Butcher relishes meaty role to give Brown Hatters head start

Surrey are the team to beat in the County Championship, writes Angus Fraser
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The Independent Online

No county in the past decade has done more for England's cause than Surrey. The "Brown Hatters" have supplied England with more players than anyone else, and have willingly put the interests of the national side ahead of their own.

No county in the past decade has done more for England's cause than Surrey. The "Brown Hatters" have supplied England with more players than anyone else, and have willingly put the interests of the national side ahead of their own.

These demands would have been enough to sidetrack lesser teams. Yet throughout this period the south Londoners won eight domestic trophies, and they enter the 2005 season, which starts today with the first round of Championship matches, as the side to beat.

Most clubs would be delighted with Surrey's achievements in the last two seasons - two one-day titles and two top-three finishes in the First Division of the Championship - but the retirement of Adam Hollioake has placed the club in a vulnerable position. Even before they began winning silverware, Surrey possessed the strongest squad in the country, but it took a personality of Hollioake's strength to knock a side full of strutters into shape.

In 2004, Jonathan Batty tried but failed, and in an effort to bring back the glory years, Surrey have appointed Mark Butcher as their captain. This season promises to be a chaotic one for the England batsman, who will attempt to juggle the captaincy, a benefit year and regaining his place in Michael Vaughan's side.

"The timing of the captaincy could have been better but it is not a major problem," said Butcher. "It has always been something that I wanted to do and I was never going to turn it down because it may not have come around again. Obviously I want to play for England again but I will only do that by scoring heavily for Surrey. Steve Rixon [the Surrey coach] wants every Surrey player to have this aim.

"I will be looking to combine what Adam brought to the side with what I have experienced in the England set-up. I want players to take on responsibility and I also want them to feel included. We have a number of young players and I want them to feel that they have the same right as the senior guys to contribute."

There are counties that decide to gear their success around one-day cricket and select their squads accordingly. But this has never been the case at Surrey. The Championship has always been their goal and this is why more than a dozen members of their playing staff have represented England at Test cricket in the last 10 years.

"The County Championship has always been our priority and our aim is to produce England cricketers," said Butcher.

"If we look to improve our squad it is with the Championship in mind. We want good players at the club and if we can achieve this we will be competitive in one-day cricket. Last year (Surrey were trophyless) stunned us. Perhaps we expected success just to come our way and took things for granted. It certainly gave us a kick up the backside. But we quite rightly sit amongst the favourites. We have a strong squad and a hungry dressing room."

Surrey's main challengers for the Championship will be Warwickshire. The reigning champions may not play the most adventurous cricket in England but they have a very strong batting line-up that enjoys piling on the runs on flat Edgbaston pitches.

Hampshire's cricket, with Shane Warne as captain and Kevin Pietersen in the middle order, should be anything but dull. The pitch at the Rose Bowl produces results and this means the county could either be challenging for the title, or desperately fighting to avoid relegation.

Much of what Hampshire do - Warne, new ground, permanent floodlights - should be applauded but it is disappointing to see the county signing so many players who are not qualified to take the field for England.

Hampshire are not the only club to take this route, but it is hoped that the England and Wales Cricket Board's plan to give financial rewards to counties who play English-qualified players will change a worrying trend. It is also interesting to note that the guiltiest counties tend to have an overseas captain or coach, and the players coming from South Africa via this method are white.

The first six weeks of the season should be competitive. In 2004, the 12 England stars currently contracted to the board played 28 Championship matches, but Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, has allowed all his players to play a near full role before the first Test against Bangladesh on 26 May.

The National League is the only competition some have been kept out of and this season will be the last in its current format.

As part of its strategic plan, the ECB intends to revamp one-day cricket in 2006. The Twenty20 Cup will remain domestic cricket's showpiece event but the C&G Trophy will become a 50-over, white ball, two conference competition with a Lord's final. Ireland and Scotland will compete, and the tournament will be played in the first half of the season. This is so potential England players can get used to this style of cricket before the international one-dayers start. The National League will still be two-divisional but the games will now be 40 overs per side.

The eagerly awaited arrival of the formidable Australians in early June will inevitably take attention away from domestic cricket but in the minds of two counties, the battle for the Ashes will be the second biggest of the summer. Yorkshire and Lancashire will again lock horns but this time it is in Division Two. How the mighty have fallen.

