New year demands a new resolution

CRICKET 1996: The Independent county-by-county guide to the domestic season.
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The changes to the summer game this year may not look too impressive but as so often with the small print, the overall impact can be surprising.

One-day cricket, as demonstrated so spectacularly in the World Cup, has come of age. It has all but settled into a world-wide pattern after something like 20 years of tinkering with the rules; at its best it can now provide a contest of skills and tactics worthy of the first-class game.

The latest innovations - only two fielders outside a 30-yard circle for the first 15 overs and only five fielders on the leg side at any time - have been the best. Sri Lanka demonstrated by their sheer audacity in flaying the new-ball bowlers that it was almost possible to win a match within those first 15 overs.

In response, fielding captains delayed their best seamers and used spinners who, in turn, were forced to revive the long-forgotten art of buying wickets, tempting batsmen into trying to clear the infield.

The new rules will be seen in operation this summer in both the Benson and Hedges Cup and the Texaco Trophy internationals. Both competitions will be played under the International Cricket Council rules: 50 overs per side, one interval.Will county captains bowl spinners at the start? And will spinners get any semblance of turn on early covered pitches?

The Championship, as most have agreed for the past 25 years, needs sharpening and tightening up, to make it both more attractive and more competitive. So this year the leading players will miss up to eight of the 18 fixtures while engaged in six Test matches in a split series against India and Pakistan, and no less than six Texacos. The fault lies not, as the television presenters keep telling us, with Lord's, but with the 18 counties and their refusal to change the structure.

There has been some tinkering, though. There will be fewer outright results in the Championship after the decision to award three points for a draw; giving some purpose to stubborn resistance from a team which cannot win. Sides will now have to bowl only 104 overs in the day, instead of 110, with 96 on the last day, and the minimum number of overs in the last hour comes down from 20 to 16.

Just as we had got accustomed to the idea that Championship cricket starts on a Thursday, several matches this season will start on a Wednesday and, from next year most of them will. This may turn out to be one of those good intentions that pave the road to hell.

A Thursday start means an interruption on Sunday for a 40-over game, an interval which is hugely disliked by the players and which often leaves them, and the Championship game, totally flat by Monday morning. Professional cricketers may play less first-class cricket than they did in 1955 but there seems little doubt that their expenditure of adrenalin, if such a measurement could be made, is now very much higher.

Another plus is that a Wednesday start means a Championship game will finish on a Saturday, which gives more midweek match time, which is when the sponsors want to entertain guests.

But Wednesday starts also means Saturday finishes, if games stretch that far - the day that was traditionally most favoured by county members. It may be that county members are now regarded as dispensable. The cold fact is that members' subscriptions are no longer the bedrock of the county clubs. Sponsors, and Test-match income, are more valued.

Nine counties, instead of five, can now win Championship prize money. Seven counties, a high proportion, have changed captains: Derbyshire under Dean Jones might be at their most flamboyant since Eddie Barlow's day; Yorkshire under David Byas dour winners; Northamptonshire under Rob Bailey more circumspect; Leicestershire under James Whitaker surprising; Hampshire under John Stephenson more orthodox; Glamorgan under Matthew Maynard less Welsh and Nottinghamshire under Paul Johnson reckless.

The new overseas professionals are at Durham where Sherwin Campbell will open with something of the flamboyance of Wayne Larkins; Essex, who await Australia's newest all-rounder Stuart Law; Lancashire, taking a chance on South African all-rounder Steve Elworthy; Warwickshire, taking no chance at all on Shaun Pollock; Somerset, happy with the promise of Australian all-rounder Shane Lee; and Surrey, who thought they had Brian McMillan but who now have Brendon Julian of Australia.

There are even changes at the MCC, who report their famous "bacon and egg" colours are in fact registered as canary yellow and carnival red.

