<i>The Independent</i> County Championship guide

A look at the teams that will contest the First and Second Divison titles this season with predictions by cricket correspondent, Stephen Brenkley
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First Division

Durham

May have to try for a third Championship in three years without Graham Onions, who suffered a back injury during the winter tour and if fit will most likely retain his place in the England squad. Steve Harmison will want to impress selectors in time for an Ashes spot. Openers Kyle Coetzer and Michael Di Venuto must ensure their batting for Durham is faultless if they are to achieve the hat-trick.



Player to watch Michael Di Venuto who averaged 80 last season.



Stephen Brenkley's prediction Champions again.

Essex

Filled with England-almosts and maybes, with the likes of Ravi Bopara, who is in the World Twenty20 squad, James Foster, given the gloves temporarily for England during the last Twenty20 World Cup, and all-rounder Graham Napier, Essex, on paper, should be strong. But, given Danish Kaneria will miss the start of the season, England's wannabes must stake their claim early if they are to adapt to the top flight.



Player to watch James Foster shines with the bat and gloves.



Prediction Struggle to survive.

Hampshire

New signings include South African batsman Neil Mackenzie and Sri Lankan left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who is available for the early summer, while injury plagued Simon Jones joins under a pay-as-you-play scheme. New signing Kabir Ali, once considered a bright England star, will be hoping for a full season and must be out to impress.



Player to watch Dominic Cork. Still going at 38, he had the top bowling average for his team at 28.40 last term.



Prediction Middling to bottom.

Kent

After winning the Second Division they face a tough challenge. Who better to lead them than one of the brightest sparks in the game, Joe Denly, who has flirted with the England one-day squad and has just signed a two-year contract extension. Geraint Jones, enjoying life up the order at No 3 with five centuries last season, is still No 1 at Kent with the gloves and at 33, still has a few years left on the circuit.



Player to watch James Tredwell tok 69 wickets and managed a batting average of 30 last season.



Prediction In trouble everywhere.

Lancashire

Genuine contenders for the title, they have already started the season a man down. Faf De Plessis has been forced out due to changes in immigration criteria and while Andrew Flintoff has reasserted his desire to play for his county side once rehabilitated, whether he plays in the longer form of the game remains to be seen. Could it be another year that promises much and delivers little?



Player to watch Stephen Moore, a new batsman to the county and with an average of 40.



Prediction Strong but may implode

Notts

Runners-up to Durham last year, they will feel they have a fighting chance in 2010. With the improving, and slimming, all-rounder Samit Patel and the signing of the wonderful South African batsman Hashim Amla for the start of the season, a good start could lift their chances, but they must maintain their form.



Player to watch Chris Read, captain and wicketkeeper, he was the only member of his team to pass the 1,000 runs mark last season.



Prediction Will wither when in sight of finishing line.

Somerset

New captain Marcus Trescothick may hope that Matt Prior retains his Test place this summer as the South Africa-born Craig Kieswetter, their young wicketkeeper who is now in the World Twenty20 England squad, will leave big shoes to fill. With no Justin Langer to support Trescothick, the pressure falls on Arul Suppiah and James Hildreth to step in to the void.



Player to watch Trescothick led his team last year scoring 1,817 runs, the highest total across the divisions.



Prediction Undermined by home ground.

Warwickshire

With Darren Maddy facing more time out with a facial injury sustained in the nets, Ian Bell, having extended his contract, may be required further up the batting order until England come calling. The county has also acquired Varun Chopra, an opening batsman from Essex who has previously captained the England Under-19 side but who failed to build on his early promise last season.



Player to watch Boyd Rankin. Ireland's 2007 World Cup lead bowler, he took 35 wickets last season.



Prediction Should challenge, may not.

Yorkshire

Without Matthew Hoggard, Yorkshire may struggle, but with Michael Vaughan taking on an advisory role at the club and mentoring new captain, Andrew Gale, the club will hope that letting their best bowler go won't come back to hurt them. Adil Rashid, suffering from a lack of confidence, should be looking to re-build this season.