Derbyshire keep selling parts of the County Ground but the money raised cannot be spent strengthening a weak playing staff. The agreement with the city council states that they have to spend the profits on redeveloping the ground. New stands have been built and permanent floodlights erected, but the county's future is not bright. It is hard to believe 2005 will be any better than 2004 when they won only one Championship match.
Dir of cricket: David Houghton (Zim)
Captain: Luke Sutton
This season: CCII; NLII
Last season: CCII, 8; NLII, 9; C&G 2nd; Twenty20 group.
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Jonathan Moss, Michael Di Venuto (both Aus)
Non-England qualified players: Travis Friend (K), Hasan Adnan, Chris Bassano, Anthony Botha, James Bryant, Di Venuto, Moss.
In: Di Venuto, Chris Paget, Jake Needham, Paul Borrington, Richard Browning, Liam Hughes, Friend (Zim).
Out: Nathan Dumelow, Mohammad Ali, Neil Gunter, Rawait Khan, Steve Selwood, Rogers, Andrew Gait (all released)

Durham consistently supply England's youth teams with talented young cricketers but too few of them go on to establish themselves in the professional game. In 2004 the county had a nightmare with their overseas players, using six in total. Mike Hussey and Ashley Noffke will start the season, although Noffke has already injured his back. The reappearance of Stephen Harmison in April or May will help, but another tough year looms.
Coach: Martyn Moxon
Captain: Mike Hussey (Aus)
This season: CCII; NLII
Last season: CCII, 9; NLII,6; C&G 2nd; Twenty20 group.
Central contract: Steve Harmison
Overseas players: Hussey, Ashley Noffke (both Aus)
Non-England qualified players: Dale Benkenstein (K), Gareth Breese, Hussey, Noffke, Gavin Hamilton, Kyle Coetzer, Callum Thorp
In: Noffke, Hussey, Thorp (all Aus), David Barrick, Mark Turner
Out: Ian Pattison, Shoaib Akhtar, Herschelle Gibbs, Reon King, Tahir Mughal, Pallav Kumar, Marcus North, Shaun Tait, Andy Blignaut (all released)

Rumour has it that Ronnie Irani will not only captain and coach the county; he will also prepare the pitches, organise the parking and do the teas. With Darren Gough as his vice-captain he will not be short of advice ? but it may be debatable how much of it will actually be worth listening to. Alex Tudor, the former England fast bowler, could be an excellent signing if he manages to get himself fit, while James Foster and Alastair Cook will be looking to impress England's selectors.
Coach: Ronnie Irani
Captain: Irani
This season: CCII; NLI
Last season: CCII, 5; NLI, 6; C&G, quarter-finals; Twenty20, quarter-finals.
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Danish Kaneria (Pak), André Adams (NZ)
Non-England qualified players: Grant Flower (K), A Flower, Maurice Chambers, Ryan ten Doeschate, Adams, Kaneria,.
In: Alex Tudor (Surrey), G Flower (Zim).
Out: Aftab Habib (Leicestershire), Scott Brant, Adrian McCoubrey, Zoheb Sharif, John Stephenson (all rel), Nasser Hussain (ret).

With the National League cricket and Grand Slam rugby titles back in Wales, and First Division Championship cricket beckoning, it will be hard to wipe the smile off Robert Croft's face. The white ball wizards will be delighted to see a ball of this colour being used in the C&G Trophy for the first time, but the loss of Michael Kasprovicz will be a blow. Simon Jones's recent re-signing will have helped make up for the latter's departure, but they will lose Jones for the Ashes should he bowl as well as he did in South Africa. Having worked hard to get in the First Division, it would be a shame to go back down in Matthew Maynard's final year, but their squad is still better suited to the one-day game.
Coach: John Derrick
Captain: Robert Croft
This season: CCI; NLI
Last season: CCII, 3rd; NLI, winners; C&G, 3rd; Twenty20, semi-finals.
Central contract: Simon Jones
Overseas players: Matthew Elliott (Aus)
Non-England qualified players: Elliott.
In: None
Out: Michael Kasprowicz (Aus) Adrian Dale (ret), Michael Lewis, Dan Nolan (both rel).

Last season's winners of the C&G Trophy have had a busy winter keeping their best player ? Jon Lewis ? at the County Ground and signing prospective stars. Steve Kirby, the fiery fast bowler from Yorkshire, will ensure they remain competitive in four day cricket and Upul Chandana's leg-spin will help in both forms of the game. Craig Spearman appears to get better with every season and another one-day title is a realistic goal.
Coach: Mark AlleyneCaptains: Chris Taylor (four day), Alleyne (one day)
This season: CCI; NLI
Last season: CCI, 6th; NL, 5th; C&G, winners; Twenty20, group
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Upul Chandana (S Lanka)
Non-England qualified players: Chandana, Craig Spearman
In: Kadeer Ali (Worcs), Steven Kirby (Yorks), Carl Greenidge (Northants), Will Rudge, Steve Snell
Out: Jack Russell (ret), Mike Smith (ret), Mike Hussey (Durham), Alastair Bressington, Shabbir Ahmed, Shoaib Malik, James Franklin, Nathan Bracken (all rel)