MAIN FIXTURES

APRIL

26 Benson and Hedges Cup begins

MAY

2 Britannic Assurance County Championship begins

5 Axa Equity and Law Sunday League begins

23 ENGLAND V INDIA

1st Texaco Trophy one-day int (The Oval)

25 ENGLAND V INDIA

2nd Texaco Trophy one-day int (Headingley)

26 ENGLAND V INDIA

3rd Texaco Trophy one-day int (Old Trafford)

28 Benson and Hedges Cup quarter-finals

JUNE

6-10 ENGLAND V INDIA

1st Cornhill Test (Edgbaston)

11 Benson and Hedges Cup semi-finals

20-24 ENGLAND V INDIA

2nd Cornhill Test (Lord's)

25 NatWest Trophy 1st round

JULY

4-9 ENGLAND V INDIA

3rd Cornhill Test (Trent Bridge)

10 NatWest Trophy 2nd round

13 Benson and Hedges Cup final (Lord's)

25-29 ENGLAND V PAKISTAN

1st Cornhill Test (Lord's)

30 NatWest Trophy quarter-finals

AUGUST

8-12 ENGLAND V PAKISTAN

2nd Cornhill Test (Headingley)

13 NatWest Trophy semi-finals

22-26 ENGLAND V PAKISTAN

3rd Cornhill Test (The Oval)

29 ENGLAND V PAKISTAN

1st Texaco Trophy one-day int (Old Trafford)

31 ENGLAND V PAKISTAN

2nd Texaco Trophy one-day int (Edgbaston)

SEPTEMBER

1 ENGLAND V PAKISTAN

3rd Texaco Trophy one-day int (Trent Bridge)

7 NatWest Trophy final (Lord's)

15 Axa Equity and Law Sunday League finishes

19 County Championship final matches

DERBYSHIRE

Derbyshire hope the squall has passed and that the summer will bring fair weather. The financial crisis has been turned into a surplus and the friction between Kim Barnett and a number of senior players has been resolved without Barnett departing.

The appointment of Dean Jones both as captain and overseas professional is a coup and the season will pivot upon him. Barnett reverts to senior professional after 15 summers in charge and expects to overtake Denis Smith's county record of 20,516 runs - he needs another 403.

Jones reinforces the team's weakest department, but they still look a batsman short unless Chris Adams and Colin Wells contribute significantly. The fast bowling - Malcolm, DeFreitas and Cork, with Warner, Base and Griffith in support - is, in the county's tradition, fierce and hostile. Spin, a chronic deficiency, is strengthened by Matt Vandrau's welcome return from South Africa.

A less-publicised arrival is that of Victoria's coach Les Stillman. Stillman and Jones are a proven partnership in Australia; how they adapt their methods to the Peak District will be crucial.

Captain: Dean Jones

Overseas player: Dean Jones (Aus)

Last year: BAC: 14th. NWT: QF. B&H: 3rd Group B. SL: 8th

In: D Jones (Aus), K Dean, S Lacey, B Spendlove, M May.

Out: A Bairstow, A Cottam, D Cullinan (SA), W Dessauer, T Harrison, B Maher, A Richardson, I Steer, M Taylor

DURHAM

Durham's decision to mint their own talent, rather than import expensive veterans, will be tested fully in their sixth first-class summer. Only one of the foreign legion of 1991 remains - the all-rounder Phil Bainbridge, and at 38 he is expected to captain the second team.

Replacing Wayne Larkins, who gave full value, will be Sherwin Campbell of the West Indies, an opening batsman of similar attitude. Mike Roseberry, the captain, will surely have a better season than he did last year and John Morris has another year's experience from the home-grown Jimmy Daley and Stewart Hutton to support him.

Colin Campbell and Jason Searle, from the England under-19 squad, reinforce Simon Brown and John Wood, both fit again, in the attack but the important factors in Durham's progress may be the arrival of the experienced coach, Norman Gifford, and the behaviour of the square at the new Riverside ground.

All judges agree that the variable bounce and deviation, as the square settled down, did much to undermine Durham's shaky confidence last season. Northamptonshire and Yorkshire are both due at headquarters by the middle of May to measure progress.

Captain: Mike Roseberry

Overseas player: Sherwin Campbell (WI)

Last year: BAC: 17th; NW: 2nd rd; B&H: 4th group A; SL: 16

In: C Campbell, S Campbell, P Collingwood, A Pratt.

Out: W Larkins, M Prabhakar, M Saxelby, P Wilcock

ESSEX

Is this the year Essex Man hits back ? The omens are good - fifth place in the Championship is a hint that a revival is under way.

