Franks revives memories oflost generation

With scarcely a pause for breath in which to reflect on England's winter, domestic cricket resumes on Friday with the County Championship. It has a tough act to follow to match the drama of 2010; three title contenders did not yield a winner until 4.52pm on the final day as Nottinghamshire claimed the last point they needed to pip Somerset.

None of those players whose exhausting itinerary ended in Colombo last weekend will be taking part, with the possible exception of Kent's James Tredwell. Their involvement is deferred until the first week in May at the earliest.

Yet there will be players who know how it feels to win a World Cup for England. Until Paul Collingwood lifted the World Twenty20 last year, the only major trophy to have come home to Lord's was the 1998 Under-19 World Cup.

The subsequent careers of most of the team that beat New Zealand by seven wickets in the Johannesburg final made a nonsense of assumptions that they were a golden generation. But there are survivors – and one of them is plying his trade with the county champions, all-rounder Paul Franks.

Of the 14 others who made up that junior England squad, only Franks's Nottinghamshire team-mate Graeme Swann can claim to have established himself as a world-class player.

Rob Key's 15 Test caps should not be dismissed lightly and while Owais Shah, the captain, has frustrated his admirers, there is no disputing his talent. Others – Stephen Peters, Graham Napier, Chris Schofield – remain familiar names but the most startling realisation is that less than half the squad are still playing.

Five quit in their early twenties, including Giles Haywood, the Sussex medium-pacer who took three wickets in the final. He made only one first-class appearance and now works as a chartered surveyor. Jonathan Powell, Nick Wilton, Jamie Grove and Ian Flanagan were others who moved on before their prime.

For Franks, a haul of nine wickets and 206 runs in the tournament was the catalyst for a rapid rise, culminating in a call-up to the senior one-day side only two years later, albeit for only one appearance. Yet he believes too many of the class of '98 were let down by their profession. "It's shameful that so many have been lost to the game," he said. "But the support that young players enjoy today just wasn't there. I believe there were a number who became disillusioned.

"It can happen when you carry the weight of expectation that comes with winning a major tournament, and some players struggle to cope. These days they have the Professional Cricketers' Association to turn to, but at that time players had to work out for themselves how to deal with things."

At 32, Franks is enjoying a renaissance in a career that began with enormous promise but has never quite delivered its full potential. He broke into the Nottinghamshire team at 17 and took 165 wickets in his first two full seasons but has since had his share of difficult times.

His call-up to face West Indies at Trent Bridge in 2000 proved to be his only senior appearance. His progress was then hampered by long-term injury and a loss of confidence.

But the retirement of Mark Ealham in 2009 offered him an opportunity and he delivered probably the best all-round season of his career – 765 first-class runs and 41 wickets – as Notts just clinched the title.

They began this campaign by losing heavily to MCC in Abu Dhabi last week but Franks believes they can defy claims that this season's favourites, Somerset, would have been more deserving champions.

"A lot of people thought Somerset were better and I'm not disputing that they had quality players, but we showed some character at the end.

"Losing Ryan Sidebottom leaves big shoes to fill but Andre Adams was amazing for us last season and there is an opportunity there for a young player – a Luke Fletcher or an Andrew Carter – to step up. We are still capable of competing on every front."

County Championship Division One

Durham

If Graham Onions is fit after his lay-off, expect them to improve on last season's fifth, but knee surgery means Paul Collingwood will not be able to reinforce the batting as soon as had been hoped. Regaining the title looks a step too far.

Prediction: 4th.

Key player: Ian Blackwell: Big shows needed with bat and ball.

England prospects: Ben Stokes (all-rounder), Scott Borthwick (leg spinner).

Hampshire

A talented squad that will be led from the front by Dominic Cork, they may be surprise contenders, especially with Imran Tahir back to provide a quality spin attack with precociously talented Danny Briggs.

Prediction: 3rd.

Key player: Jimmy Adams: Last season's top scorer led England Lions successfully in the West Indies.

England prospects: James Vince (right-handed batsman), Danny Briggs (left-arm spinner).

Lancashire

Struggled for runs last year and there is no Ashwell Prince or Shivnarine Chanderpaul this. Result pitches at Liverpool, Southport and Blackpool might be ar benefit but could find themselves nearer the bottom than top.

Prediction: 7th.

Key player: Glen Chapple: Veteran paceman's wickets still vital.

England prospects: Simon Kerrigan (left-arm spinner), Luke Procter (left-handed batsman).

Nottinghamshire

Won the title despite having no batsman make 1,000 runs. The return of Ryan Sidebottom to Yorkshire places even more responsibility on leading wicket-taker Andre Adams.

Prediction: 5th.

Key player: Andre Adams: His 68 wickets were key to 2010 title.

England prospects: Andy Carter (right-arm fast bowler), Alex Hales (right-handed batsman).

Somerset

Missed out to Notts on fewer wins last year, but Marcus Trescothick's side have lured Gloucestershire bowlers Steve Kirby and Gemaal Hussain, Division Two's leading wicket-taker, and will have Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis until Murali Kartik arrives. Strong favourites for first title.

