London counties need lift-off

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The Independent Online

Two of the greatest cricket grounds in the world are home to two of the country's worst teams. Harsh though that verdict may be with the Championship only two games old, the Second Division tells the brutal truth: both Middlesex and Surrey, of Lord's and The Oval respectively, have lost their opening games of the 2010 season in which promotion was their chief objective.

That neither is propping up the remainder is down purely to Gloucestershire, who have lost their only game so far. The London counties – between them champions 28 times – set about this summer in contrasting ways.

Surrey opted for a bold gamble by inviting the 22-year-old tyro Rory Hamilton-Brown to be their captain, even though he had played only six Championship matches. Middlesex went for the experience of the 41-year-old Shaun Udal, who had played 256. So far, both policies have gone awry.

Before April is out it could all be up and their matches which begin today are crucial if they are to maintain aspirations of going up. Surrey play not at The Oval but at Whitgift School, against Worcestershire, who surprised most people, including themselves, by winning their opening encounter.

The Surrey manager, Chris Adams, has implored fans not to panic as his new team beds in. But with Hamilton-Brown suffering from a severely bruised foot sustained during the defeat at Sussex, and no doubt a dented ego too, they may have issues about the leadership they can hardly have expected so soon. As ever, Surrey need runs from Mark Ramprakash.

Middlesex, who lost to Glamorgan at Lord's, are at Northamptonshire, whose win against Gloucestershire may not be worth much by the end of the season.

If the London counties are failing to do justice to their history, Yorkshire, champion of champions, have started resoundingly with two well-crafted wins under their new young (but not too young) captain, Andrew Gale.

They might just fancy sustaining their form at Kent, whose belated efforts to field homegrown players again met with an innings defeat first time out against Nottinghamshire.

The England fast bowler Stuart Broad will play for Nottinghamshire after putting in a specific request to his coach, Andy Flower.

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