The county that until recently did not have a coach now has five with the addition of Geoff Arnold and Eddie Hemmings as bowling consultants. The new generation of players, spearheaded by Nasser Hussain and Ronnie Irani, is moving confidently as the veterans ride into the sunset.

Well, not quite. Graham Gooch is 42, a Test selector, and talking about coaching, John Childs is 45 and indestructible. Among interesting newcomers are Paul Grayson, who can open the innings and bowl slow left-arm, Giles Goodwin, another slow left-armer from Felsted and Tim Hodgson, a left- handed opener from Durham University.

Another established fast bowler is needed to support Mark Ilott but the spin department, with Childs and Peter Such leading, is better than most.

Paul Prichard, an unassuming but well-schooled captain will welcome Stuart Law, one of Australia's leading all-rounders and a powerful player in limited-overs matches. Essex could well appear in a one-day final.

Captain: Paul Prichard

Overseas player: Stuart Law (Aus)

Last year: BAC: 5th; NW: 2nd rd; B&H: 4th group C; SL: 5th

In: P Grayson, S Law (Aus), G Goodwin, T Hodgson, P Stephens, J Powell.

Out: M Waugh (Aus), R Pearson, M Garnham.

GLAMORGAN

Matthew Maynard has stepped up to assume the captaincy, which allows Hugh Morris to open the batting without any distractions. Maynard will be hoping to improve even upon Glamorgan's glorious start last season when they won six successive matches in all competitions.

The batting is strong and will get stronger still if David Hemp and Adrian Dale build on their undoubted promise.

There is, though, concern about the bowling now that Roland Lefebvre has been forced to retire by a World Cup injury. The old firm of Steve Watkin, Steve Barwick and Robert Croft is still profitable, however.

What that worthy trio need is another class performer to back them up, and Glamorgan are lucky that they have a number of possible candidates - Darren Thomas, the England Under-19 off-spinner Gareth Edwards and the new slow left-armer from Millfield, Dean Cosker.

The county now own Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, where Yorkshire are the first visitors, so the South Wales Echo probably has the headline "Taffs Stuff Tykes" already set and ready to run.

Captain: Matthew Maynard

Overseas player: Ottis Gibson (WI)

Last year: BAC: 16th. NW: SF. B&H: 3rd Group C. SL: 6th

In: D Cosker, G Edwards, A Evans

Out: D Phelps, G Rees, A Roseberry.

GLOUCESTERSHIRE

Any prediction a year ago that, without Courtney Walsh, Gloucestershire would finish sixth would have suggested too much cider with Rosie.

But along came an almost unknown bowling partnership in the shape of Javagal Srinath and Mike Smith, a wandering Queenslander named Andrew Symonds and a reinvigorated captain and wicketkeeper in Jack Russell. The team caught fire. Monte Lynch, discarded by Surrey, made five centuries and took some dazzling catches. How far this elan will be carried forward is the question.

Walsh will be back soon and as Gloucester-minded as ever; he must come close to being the best value for money overseas player alongside Clive Lloyd, Richard Hadlee and Allan Donald. Symonds is now committed for three years, but Srinath will be touring and Smith has to prove his recovery from injury.

There is no shortage of promising young batsmen, despite the rather surprising departure of Dean Hodgson. Dickie Davis, from Warwickshire, will strengthen the bowling with left-arm spin. Russell's return to England duty will be welcomed by one man, his talented deputy Reggie Williams. Gloucestershire's prospects are indeterminable but they will be well worth watching - a team of surprises.

Captain: Courtney Walsh

Overseas player: Courtney Walsh (WI)

Last year: BAC: 6th; NW: QF; B&H: QF; SL: 15th

In: R Davis, C Walsh (WI)

Out: M Davies, D Hodgson, V Pike, J Srinath (Ind).

HAMPSHIRE

Malcolm Marshall returns, this time with a fast-growing reputation as a coach, to a county which accepts that after a winter of change there is much settling-in to be accomplished.

John Stephenson is the new captain, with Robin Smith as his vice captain, following 11 years of leadership from the charismatic Mark Nicholas. Winston Benjamin is back as the overseas player, succeeding the Zimbabwean Heath Streak, and Marshall's first task will be to coax consistent performances from a highly talented but equally temperamental cricketer.

