Guide to the County season

Derbyshire

DERBYSHIRE

Short of dropping from the First Class altogether - and relegation to the Minor Counties may be a reality - there is only one way for this troubled side to go and that is up. Fared commendably in the C&G Cup but were on the poor side of pathetic in the Championship. The departure of Dominic Cork robs them of wickets and fate denied them the services of the two Aussies, Michael di Venuto (originally captain) and Damien Wright, further handicapping them. But ambitious newcomers - Jonathon Moss, Chris Rogers, Mo Sheikh, James Bryant and Ant Botha - give new coach David Houghton some cause for hope.

Coach: Houghton. Captain: Luke Sutton.

This season: CCII, NLII. Last season: CCII 9th, NLII 6th, C&G Semi-finals, Twenty20 Pool stages.

Overseas players: Moss, Rogers (both Aus).

In: Moss (Vict), Rogers (Q'land), Bryant (Somerset), Botha, Sheikh (Warwicks). Out: Cork (Lancashire), Karl Krikken, Lian Wharton, Jason Kerr (all released).

DURHAM

When he arrives Shoaib Akhtar is a potential match-winner with the ball. Herschelle Gibbs, another late arrival, is similar with the bat. Reon King and Marcus North must carry the torch initially. On a turning wicket they have the Jamaican off-spinner Gareth Breese, the leading wicket-taker in the Red Stripe Cup for the last two seasons. Gavin Hamiltonbrings experience, while Gordon Muchall and Gary Pratt will support Jon Lewis with the bat. When Stephen Harmison, Test duty permitting, and Akhtar are in the same side it will be an explosive combination to fear.

Coach: Martyn Moxon. Captain: Lewis.

Overseas players: Gibbs (SA), Shoaib (Pak), King (WI), North (Aus).

This season: CCII, NLII. Last season: CCII 6th, NLII 7th, C&G 4th round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Gibbs, Akhtar, North, King, Gavin Hamilton (Yorks), Breese (Jamaica). Out: Michael Gough (taking a year out), Danny Law, Nicky Phillips, Ashley Thorpe, Ian Hunter, Nicky Hatch, Chris Mann (all rel), Martin Love, Dewald Pretorius (Warwicks), Vince Wells (retired).

ESSEX

A county membership waits on whether Darren Gough's appetite really is restored. Similarly the jury is out on Danish Kaneria until he takes wickets. But there is still enough gas in the tank without these two to help Essex bounce back, yet again, into the top flight. Andrew Flower, no longer an overseas player, now qualifies for England and he may well try to catch the selectors' eye. As will the gifted Alastair Cook. Count on Ronnie Irani and Paul Grayson, but William Jefferson has underperformed by his own high standards, as has James Foster and Aftab Habib, if they hit the mark then an attack that lacked necessary penetration will have plenty to bowl at.

Coach: Graham Gooch. Captain: Irani.

This season: CCII, NLI. Last season: CCI 7th, NLI 3rd, C&G 4th round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

Overseas player: Scott Brant (Zim).

In: Gough (Yorks), Kaneria (Pak).

Out: Darren Robinson, Jon Dakin (both to Leics), Nick Denning, Barry Hyam, Andrew McGarry, Joe Grant (all released).

GLAMORGAN

Two proven overseas players, who should finish the season with barrowloads of runs and wickets, make an excellent foundation on which this exciting squad can build. Matthew Maynard is still a destructive force to unleash on bowling attacks, Michael Powell came good last season, as did Mark Wallace - another fine wicketkeeper-batsman. Robert Croft, Adrian Dale and David Hemp will all score runs. While Simon Jones may be lost to Test duty, Darren Thomas, Alex Wharf and David Harrison will complement the efforts of the noble Mike Kasprowicz. And Dean Cosker and Croft run an efficient and productive spin department. Promotion is possible.

Coach: John Derrick. Captain: Croft.

Overseas players: Matthew Elliott, Kasprowicz (both Aus).

This season: CCII, NLI. Last season: CCII 5th, NLI 5th , C&G 4th round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Elliott. Out: Steve James (retired), Jimmy Maher, Owen Parkin (both released).

GLOUCESTERSHIRE

Just as they were beginning to show that they were more than one-day wonders they lose key personnel, not least coach John Bracewell, who plotted their limited-overs success. Then their talismanic captain Mark Alleyne decided to end his first-class career. He remains in charge of the one-day side, juggling that role with his duties as Bracewell's successor, but without the brilliant Australian all-rounder Ian Harvey the Cup competitions look a lot tougher. The Pakistani Test pair, paceman Shabbir Ahmed and off-spinner Shoaib Malik, will beef up the attack, but runs will be at a premium in all competitions.