Prediction: 1st.

Key player: James Hildreth: Only Adam Lyth hit more runs in 2010.

England prospects: Lewis Gregory (right-arm seamer) along with Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper-batsman).

Sussex

Amjad Khan's attempt to rebuild his international career after leaving Kent will enhance the Sussex attack but he will need to take 55 wickets to match Corey Collymore's contribution to the Division Two title.

Prediction: 6th.

Key player: Monty Panesar: England's discarded spinner took 52 wickets last year.

England prospect: Luke Hatchett (left-arm swing bowler).

Warwickshire

Unless England discard Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott they will find runs hard to come by, while Imran Tahir's return to Hampshire leaves them short of a frontline spinner. Need Younus Khan to show up and score heavily.

Prediction: 9th.

Key player: Chris Woakes: Only 22 but already has 167 first-class wickets and three centuries.

England prospects: Woakes (all-rounder), Tom Milnes (right-arm pace bowler).

Worcestershire

Favourites to be relegated, their best hope lies with their overseas players, Australian all-rounder Damien Wright and Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, whose form late in the season could be key.

Prediction: 8th.

Key player: Saeed Ajmal.

England prospects: Moeen Ali (left-handed batsman), Jack Manuel (left-handed batsman).

Yorkshire

Outscored everyone last season but the loss of Jacques Rudolph is a major blow and there is no money for a big-name overseas signing. Andrew Gale's team may come up short again.

Prediction: 2nd.

Key player: Adam Lyth: 1,500 runs last year.

England prospects: Jonathan Bairstow (wicketkeeper-batsman), Gurman Randhawa (left-arm spinner).

Jon Culley

County Championship Division Two

Derbyshire

Back with the wooden spoon holders after five years at Old Trafford, wicketkeeper Luke Sutton is captain of an inexperienced squad shorn of its leading run-scorer as Chris Rogers has moved to Middlesex.

Prediction: 9th.

Key player: Martin Guptill: The Kiwi must make his mark quickly when he arrives in June.

England prospect: Chesney Hughes (left-handed batsman).

Essex

Failed in a bid to sign Australian paceman Peter Siddle but may be strong enough to bounce back after relegation and even challenge for the title if a change of scenery inspires Owais Shah after his move from Middlesex.

Prediction: 2nd.

Key player: David Masters: A reliable wicket-taker at this level.

England prospect: Ben Foakes (right-handed batsman).

Glamorgan

A turbulent winter led director of cricket Matthew Maynard and captain Jamie Dalrymple to resign but there is enough depth in the squad to challenge, particularly if talented 20-year-old paceman James Harris can repeat last year's 63-wicket haul.

Prediction: 4th.

Key player: Alviro Petersen: New captain and overseas player will need to be a strong leader.

England prospect: James Harris (right-arm paceman).

Gloucestershire

Off-season cost-cutting has impacted heavily on the four-day squad, with New Zealand all-rounder James Franklin and strike bowler Gemaal Hussain, who took 113 wickets between them, among those gone. Signing Muttiah Muralitharan for Twenty20 does not compensate.

Prediction: 8th.

Key player: Alex Gidman: The captain has a major task to lead a young squad.

England prospect: Chris Dent (left-handed batsman).

Kent

Have stayed competitive despite financial constraints that are likely to mean no overseas player for 2011, with England bowler Amjad Khan the only major figure to leave. However, may find their way to promotion barred.

Prediction: 3rd.

Key player: Rob Key: Will ensure that his small squad give their utmost.

England prospect: Daniel Bell-Drummond (right-handed batsman).

Leicestershire

A new chairman, a new chief executive and a new coach after last season's internal strife. Somehow, fledgling skipper Matthew Hoggard held his team together and still has outstanding young players in James Taylor, Nathan Buck and Greg Smith.

Prediction: 6th.

Key player: James Taylor: Another big season will encourage promotion talk.

England prospects: Nathan Buck (right-arm pace bowler).

Middlesex

Signing former Derbyshire captain Chris Rogers and Corey Collymore signals promotion intent despite Owais Shah's departure but they need consistency in a competitive division.

Prediction: 5th.

Key player: Chris Rogers: Can lift the pressure on young captain Neil Dexter.

England prospect: Adam Rossington (wicketkeeper-batsman).

Northamptonshire

Apart from Chaminda Vaas, the winter's recruitment of bowlers may not be enough to prevent an anonymous season, despite a depth of batting talent.

Prediction: 7th.

Key player: Andrew Hall: Another year of all-round quality from the captain looks vital.

England prospect: Rob Newton (right-handed batsman).

Surrey

Disappointed last season but with a core of home-grown talent beginning to mature and an attack that now includes Yasir Arafat, Chris Tremlett and Jade Dernbach, Surrey look well equipped, even if Kevin Pietersen never plays.

Prediction: 1st.

Key player: Steven Davies: A good season would be timely after his admission about his personal life.

England prospect: Matt Dunn (right-arm fast bowler).

Jon Culley

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