There are several young batsmen hoping to fill the gap left by Nicholas, including the former Cheshire all-rounder Simon Renshaw, Jason Laney and Giles White. Stuart Milburn had just broken through into Yorkshire's first team when he was, surprisingly, released.

Stephenson accepts that he may have to be patient before there are any dramatic improvements in a side which has not finished above 13th in the last four years. But Hampshire did win the Second X1 Championship, so they do have some winners on the staff. And awaiting a first-class debut is one Liam Botham.

Captain: John Stephenson

Overseas player: Winston Benjamin (WI)

Last year: BAC: 13th; NW: 1st rd; B&H: 5th group C; SL: 18th

In: W Benjamin (WI), S Milburn, S Renshaw, S Francis, L Savident, D Thomas, G Treagus.

Out: M Nicholas, T Middleton, N Cowans, H Streak (Zim), D Flint, D Goldstraw.

KENT

Kent's first wooden spoon in the Championship came at the end of a bizarre season, coinciding as it did with the winning of the Sunday League and a place in the final of the Benson and Hedges Cup.

Perhaps a psychiatrist was needed more than a coach.

Kent optimists will point out that the fast-bowler injury syndrome, a subject of some merriment in other dressing-rooms, must have passed its peak. If it has, and Dean Headley, the star of the England A winter tour to Pakistan, Martin McCague, Alan Igglesden and the returning Duncan Spencer manage to last a full season, things might change.

Fit fast bowlers would take some of the strain off Min Patel while the return of Carl Hooper brings considerable all-round reinforcement.

Having said that, the marvellous batting of the Sri Lankan genius Aravinda da Silva is bound to be be missed. Despite that, the batting remains strong and enterprising however, and Kent must be a threat again in the one-day competitions.

Their traditionalist members will also expect to see a county with a proud record back in the top half of the Championship table.

Captain: Mark Benson

Overseas player: Carl Hooper (WI)

Last year: BAC: 18th. NWT: 2nd rd. B&H: Runners-up. SL: Champions

In: C Hooper (WI).

Out: A da Silva (S), C Penn.

LANCASHIRE

How Lancashire will react to the loss of their inspirational coach David Lloyd to England's cause and the mighty Wasim Akram to the touring Pakistanis is the key question .

On the field the team will function much as before: Mike Watkinson as captain backed up by a brains trust of Mike Atherton, Neil Fairbrother (a former captain), John Crawley, Jason Gallian and Peter Martin.

Wasim's replacement, the South African all-rounder Steve Elworthy is an unknown quantity. The Old Trafford square is not, however. Peter Maron's square offers more top-class pitches than almost anywhere in the country and will be crucial to the Test ambitions of three more Lancashire bowlers: Glen Chapple, Gary Keedy and Gary Yates. Add a back-to-form Warren Hegg and you have a team worth backing in all four competitions.

Even if England were to choose every player they could, Lancashire would still have a strong supporting cast, with the likes of Nick Speak, Graham Lloyd, Ian Austin, Steve Titchard all battling for places. The England under-19 all-rounder Andrew Flintoff will also pressing his claims hard.

Captain: Mike Watkinson

Overseas player: Steve Elworthy (SA)

Last year: BAC: 4th. NW: QF. B&H: Winners SL: 4th

In: S Elsworthy (SA), J Haynes, D Ridgeway.

Out: Wasim Akram (Pak), A Barnett, N Harvey, D Seal.

LEICESTERSHIRE

The mid-summer losses of James Whitaker, now captain, the overseas pro, Hanse Cronje, and all-rounder Vince Wells, all through injury, followed by David Millns breaking down, made Leicestershire's seventh position highly creditable and said much for the resilience of Nigel Briers' team.

Phil Simmons returns in place of Cronje and the batting, with Ben Smith and Darren Maddy establishing themselves, has further support with the arrival of the Oxford pair Iain Sutcliffe and Gregor MacMillan.

Whitaker's concern will the form and fitness of Millns and Alan Mullally, his two quick bowlers. Gordon Parsons, highly praised by both Briers and manager Jack Birkenshaw for his increasing acceptance of responsibility, is now a genuine all-rounder, while off-spinner Adrian Pierson, with 65 wickets, fully deserved his cap.

Whitaker will aim to improve upon the 1995 showing but without another top-class bowler it is difficult to nominate Leicestershire for any competition, unless Millns and Mullally are always available and shooting straight and fast.