Coach: Mark Alleyne. Captain: Chris Taylor (Ch'ship); Alleyne (one day).

This season: CCI, NLI. Last season: CCII, 3rd; NLI 2nd, C&G Winners, Twenty20 Semi-finals.

Overseas players: Malik, Ahmed (both Pak).

In: Steve Adshead (Worcs). Out: Alleyne (retired from first class), Harvey (Yorks), Stephen Pope, Jonty Rhodes (both released).

HAMPSHIRE

The new captain is not a bad player and has won a few matches - Tests mostly - single-handedly. Whether Shane Warne can pull off miracles in his second coming is debatable. His batsmen must function - they took maximum batting points just three times last year and the only player to pass 1000 runs, Simon Katich, is not returning. Robin Smith has also gone. Kendall, Kenway, Crawley and Mascarenhas: Your County Needs You. It also needs Michael Clarke's Aussie grit. Billy Taylor adds endeavour but Chris Tremlett carries the bowling burden.

Coach: Paul Terry. Captain: Warne.

Overseas players: Warne, Clarke, Shane Watson (all Aus).

This season: CCII, NLI. Last season: CCII 8th, NLII 3rd, C&G 3rd round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Warne, Clarke, Watson, Billy Taylor (Sussex), Michael Brown (Middlesex). Out: Smith (retired), John Francis (Somerset), Chaminda Vaas, Katich, Ed Giddins, Ian Brunnschweiler, Alex Morris (all released).

KENT

A squad crammed with runs, wickets and talent. The new coaching set-up should be given quite a start to their jobs because David Fulton and his men can make a serious Championship challenge. Mohammad Sami has destructive capacity with the ball, and Andrew Symonds can do the same with the bat. Martin Saggers, Alamgir Sheriyar and a fit Amjad Khan are complemented by the spinners James Tredwell and Robert Ferley. There is no Mark Ealham sadly, but Ed Smith, Matthew Walker, Robert Key and Fulton are good for runs, while Geraint Jones will be bursting to bat after kicking his heels with England all winter. They will win something, for sure.

Coach: Simon Willis. Captain: Fulton.

Overseas players: Symonds (Aus), Sami (Pak).

This season: CCI, NLI. Last season: CCI 4th, NLI 6th, C&G 4th round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Niall O'Brien (Ire), David Stiff (Yorks). Out: Ealham (Notts), Matthew Banes, Ian Flanagan, James Hewitt, Peter Trego (all released).

LANCASHIRE

With two of the finest overseas signings in Stuart Law and Carl Hooper, backed up by Malachy Loye, Mark Chilton, Iain Sutcliffe and Alec Swann, runs should be no problem. Wickets may be another matter. James Anderson will be away much of the time, as will Andrew Flintoff when England calls. They have Dominic Cork, who will be hungry for success and he claimed a half century of victims last summer. Peter Martin is still there, together with John Wood and Glen Chapple. They have slow left-armer Gary Keedy who topped the averages last year, as well as Hooper's off-spin. Championship challengers and likely winners of at least one limited-overs competition.

Coach: Mike Watkinson. Captain: Warren Hegg.

Overseas players: Hooper (WI), Law (Aus).

This season: CCI, NLI. Last season: CCI 2nd, NLII Champions, C&G Semi-finals, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Dominic Cork (Derbyshire). Out: None.

LEICESTERSHIRE

Ottis Gibson can hit the ball many a mile, but it is not certain whether he, Bradley Hodge and Garnett Kruger can take the county far, at least not without assistance from the disparate crew which dragged the Foxes deep into a hole last season. The return of Jon Dakin and the arrival of Darren Robinson and Claude Henderson may make a difference, but it was team spirit and togetherness which was lacking last summer. The magnificent Phil DeFreitas came within seven runs of the all-rounders' double, aged 38, but other experienced players failed. If they do so again Leicestershire will miss the promotion race.

Coach: Phil Whitticase. Captain: DeFreitas.

This season: CCII, NLII. Last season: CCI 9th, NLI 7th, C&G quarter finals, Twenty20 Pool stages.

Overseas players: Hodge (Aus), Kruger (SA).

In: Gibson, Dakin, Robinson (both Essex), Henderson (SA, Kolpak ruling), Nick Ferraby, Chris Liddle. Out: Luke Wright (Sussex), Virender Sehwag, Vasbert Drakes, Trevor Ward, Jamie Grove, Matt Whiley, Rupesh Amin (all released).