Rod Bransgrove's millions are turning the Rose Bowl into the coolest place in town. By installing permanent floodlights the Hampshire chairman hopes to make the ground England's one day home. But the pitch will need to improve for this to be the case. With Shane Warne as captain, and England's one-day batting sensation Kevin Pietersen in the side, Southampton is the venue to visit in April and May. Keeping the momentum going when these two disappear will be the challenge.
Director of cricket: Tim Tremlett
Captain: Shane Warne (Aus)
This season: CCI; NLI
Last season: CCII, 2nd; NLI, 3rd; C&G, 3rd; Twenty20, quarter-finals
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Warne, Simon Katich (both Aus)
Non-England qualified players: Jono McLean (K), Greg Lamb, Nic Pothas, Sean Ervine, Katich, Warne
In: Pietersen (Notts), David Griffiths, Richard Logan (Notts), McLean (SA), Ervine (Zim), Katich
Out: Will Kendall (ret), Dominic Clapp, Michael Clarke, James Hamblin, James Hibberd, Shane Watson (all rel)

Despite finishing second in the County Championship, 2004 was not a good year for Kent. Unrest in the dressing-room led to Ed Smith and Alex Louden, considered to be two of the leading players in the county, leaving Canterbury. The members' revolt that followed was eventually quashed and on 8 January the famous lime tree, which stood inside the boundary, was blown down in a storm. Smith's runs and Louden's spin will be missed but Kent are too strong to go down in the Championship.
Director of cricket: Graham Ford (SA)
Captain: David Fulton
This season: CCI; NLII
Last season: CCI, 2nd; NLI, 8th; C&G, 3rd; Twenty20, group
Central contract: Geraint JonesOverseas player: Andrew Hall (SA)
Non-England qualified players: Martin Van Jaarsveld (SA; K), Amjad Khan, Niall O'Brien, Hall, Robert Joseph
In: Simon Cook (Middx), Darren Stevens (Leics), Van Jaarsveld, Hall
Out: Andrew Symonds (rel), Ed Smith (Middlesex), Alex Loudon (Warwicks), Ben Trott, Michael Bevan, Ian Butler, Mohammad Sami (all rel)

A club with Lancashire's wage bill and prestige should not be in the Second Division of the County Championship, and anything but an immediate return to the top flight in 2005 must be seen as failure. A move from Old Trafford to East Manchester is still being considered but members at the AGM appeared to be more concerned about where they could smoke than the performance of the team. Cricket manager: Mike Watkinson
Captain: Mark Chilton
This season: CCII; NLI
Last season: CCI, 8th; NLI, 2nd; C&G, quarter-final; Twenty20, semi-final
Central contract: James Anderson, Andrew Flintoff
Overseas players: Muttiah Muralitharan (S Lanka), Brad Hodge (Aus)
Non-England qualified players: Andrew Crook, Stephen Crook, Paul Horton, Muralitharan, Hodge, Stuart Law
In: Andrew Crook, Steven Croft, Gareth Cross, Simon Marshall, Hodge, Muralitharan
Out: Carl Hooper, Chris Schofield, Mark Currie, Jamie Haynes, Alec Swann (all rel), Dinesh Mongia (Leics), John Wood, Peter Martin (both ret)

Many in Leicestershire feel the captaincy should have been given to Darren Maddy and not to the South African Kolpak signing Hylton Ackerman. The Foxes consistently punch above their weight but it is hard to see them challenging for honours in the final season for Phillip DeFreitas. With little money to spend their overseas players are workmanlike. The young all-rounder Stuart Broad ? son of the former England opener, Chris ? could be one to watch.
Director of cricket: James Whitaker
Captain: Hylton Ackerman (SA)
This season: CCII; NLII
Last season: CCII, 6th; NLII, 7th; C&G, 2nd; Twenty20, winners
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Dinesh Mongia (Ind), Charl Willoughby (SA)
Non-England qualified players: Ackerman (K), Claude Henderson (K), Mongia, Willoughby, Ottis Gibson
In: Aftab Habib (Essex), Ackerman, Willoughby, Mongia, Stuart Broad, Matthew Boyce
Out: Darren Stevens (Kent), Brad Hodge, Mark Cleary, Damien Brandy, George Walker, Jon Dakin (all rel)