Grace Road has been livelier of recent seasons and long may things continue that way.

Captain: James Whitaker

Overseas player: Phil Simmons (WI)

Last year: BAC: 7th; NW: 2nd rd; B&H: 6th group A; SL: 7th

In: C Remy, P Simmons (WI), D Stevens, D Williamson.

Out: T Boon, H Cronje (SA), A Sheriyar.

MIDDLESEX

The news that Wisden acclaimed them the most successful Championship team of the past 50 years, and the near-miss of an eighth title in 20 years last season will make Middlesex eager to start again.

As this all happened when the team was being rebuilt, optimism is justified. However, 1996 will be equally transitional. John Emburey has gone and a cricketer of his stature, ability and wisdom will not be easily replaced.

But a new opening partnership is in place, Dion Nash is gaining experience daily and forms a useful seam-bowling line-up with Gus Fraser and Richard Johnson and the batting, if Mark Ramprakash and Jason Pooley continue in their 1995 form, will make enough runs.

This summer should also see the further emergence of Middlesex's highly promising reserves, such as the left-arm spinner Umer Rashid, batsman Owais Shah and the brilliant England under-19 wicket-keeper David Nash. If injuries do strike the first team these young men may have to be promoted a year too soon, but that eventuality seems to be Middlesex's only major concern. With Warwickshire and Lancashire they will be leading contenders.

Captain: Mike Gatting

Overseas player: Dion Nash (NZ)

Last year: BAC: Runners-up; NW: QF; B&H: QF; SL: 17th

In: I Blanchett, M Evans, R Fay, D Goochild, J Hewitt, S Moffat, P Wellings.

Out: J Emburey, C Taylor, T Radford, K Shine.

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE

One of the less publicised but most pleasing of the advances made by Northamptonshire in recent years has been the increasing number of native-born first-class players. The team that was once half-Tyke, half- Geordie is now one-third home-grown with a thriving nursery: three of this year's England under-19 squad of 20 are products.

The new captain, Rob Bailey, is Staffordshire-born but this is his 14th summer at Wantage Road. There should be no friction with the man who could have been captain, Alan Fordham; both are players whose first loyalty is to the team.

The departing captain,Allan Lamb, must be missed but he leaves in the knowledge that he has brought the county to the brink of achievement. Anil Kumble, master spinner, must also be missed and the season will revolve around the returning Curtly Ambrose's appetite for wickets on mundane county mornings.

The batting remains quick-scoring in all conditions, the seam bowling is varied and penetrative. But the spinners? Another summer like last could find the attack wanting, which is why new coach John Emburey's registration as a player could be vital. Playing or coaching, he will be a terrific asset.

Captain: Rob Bailey

Overseas player: Curtly Ambrose (WI)

Last year: BAC: 3rd; NW: Runners-up; B&H: 4th group B; SL: 13th

In: T Bailey, J Emburey.

Out: C Atkins, R Batley, M Bowen, N Cook, I Dawood, M Foster, A Kumble (Ind), A Lamb.

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

Ending last summer with six successive Championship defeats left Trent Bridge smouldering and the departing captain, Tim Robinson, wondering what had gone wrong with a season which began with so much hope.

Too much depended upon the partnership of Chris Cairns and Chris Lewis, but the latter, injured again, left in midsummer and Cairns, worried about the wear and tear of year-round cricket, had to be persuaded to sign on again.

The batting, too, was over-dependent upon the ever-reliable Robinson and his successor, Paul Johnson. Alan Ormrod, now manager, has signed Ashley Metcalfe to strengthen the line-up and Chris Tolley the bowling.

There were encouraging signs last year: Usman Afzaal and Noel Gie both played for England under-19 while the other left-arm spinner, Jimmy Hindson, was only just pipped as the Young Cricketer of the Year by Andrew Symonds.

Once it was said that visitors to Nottingham had to face Rice, Hadlee and Allsopp. The groundsman has followed the all-rounders into retirement, but Notts will hope that his Merlin-like talent to change the weather to suit the team has been inherited by Frank Dalling.

Captain: Paul Johnson

Overseas player: Chris Cairns (NZ)

Last year: BAC: 11th; NW: 2nd rd; B&H: QF; SL: 11th

In: A Metcalfe, C Tolley, J Hart, M Bowen, G Welton.