MIDDLESEX

They were a bunch of raw youngsters, but have simmered nicely and are on the threshold of being a hard-boiled side, on the batting front anyway. Andrew Strauss, Sven Koenig, Ben Hutton, Edmund Joyce, Owais Shah and David Nash asked hard questions of opponents last year - bowlers can expect a severe grilling. It is the attack that looks thin. Chad Keegan ploughed an impressive, but solitary, furrow last summer with 60 wickets. Lance Klusener and Nantie Hayward should beef up the attack, the same cannot be said of the injury-prone Paul Hutchison.

Coach: John Emburey. Captain: Strauss.

This season: CCI, NLII. This season: CCI 6th, NLII 4th , C&G Quarter finals, Twenty20 Pool stages.

Overseas players: Klusener, Hayward (both SA).

In: Paul Hutchison (Sussex), Ben Scott (Surrey), Melvyn Betts (Warwicks). Out: Phil Tufnell, Robin Weston (both retired), Michael Brown (Hampshire), David Alleyne (Notts), Thos Hunt (Somerset), Joe Dawes, Abdur Razzaq, Ashley Noffke, Ben Gannon (all released).

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE

New captain David Sales has much to do if his squad is to survive. It is doubtful, having lost their main sources of runs (Mike Hussey and Phil Jacques) that they will find scoring easy. Sales gets big hundreds, five of his 11 centuries are double or triple tons, but he will need help from Gerard Brophy, Mark Powell, Jeffrey Cook, Graeme Swann and Robert White. Usman Afzaal is capable of useful runs. There is little wrong with the spin attack, but the pace department is poor. Steffan Jones did better with bat than ball for Somerset. The all-rounder Johann Louw will add oomph.

Coach: Kepler Wessels. Captain: Sales.

Overseas players: Martin van Jaarsveld, Johann Louw (both SA).

This season: CCI, NLI. Last season: CCII 2nd, NLII 2nd, C&G 3rd round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Van Jaarsveld, Louw, Afzaal (Notts), Jones (Somerset). Out: Hussey, André Nel, Tony Penberthy, John Blain, David Paynter, Tom Baker, Jacques (all released).

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

A brooding winter followed last season's abject failure. Kevin Pietersen, now in his final summer of qualifying for England, wanted to be somewhere his talents would contribute more positively. He amassed more than twice as many runs as the next batsman, but wins at each end of the season sandwiched defeats and poor draws. Pietersen was persuaded to stay. Everyone must pull together: new men Damien Martyn, the younger David Hussey, Mark Ealham, Anurag Singh and Ryan Sidebottom, as well as the old residents.

Coach: Mike Newell/Paul Johnson. Captain: Jason Gallian.

Overseas players: Stuart MacGill, Martyn, Hussey (all Aus).

This season: CCII, NLII. Last season: CCI 8th, NLII 5th, C&G 4th round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Martyn (W Aust), Hussey (Vict), Ealham (Kent), Sidebottom (Yorks), David Alleyne (Middlesex), Singh (Worcs). Out: Usman Afzaal (N'hants), Nadeem Malik (Worcs), Vikram Atri, Guy Welton, Stephen Randall, David Lucas, Chris Cairns (all released), Wayne Noon (retired).

SOMERSET

It will be worth watching Ricky Ponting on Taunton's batting-friendly pitches. It is unlikely, if international bowlers are taken apart by the Tasmanian, that Second Division attacks will be able to stop him. Jamie Cox is cover when Australia calls Ponting, so all it needs is for the remainder of the batsmen to do what they failed to do last summer - get runs - and for new boys Tom Webley and Neil Edwards to build on their promising starts. Andrew Caddick is fit again and Nixon McLean returns. More is required of Richard Johnson, Aaron Laraman and Ian Blackwell.

Coach: Kevin Shine. Captain: Mike Burns.

Overseas players: Ponting, Cox (both Aus), McLean (WI).

This season: CCII, NLII. Last season: CCII 7th, NLII 9th, C&G 4th round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Ponting (Tasmania), John Francis (Hampshire), Thos Hunt (Middlesex).

Out: Matthew Bulbeck (ret), Steffan Jones (N'hants), James Bryant (Derbyshire), Joe Tucker (released).

SURREY

There are fears Jon Batty will find the three-tiered burden of captaincy, opening bat and keeping wicket, too much. He is smart enough and gifted enough to render those fears groundless. Ian Ward will be missed, as will Alec Stewart, but the squad still bristles with talent. New coach Ian Rixon must restore spirit and show faith in young players. Scott Newman should be given a chance to show his talent. The usual suspects are still there, still willing, still able. Alistair Brown, Adam Hollioake, Mark Ramprakash, Martin Bicknell, James Ormond and Saqlain Mushtaq. Last summer's failure hurt them. Do not write them off this year.

