Team-by-team guide: Division Two

Bears look for instant return as Derbyshire seek to avoid wooden spoon
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The Independent Online

Derbyshire

Captain: Rikki Clarke

Overseas: Mahela Jayawardene

Prospects: The thought of Clarke, erstwhile and unfulfilled of Surrey, leading Jayawardene, one of the world's most distinguished leaders and batsmen, is mildly disconcerting. A former favourite son, John Morris, has returned as coach but there are too many gaps to fill and their main target, despite apparently promising youngsters, will be wooden-spoon avoidance.

Essex

Captain: Mark Pettini

Overseas: Andre Nel (until June); Danish Kaneria

Prospects: There is young talent (Ravi Bopara, Tom Westley and, after a bout of second-season syndrome, Varun Chopra) but it must make a quick impact. Too many underachieving bowlers will put pressure on Kaneria, and the batting lacks depth. Pettini's captaincy is impressive and a bright new coach, Paul Grayson, may help promotion push.

Glamorgan

Captain: David Hemp

Overseas: Jason Gillespie

Prospects: Sophia Gardens has been completely remodelled (and renamed) as an Ashes-hosting stadium for the 21st century. The team seem somewhere in the 19th. Hapless and hopeless last season, they can only improve. James Harris, 17, is a truly promising fast bowler, new signing Jamie Dalrymple may revive his career. But nothing will be easy.

Gloucestershire

Captain: Jonathan Lewis

Overseas: Marcus North

Prospects: Could and should do better. The surprising sacking of coach Mark Alleyne in February was supposed to herald structural change – a little late for 2008. Lewis must lead the attack and the team, a tough combination. If he, Steve Kirby and Craig Spearman stay fit throughout, promotion is mildly possible. But they are no longer one-day kings.

Leicestershire

Captain: Paul Nixon

Overseas: Boeta Dippenaar

Prospects: Three Kolpak signings are joining two already there, plus the admirable Dippenaar, so they cannot be accused of over-reliance on a homegrown policy. Champions 10 years ago and top-five regulars, it seems like a different century. It was. A combative chairman, determinedly defending small clubs, but Stuart Broad's departure says much about their status.

Middlesex

Captain: Ed Smith

Overseas: Vernon Philander, Murali Kartik

Prospects: About time they were back in the top division. Exciting talents in Billy Godelman, Steve Finn and Eoin Morgan offer reasons for optimism. Cerebral captain seems at ease about leading a typically disparate bunch. With an attack led by a bowler of old-fashioned virtues, Alan Richardson, promotion should be the least they can expect.

Northamptonshire

Captain: Nicky Boje

Overseas: Johann Louw

Prospects: It is possible to begin to fear for the future of small county clubs, of which Northants are the embodiment. All but bereft of players born in the county, they continue to look towards South Africa. Brittle batting – the booming David Sales apart – and too much innocuous bowling suggests little more than a mid-table challenge.

Warwickshire

Captain: Darren Maddy

Overseas: Monde Zondeki; Sanath Jayasuriya (T20 only)

Prospects: Anything less than immediate return to top flight will be a failure. Plus preferably Pro40 promotion and a Friends Provident Trophy semi-final. So, no pressure then for the new director of cricket, Ashley Giles. A large squad, and Zondeki is a smart signing with Allan Donald as bowling coach, but other seamers must contribute. Batting should do its job.

Worcestershire

Captain: Vikram Solanki

Overseas: Steve Magoffin (until July); Fidel Edwards

Prospects: They deserve a break after floods wrecked their 2007 season. So too does their new recruit Simon Jones, although it would be wrong to expect too much from club or player. There may not be enough runs about – even from the 42-year-old Graeme Hick – and forgotten man Kabir Aliwill not be short of bowling.

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