Out: C Lewis, M Field-Buss, C Banton.

SOMERSET

If Somerset could achieve a season like last, with four successive Championship wins in June, without Andrew Caddick and Andre van Troost, what might they do with a full-strength attack?

As their principal all-rounder Graham Rose also missed four Championship matches, ninth place represented a great effort by a patched-up team, handicapped as they often were by the inconsistency of the talented openers Mark Lathwell and Marcus Trescothick.

Of the bowlers, Simon Ecclestone, Jason Kerr and Keith Parsons all benefited from earlier experience but Mushtaq Ahmed, who took 92 wickets at 29, will be with Pakistan. The new overseas professional is Shane Lee, a New South Wales fast bowler who, with the addition of Kevin Shine, now puts the emphasis on seam rather than spin.

The off-spinners, Harvey Trump and Jeremy Batty, will still be needed for the four-day games. Peter Bowler and Richard Harden need to continue their 1995 form and the middle has been reinforced by the improvement of Piran Holloway and Rob Turner.

The west will be disappointed if Somerset do not come a little closer to silverware. A fast bowler called Ian Bishop has arrived but this one is from Taunton.

Captain: Andy Hayhurst

Overseas player: Shane Lee (Aus)

Last year: BAC: 9th; NW: 1st rd; B&H: SF; SL: 14th

In: I Bishop, S Lee (Aus), K Shine.

Out: M Ahmed (Pak).

SURREY

Brendon Julian, who vies with Stuart Law for the title of Australia's best all-rounder, is the new overseas professional and his strong left arm is bound to have an impact. With Dave Gilbert, who led Young Australia so impressively last year, in charge at The Oval, the team will be expected to show an antipodean drive, Gilbert hinting that it is not the ability but the motivation that has been the recent weakness.

Alec Stewart will be able to call on Martin Bicknell, Joey Benjamin and Tony Pigott, and everyone expects a challenge from Alex Tudor. On what might turn out to be the fastest pitches in the country, Surrey's seam attack could evoke a few glorious memories. Richard Pearson, the former Cambridge and Essex off-spinner strengthens the weakest department in which Richard Nowell, the promising slow left-armer is expected to progress.

Surrey's batting last season was hit or miss, due partly to England's monopoly of Stewart and Graham Thorpe; if Adam Hollioake, the new vice- captain, Ally Brown and Mark Butcher have matured there will be plenty of runs. Surrey might also have an ace (or maybe a deuce) up the sleeve if Chris Lewis comes through his training programme fit and well.

Captain: Alec Stewart

Overseas player: Brendon Julian (Aus)

Last year: BAC: 12th; NW: 2nd rd; B&H: 3rd group D; SL: 9th

In: B Julian (Aus), B Hollioake, C Lewis, R Pearson, J North (Sussex).

Out: C Rackemann (Aus), O Slipper.

SUSSEX

Desmond Haynes is the new coach, Vasbert Drakes the overseas professional and Martin Speight, almost the most exciting batsman of 1994, is fit again. Alan Wells can be optimistic as he starts his fifth summer as captain.

Franklyn Stephenson will certainly be missed, not least for the unique delivery which was so slow it appeared to be going backwards. Drakes will take time to catch up but his second-team performances have been impressive.

Backed by Giddins, Jarvis and Lewry, Sussex have seam for all seasons. Ian Salisbury remains England's best leg-spinner and Sussex hope that off-spinner Nicky Phillips will complete the attack.

The biggest concern is the batting. Athey, Lenham and Speight offer a good start but more consistency will be sought from Greenfield, Hall and Newton.

Robin Martin-Jenkins, 20 and 6ft 5in, may make an impact as an all-rounder. Haynes says his mentor as coach was Clive Lloyd, so any six-foot plus bowler can expect quick promotion.

Sussex will be one county to have a new Cricket Board in operation this summer and their experiences will be watched with interest by other clubs.

Captain: Alan Wells

Overseas player: Vasbert Drakes (WI)

Last year: BAC: 15th. NW: 2nd rd. B&H: 5th Group D. SL: 10th

In: V Drakes, R Rao.

Out: E Hemmings, J North, T Pierce, D Smith, F Stephenson), C. Remy ( Leicestershire).