Coach: Steve Rixon. Captain: Batty.

Overseas players: Saqlain, Azhar Mahmood (both Pak).

This season: CCI, NLI. Last season: CCI 3rd, NLI Champions, C&G Quarter finals, Twenty20 Winners.

In: Andrew Hodd (Sussex), Neil Saker, Daniel Miller. Out: Stewart (retired), Ward (Hamp), Ben Scott (Middlesex).

SUSSEX

Back-to-back Championships do not come easily. But Chris Adams and his happy band look capable. Mushtaq Ahmed, who took 103 wickets with his leg-spin last summer, is still there, as are James Kirtley, Jason Lewry and Robin Martin-Jenkins (121 wickets among them). Mohammad Akram joins them so wickets will not be a problem. The signing of Ian Ward and the retention of Murray Goodwin mean there should be plenty of runs. They have two of the best wicketkeeper-batsmen in England in Tim Ambrose and Matt Prior. A formidable force.

Coach: Peter Moores. Captain: Adams.

Overseas players: Mushtaq (Pak), Murray Goodwin (Zim).

This season: CCI, NLII. Last season: CCI Champions, NLII 8th, C&G 4th round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

In: Ward (Surrey), Jason Voros, Luke Wright (Leics), Akram (Essex). Out: Paul Hutchison (Middlesex), Andrew Hodd (Surrey), Billy Taylor (Hamp), Shaun Rashid, Bas Zuiderent (both released).

WARWICKSHIRE

Nick Knight becomes their sixth captain in nine years. His experience and cricketing brain should give the team a harder edge. There is no shortage of depth in the batting, with Ian Bell, Mark Wagh, Douglas Brown, Jim Troughton and Jonathan Trott, and not forgetting Knight himself. But last year the attack lacked penetration, most notably in the second innings. With the exception of Waqar Younis and Melvyn Betts, who have both departed, and Wagh, no frontline bowler managed more than three wickets second time around. Maybe Dewald Pretorius and Heath Streak will show them how it is done.

Coach: John Inverarity. Captain: Nick Knight.

Overseas players: Brad Hogg (Aus), Pretorius (SA), Streak (Zim).

This season: CCI, NLI. Last season: CCI 5th, NLI 4th, C&G Qfs, Twenty20 Runners-up

In: Steve Taylor, Ian Westwood (both acad), Hogg, Pretorius, Streak, . Out: Betts (Middlesex), Neil Smith, Mo Sheikh (Derbys), Collins Obuya, Waqar Younis, Michael Clark, Corey Collymore (all released).

WORCESTERSHIRE

Confidence will be high, especially with the news that Andy Bichel is back. In his previous season and a half in 2001 and 2002 he amassed more than 100 wickets and smacked some useful runs as well. He and Andrew Hall are an impressive overseas pairing. Motivation should not be a problem for captain Ben Smith either. Kabir Ali will be fired up, as will Matthew Mason, and Gareth Batty can be counted on for wickets as well. Surely Graeme Hick cannot have as poor a season again, last year he managed one century (bringing the career count to 122). They may not be Championship winners, but they are stayers.

Coach: Tom Moody. Captain: Smith.

This season: CCI, NLII. Last season: CCII Champions, NLI 9th, C&G Runners-up, Twenty20 Pool stages.

Overseas players: Hall (SA), Bichel (Aus).

In: Bichel, Nadeem Malik (Notts), Shaftab Khalid. Out: Anurag Singh (Notts), Chris Liptrot (retired), Jonathan Farrow, Chris Guest, Daryl Mitchell, Nantie Hayward (Middlesex), Justin Kemp.

YORKSHIRE

Upheaval, downturn, goings, comings and second comings, the White Rose county is nothing if not active off the field. Darren Gough has gone, David Byas is back and Ian Harvey has arrived. Changes that raise expectations from the bleak end of pessimistic to the brighter side of hopeful. Harvey will bring all-round excellence to their one day game, Darren Lehmann brings his insatiable appetite for runs into the Championship. The attack, even without Matthew Hoggard, who is certain to have England commitments is sure of wickets galore.

Coach: David Byas Captain: Craig White.

This season: CCII, NLII. Last season: CCII 4th, NL 8th, C&G 4th round, Twenty20 Pool stages.

Overseas players: Darren Lehmann, Ian Harvey (both Aus).

In: Harvey (Glos), Lehmann, John Blain (N'hants) Out: Darren Gough (Essex), Gavin Hamilton (Durham), Ryan Sidebottom (Notts), Stephen Fleming, Yuvraj Singh, Gary Fellows, Scott Richardson, Pieter Swanepoel (all released).

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