After two years consolidating their status in the First Division, Middlesex should now be looking to challenge for the County Championship. They will lose Andrew Strauss to England from 26 May, but have made two good signings in Ed Smith and Alan Richardson. The new captain, Ben Hutton, will ensure the team is vibrant and Owais Shah's performances with England A suggest maturity. More is required from the bowlers to mount a serious challenge.
Coach: John Emburey
Captain: Ben Hutton
This season: CCI ; NLI
Last season: CCI, 4th NLII, winners; C&G, quarter-finals; Twenty20, group
Central contract: Andrew Strauss
Overseas players: Scott Styris (NZ), Nanty Hayward (SA)
Non-England qualified players: Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan, Styris, Hayward
In: Ed Smith (Kent), Alan Richardson (Warwicks), Styris
Out: Simon Cook (Kent), Mali Richards, Tom Savill, Lance Klusener, Tim Bloomfield, Ben Duncan, Ajit Agarkar, Glenn McGrath, Stuart Clark (all rel), Sven Koenig (ret)

During the winter the ECB put in place a system designed to give financial rewards to counties who employ cricketers that are England qualified. This ruling does not appear to worry Northamptonshire's coach, Kepler Wessels, who seems happy to make an English accent the least heard in the Wantage Road dressing-room.
Coach: Kepler Wessels (SA)
Captain: David Sales
This season: CC II; NLI
Last season: CCI, 9th NLI, 4th; C&G quarter finals; Twenty20, group.
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Martin Love (Aus), Damien Wright (Aus)
Non-England qualified players: Johann Louw (K), Charl Pietersen (K), Riki Wessels (K), Love, Wright, Gerard Brophy.
In: Pietersen, Riki Wessels, Love, Bilal Shafayat (Notts), Wright, Andrew R White.
Out: Adam Shantry (Warwicks), Graeme Swann (Notts), Martin van Jaarsveld (Kent), Mark Powell, Toby Bailey, Michael Cawdron, Craig Jennings, Ricky Anderson, (all rel), Jeff Cook (ret), Carl Greenidge (Glos).

Inviting Stephen Fleming to captain the county can be seen as a shrewd move. The captain of New Zealand will have a calming and positive influence at Trent Bridge and will bring runs at the top of the order. Fleming will, no doubt, miss Kevin Pietersen's supreme ability with the bat to change the course of a match, but Graeme Swann is a good signing. Finishing in the top three of the County Championship and retaining their First Division status in the National League would constitute a good season.
Director of cricket: Mike Newell
Captain: Stephen Fleming (NZ)
This season: CCI; NLI
Last season: CCII, winners; NLII, 3rd; C&G, 3rd; Twenty20, group
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Fleming (NZ), David Hussey (Aus)
Non-England qualified players: Fleming, Hussey, Greg Smith
In: Fleming, Graeme Swann (Northants)
Out: Kevin Pietersen (Hants), Richard Logan (Hants), David Lucas (Yorks), Stuart MacGill (rel), Bilal Shafayat (Northants)

There are bound to be teething problems when a new captain and coach take charge of a county, especially when the captain misses the first month of the season representing his country. Graeme Smith has a had a very busy winter, playing in 13 Test matches and 15 ODI, and it will be interesting to see how much energy he has for this demanding job. Somerset's hopes of promotion will depend on the fitness of Andrew Caddick and Richard Johnson. But age appears to be catching up with both of these fast bowlers.
Coach: Mark Garaway
Captain: Graeme Smith (SA)
This season: CCII; NLII
Last season: CCII, 4th; NLII, 8th; C&G, 3rd; Twenty20, group
Central contract: Marcus Trescothick
Overseas players: Smith (SA), Sanath Jayasuriya (S Lanka)
Non-England qualified players: Nixon McLean (K), Arul Suppiah, Smith, Jayasuriya.
In: Smith, Jayasuriya
Out: Ricky Ponting, Thos Hunt, Tom Webley (all rel), Keith Dutch, Jamie Cox, Peter Bowler (all ret)