WARWICKSHIRE

Is this the last year of the Reeve era? The motivator, who is perhaps the most astute captain in county cricket since Raymond Illingworth, has signed only a one-year contract. Can he add to five trophies in two summers?

The world-class overseas professionals Brian Lara and Allan Donald have gone, but Donald remains to coach his successor, the prospectively world- class Shaun Pollock. Roger Twose, an invaluable contributor, is now a New Zealander, but there are high hopes of two young batsman, Wasim Khan and Anurag Singh, in a powerful batting order.

A new fast bowler, Mike Edmond, English-qualified from Sydney, has been signed, Neil Smith is an England-all-rounder and Ashley Giles's left-arm spin blossomed last season. It would be absurd to suggest that Warwickshire will not miss Lara or Donald but they are probably better-equipped than any club to flourish without them. A hat-trick of Championships (plus a few one-day baubles) is not an outrageous thought.

They have taken changes of their overseas star and coach, Phil Neale for Bob Woolmer, in their stride. Replacing Reeve might be an altogether sterner challenge.

Captain: Dermot Reeve

Overseas player: Shaun Pollock (SA)

Last year: BAC: Champions; NW: Winners; B&H: 3rd group A; SL: 2

In: M Edmond, M Wagh, S McDonald, S Pollock (SA), S Vestergaard.

Out: R Davis, A Din, A Donald, R Twose.

WORCESTERSHIRE

The sad death of Parvaz Mirza at 24 set back the club's plan to build a new fast attack around him and Paul Thomas. With the retirements of Neal Radford and, through injury, the promising Alex Wylies, a heavy burden falls upon that willing veteran Phil Newport.

The progress of Thomas, 25, Dudley born and genuinely fast, will be watched with interest; 5-70 on his debut, against West Indies, raised eyebrows - not least at Edgbaston, where he once had trials.

One new quick bowler arrives, the left-armer Almagir Sheriya who shot to fame with a hat-trick in his second match for Leicestershire in 1994 and asked to be released last summer. Two new spinners, Jim Ralph (leg- breaks) and Matthew Rawnsley (off-breaks) have been signed and the club now have high-class cover for Steven Rhodes with the capture of the former England Under-19 wicket-keeper Ismael Dawood.

Tom Moody, confirmed as captain and overseas professional, and Graeme Hick, will again be a partnership of peril for opposing bowlers, but Worcestershire's successes are most likely in the one-day competitions where Hick will always be available.

Captain: Tom Moody

Overseas player: Tom Moody (Aus)

Last year: BAC: 10th; NW: 2nd rd; B&H: Semi-finals; SL: 3rd

In: I Dawood, A Sheriya, J Ralph, M Rawnsley, M Diwan, C Harrison, B Preece.

Out: D D'Oliveira, N Radford, A Wylie, C Tolley, T Edwards, C Eyers.

YORKSHIRE

"Three lions and a crown on your sweater won't guarantee your place," was the blunt warning from new captain David Byas. Like all North Riding farmers, Byas believes in hard graft and with a regiment of England Under-19 players clamouring for a chance he will have every excuse to make changes.

Yorkshire have rarely had as many promising young quick bowlers and all three capped seamers, including Darren Gough, are under threat. The weakness is in spin, where Gary Keedy's departure in 1994 left a gap which has still to be filled. The mercurial Richard Stemp will bowl most overs and Ian Fisher (slow left-arm) and Gareth Batty (off-spin) will get more exposure but Byas will be hoping that Michael Vaughan will advance with his off- breaks and he also has his vice captain Michael Bevan to bowl slow left- arm extraordinary. Anthony McGrath's emergence means that Richard Blakey, once an England prospect at No 4, may have to drop to seven.

Yorkshire have not often lacked ability over the last 30 years, just temperament and attitude. Can Byas change that? What is certain is that the first team will be under pressure and the only way to keep places will be by winning.

Captain: David Byas

Overseas player: Michael Bevan (Aus)

Last year: BAC: 8th; NW: SF; B&H: QF; SL: 12th

In: G Batty, I Fisher, M Hoggard, P Hutchison, R Sidebottom, M Wood.

Out: A Metcalfe, S Milburn, P Grayson, S Kellett

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