2nd rd; Twenty20 QF

Runs are not a problem. They amassed 16 Championship tons last year. Owais Shah bloomed, as did Ed Joyce, while James Dalrymple, Edward Smith and Paul Weekes also made impressive contributions. Wickets were a little harder to find especially towards the end of the season. Johann Louw, Chris Silverwood and Mohammad Ali have much to do.

Overseas players: S Styris (NZ), J Louw (SA).

In: Louw (Northants), C Silverwood (Yorks), M Ali (Derbys), C Jones, A Pointer, S Finn.

Out: N Hayward, P Hutchison, P Trego (Som).

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

Director: Mike Newell

Captain: Stephen Fleming

Last season: CCI Champions; NLI 5th; C&G 2nd rd; Twenty20 grp

Plenty of run-makers, including an old face - Chris Cairns - albeit temporarily and captain Stephen Fleming. Darren Bicknell, Jason Gallian and David Hussey can also be counted on. Chris Read, arguably the best wicketkeeper around, just happened to average almost 45 in the Championship. With the balanced attack their grip on the title will take some loosening.

Overseas players: S Fleming (NZ), D Hussey (Aus), C Cairns (NZ, temp).

In: Cairns.

Out: Younis Khan, R Hodgkinson.

SUSSEX

Manager: Mark Robinson

Captain: Chris Adams

Last season: CCI 3rd; NLII 1st; C&G quarter-finals; Twenty20 grp

Like many of the better sides, runs are no problem. Astute captain Adams passed 1,000 runs yet scored just one century. But he typified the whole team. Batsmen and bowlers were remarkably consistent. Now they just need to find that extra edge and silverware will be theirs for the taking.

Overseas players: Mushtaq Ahmed, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan.

In: T Linley (Oxford UCCE), A Hodd (Surrey), O Rayner.

Out: I Ward (ret), T Ambrose (Warwicks), M Davis (ret).

WARWICKSHIRE

Director: Mark Greatbatch

Captain: Heath Streak

Last season: CCI 4th; NLII 3rd; C&G finalists; Twenty20 QF

Another club with a change at the top. Mark Greatbatch will build on the quiet intellectualism of John Inverarity. Daniel Vettori will be extremely useful. Tim Ambrose is a talented keeper, who also hangs around with the bat. Streak will find plenty of wickets from his support team. Title challengers.

Overseas players: H Streak (Zim), Vettori (NZ).

In: D Vettori, T Ambrose (Sussex), L Daggett (Dur UCCE), T Groenewald, M Lewis, C McLeod (Sco).

Out: T Penney, K Piper (both ret), T Mees, D Pretorius, S Eustace, M Ntini (all rel).

YORKSHIRE

Director: David Byas

Captain: Craig White

Last season: CCII 3rd; NLII 9th; C&G semi-finals; Twenty20 grp

Darren Lehmann returns, trailing behind him a welter of runs. Fellow Australian Jason Gillespie arrives offering a wealth of test experience and wickets. The batting and bowling looks solid. Gerard Brophy will bring runs with his wicketkeeping. The squad has the look of winners.

Overseas players: J Gillespie, D Lehmann (both Aus).

In: Gillespie, Lehmann, G Brophy (Northants).

Out: I Harvey (Glos), P Jaques (Worcs), C Silverwood (Middx), C Taylor (Derbys), I Dawood, D Lucas (both rel).

Division Two team-by-team guide

DERBYSHIRE

Director: Dave Houghton

Captain: Graeme Welch

Last season: CCII 9th, NLII 5th, C&G 2R; Twenty20 QF

In the last five seasons their highest placing has been sixth in the Second Division. New captain Welch will have his work cut out lifting them off the bottom, let alone challenging for promotion.

Overseas players: T Birt, M Di Venuto (both Aus), Mohammad Yousuf (Pak; for May).

In: S Jones (Northants), J Pipe (Worcs), C Taylor (Yorks), G Wagg.

Out: L Sutton (Lancs), Mohammad Ali (Middlesex), C Bassano, J Bryant, J Chapman, T Friend, P Havell, J Moss, B Spendlove, N Walker (all released).

ESSEX

Coaches: Graham Gooch (batting); Ian Pont (bowling)

Captain: Ronnie Irani

Last season: CCII 5th; NLI 1st; C&G 2nd rd; Twenty20 grp

Close last year, have personnel and talent to make it this season. Andy Bichel will give his all in part two, with bat and ball. Alastair Cook should prosper, although England may demand more of his blossoming services. But there are other Flowers in the Essex garden including old England rose Darren Gough.

Overseas players: A Adams (NZ), A Bichel (Aus, temp for second half of season).

In: Bichel.

Out: P Grayson (ret), D Kaneria, A Clarke, J Bishop (all released).