Replacing Adam Hollioake was always going to be a tough task, but in Mark Butcher Surrey have a captain who is capable of installing the same virtues into this high-class outfit. Mark Ramprakash will score thousands of runs. Martin Bicknell, James Ormond, Mohammad Akram, Azhar Mahmood, Harhajan Singh, Ian Salisbury and Nayan Doshi give the bowling variety and quality. And should the ?Brown Hatters? start reasonably they will be hard to live with. Champions.Cricket manager: Steve Rixon (Aus)
Captain: Mark Butcher
This season: CCI; NLII
Last season: CCI, 3rd; NLI, 9th; C&G, 2nd; Twenty20, finalists.
Central contract: Graham Thorpe, Mark Butcher
Overseas players: Harbhajan Singh (India), Azhar Mahmood (Pak)
Non-England qualified players: Harbhajan, Azhar, Jade Dernbach, Mohammad Akram
In: Harbhajan, Akram (Sussex)
Out: Alex Tudor (Essex), Nadeem Shahid, Adam Hollioake (both ret), Saqlain Mushtaq (rel) Sussex
In 2004 Mushtaq Ahmed claimed 21 fewer wickets than when he took Sussex to their first Championship title in 2003. But the form of the Pakistani leg-spinner was not the principal reason for their decline. Only Chris Adams scored more than a 1,000 Championship runs and more will be required from the batsmen if Sussex are to push for another title. After a successful A tour Matt Prior could put Geraint Jones under pressure if he scores heavily at the start of the season .
Director of cricket: Peter Moores
Captain: Chris Adams
This season: CCI; NLII;
Last season: CCI, 5th; NLII, 5th; C&G, 3rd; Twenty20, group
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Mushtaq Ahmed, Naved-ul-Hasan (both Pak), Johannes van der Wath (SA)
Non-England qualified players: Murray Goodwin (K), Mushtaq, Van der Wath, Mark Davis
In: Naved-ul-Hasan, Van der Wath, Sean Heather, Neil Turk, Chris Nash.
Out: Mohammad Akram (Surrey), Kevin Innes, Tony Cottey, Jason Voros (all rel)

The manner of Warwickshire's Championship victory caused an ECB committee to consider changing the points system. The Bears' sixth title was built on the back of five wins, staying unbeaten and accumulating more bonus points than anyone else. Nick Knight's side will be up there again, but repeating such tactics in 2005 will be difficult, especially without Ian Bell, who looks destined to play in the Ashes. Director of coaching: John Inverarity (Aus)
Captain: Nick Knight
This season: CCI; NLII
Last season: CCI, winners; NLI, 7th; C&G, semi-finals; Twenty20, quarter-finals.
Central contract: Ashley Giles
Overseas players: Heath Streak (Zim)
Non-England qualified players: Dewald Pretorius (SA, K), Jonathan Trott, Streak
In: Alex Loudon (Kent), Adam Shantry (Northants), Nick James, Nick Chase, James Anyon
Out: Alan Richardson (Middx), Brad Hogg, Sandy Allan, Ian Clifford, Jamie Spires, Nick Clewley, Steve Taylor, Huw Jones (all rel), Dominic Ostler (ret), Graham Wagg (sacked)

New Road will be a strange place to visit without Steven Rhodes behind the stumps. The retired wicketkeeper is one of four players to have captained the county in the past three seasons. Tom Moody is considered to be a strong candidate for Duncan Fletcher's job when the England coach decides he has had enough but this high turnover, along with rumours of player unrest suggests that all is not well on the banks of the Severn. Worcestershire should return to the First Division of the Championship in 2006.
Director of cricket: Tom Moody (Aus)
Captain: Vikram Solanki
This season: CCII; NLI
Last season: CCI, 7th; NLII, 2nd; C&G, finalists; Twenty20, quarter-finals
Central contract: None
Overseas players: Chaminder Vaas (S Lanka), Zander de Bruyn (SA), Shoaib Akhtar (Pak)
Non-England qualified players: Ray Price (K), Matt Mason, De Bruyn, Shoaib, Vaas.
In: Vaas, De Bruyn, Shoaib
Out: Kadeer Ali (Glos), Andrew Hall (Kent), Andrew Bichel, Mark Harrity (both rel), Steve Rhodes (ret)

When Yorkshire, a county which for years refused to employ overseas players, suddenly starts signing Kolpak players they must be in trouble. But why? At full strength they can field a side containing eight players with international experience and 2001, when they won the County Championship, was not that long ago. But as in the West Indies, cricket in Yorkshire is a mystery. With the squad they have they should be promoted in both competitions but who knows what is bubbling below the surface.
Director of cricket: David Byas
Captain: Craig White
This season: CCII; NLII
Last season: CCII, 7th; NLII, 4th; C&G semi-finals; Twenty20, group
Central contract: Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard
Overseas players: Phil Jaques, Ian Harvey (both Aus)
Non-England qualified players: Deon Kruis (SA, K), Harvey, Jaques, John Blain
In: Kruis, David Lucas (Notts)
Out: Steven Kirby (Glos), Darren Lehmann, Victor Craven, Andy Gray (all rel)