Player to watch Andrew Gale takes the reigns and becomes their sixth captain in 10 years.



Prediction More consolidation, no championship title.

Second Division

Derbyshire

County have signed the South African left-arm spinner Robin Peterson as a Kolpak player and he promises to bring his all-round skills to a team needing to improve on last year's efforts. Steffan Jones, previously with Somerset, has signed a two-year deal with the county and will also join the bowling coaching staff.



Player to watch Chris Rogers proves that captaincy can sometimes improve your performance, collecting 1,461 runs in 2009.



Prediction Improved, but not enough.

Glamorgan

With only two wins in the Championship last season, Glamorgan must look to their relatively young team to mature quickly. With the likes of Ben Wright, Gareth Rees and Mark Cosgrove, they have the batting talent to score the runs and improve on last year's mid-table performance. The youngsters need to take responsibility.



Player to watch Gareth Rees scored 1,028 runs last season with an average of 44 and he's only 25. A bright future ahead.



Prediction Battle to avoid wooden spoon.

Gloucestershire

Captain Alex Gidman has given his team a timely boost with the news that his career-threatening ankle injury is on the mend, and with the addition of the talented Jonathan Batty from Surrey as a wicketkeeper-batsman, hopes are high that Gloucestershire can make the step up to the First Division after finishing nine points from promotion last term.



Player to watch Gidman. On the periphery of the England circle, Gidman needs to establish himself as a reliable middle-order batsman.



Prediction Dark horses.

Leicestershire

If all reports are to believed James Taylor, a right-handed batsman, awarded PCA Young Player of the Year in 2009, could be in the England set up sooner rather than later. With Matthew Hoggard now at the helm, and Australian Andrew MacDonald joining the bowling line-up, the team will not be short of wickets and will want to avoid collecting the wooden spoon again.



Player to watch Hoggard is a new captain with plenty to prove since been discarded by England.



Prediction Admirable youth policy deserves reward.

Middlesex

Shaun Udal, still going at 41, seeks to give his Middlesex side a boost with the addition of Pedro Collins signed for 2010. With Ian O'Brian and Tim Murtagh in the bowling line-up and Owais Shah, whose England time seems to have come and gone, bolstering the batting, Middlesex will want to improve on last season's disappointment.



Player to watch Shah. Can he impress selectors for a spot in the Ashes winter tour of Australia?



Prediction About time or else.

Northants

Led by South African Nicky Boje, they will be forced to start the season minus their useful bowler, Johannes van der Wath, who has fallen foul of visa regulations. But with the experienced batsman Mal Loye and the new addition of James Middlebrook as their resident spinner, they must push that little bit harder to avoid missing out on promotion again by one point.



Player to watch David Lucas is their stand-out bowler, collecting 58 wickets last season.



Prediction Will tootle along happily.

Surrey

Chris Jordan, Surrey's aggressive fast bowler, faces more time on the sidelines due to a recurrent back injury. This places more pressure on the young captain, Rory Hamilton-Brown, to ensure his new bowler, 6ft 7in Chris Tremlett, having moved from Hampshire will inflict maximum damage.



Player to watch Mark Ramprakash. Can he get his average back up to 100 this season?



Prediction Nothing but promotion will do.

Sussex

Sussex will be pushing new signing Monty Panesar to regain his England form and inflict some damage on the opposition's batting. Despite winning the Twenty20 Cup and the Pro40 last season, they were relegated to the Second Division and captain Michael Yardy must lift his team if they are to bounce straight back up.



Player to watch Chris Nash scored 1,298 runs last season, with an average of 59.



Prediction Swift return to the First Division beckons.

Worcestershire

With the exits of the injury-prone Simon Jones and the former England man Kabir Ali at the end of last season, the pressure now falls on Richard Jones and Shakib Al Hasan, the first Bangladeshi to be signed by an English county. Despite relegation at the end of the season, Australian Phil Jaques rejoins the county to get back to scoring some top-order runs.



Player to watch Matt Mason is by far the stand out bowler for his team, with 43 wickets last season.



Prediction Difficult to see daylight.

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