GLAMORGAN

Coach: John Derrick

Captain: Robert Croft

Last season: CCI 9th; NLI 4th; C&G 2nd rd; Twenty20 grp

Look sound bet for one-dayers, but could struggle to get back into Championship top flight. Mark Cosgrove comes with a reputation for run-making, but wickets are also badly needed. A fit Simon Jones will be England-bound for sure so Alex Wharf and Co have to dig deep yet again.

Overseas players: J Franklin (NZ), M Cosgrove (Aus).

In: Franklin.

Out: M Maynard, A Shaw (both ret), I Thomas, J Hughes (both released).

GLOUCESTERSHIRE

Coach: Mark Alleyne

Captain: Jon Lewis

Last season: CCI 8th; NLI 7th; C&G 2nd rd; Twenty20 grp

They have marshalled a battery of overseas talent. Fast bowler Shane Bond will be a handful in all competitions. Ian Harvey, a devious one-day bowler, is also full of runs. His presence early on will almost certainly set them on the right track in the one-dayers. Championship outsiders for promotion.

Overseas players: I Harvey (Aus, early temp), S Bond, H Marshall (both NZ).

In: Harvey, Bond, Marshall, G Hodnett, D Brown, T Stayt.

Out: M Alleyne, T Hancock (both ret), R Sillence (Worcs), U Chandana, M Bandara, J Pearson (all released).

LEICESTERSHIRE

Senior coach: Tim Boon

Captain: Jeremy Snape

Last season: CCII 7th; NL 4th; C&G 2nd rd; Twenty20 SF

A change of coach and captain, and a new spirit of optimism promise an improvement. They can rely on runs from Dinesh Mongia, Darren Robinson and Aftab Habib, the problem will be wickets. Sheriyar needs to come through his trial and give Stuart Broad and Co support.

Overseas players: D Mongia (Ind), Mohammad Asif (Pak).

In: Mohammad Asif, Alamgir Sheriyar (trial), R Cummins, P Harrison.

Out: P DeFreitas (ret), O Gibson (Durham), C Willoughby (Som), D Brignull, C Dagnall, N Ferraby (all rel).

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE

Director: Kepler Wessels

Captain: David Sales

Last season: CCII 4th; NLI 3rd; C&G quarter finals; Twenty20 QF

Panesar, his studies over and bolstered by his England performances in the winter, can finally give the club the full Monty. Lance Klusener can be expected to contribute weightily with his all-round talents.

Overseas players: C Rogers, M Nicholson (Aus), L Klusener (SA).

In: Rogers, Nicholson, Klusener (Kolpak), S Peters, D Wigley (both Worcs), S Crook (Lancs), G White.

Out: M Love, J Louw (Middx), D Wright, S Jones (Derbys), G Brophy (Yorks), T Huggins, T Roberts, C Wake, R King, C Goode (all rel).

SOMERSET

Director: Brian Rose

Captain: Ian Blackwell

Last season: CCII 8th, NLII 6th; C&G 1st rd; Twenty20 Winners

Boast plenty of home-bred talent: Hildreth, Suppiah, Wood, Durston and Gazzard. Have one of the bigger hitters in Blackwell, their new captain, plus hunger in their overseas signings: leg-spinning all-rounder Cameron White and off-spinner Dan Cullen, both Australian, both early 20s. Promotion contenders.

Overseas players: C White, D Cullen (both Aus).

In: White, Cullen, C Willoughby (Leics), P Trego (Middx).

Out: R Turner (ret), M Burns, A Laraman, G Smith, N McLean, C Langeveldt, S Jaysuriya (all rel).

SURREY

Manager: Alan Butcher

Captain: Mark Butcher

Last season: CCI 7th; NLII 7th; C&G quarter-finals; Twenty20 SF

Butcher and Son are geared up to transform the Brown Caps' fortunes. Coach Alan will restore the cheer to dressing-room and training ground. Captain Mark, the wrist healed, wants to enhance his captaincy credentials (11 wins, one defeat, out of 19 as a stand-in). Promotion contenders.

Overseas players: A Kumble (Ind), Azhar Mahmood (Pak).

In: Kumble, S Walters (Aus; Eng qual).

Out: A Hodd (Sussex), P Sampson, Saqlain Mushtaq, D Thorneley, Harbhajan Singh (all rel), G Thorpe (ret).

WORCESTERSHIRE

Director: Steve Rhodes

Captain: Vikram Solanki

Last season: CCII 6th; NLI 8th; C&G 2nd rd; Twenty20 grp

The prolific left-handed Australian Phil Jaques will present Rhodes with a substantial return on the County's investment. Matthew Mason, Gareth Batty, Raymond Price and Kabir Ali will find further support in attack from Zaheer and Roger Sillence.

Overseas players: Zaheer Khan (Ind), P Jaques (Aus).

In: Zaheer Khan, Jaques, R Sillence (Glos), E Foster, R Jones, J McNally, Faisal Shahid.

Out: D Leatherdale (ret), S Peters, D Wigley (both Northants), J Pipe (Derbys), Z de Bruyn, C Gayle, Shoaib Akhtar (all rel).

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