It is the second part of our preview of the English County Championship and this time we focus on the Second Division. Nine teams all vying for two promotion slots. 2011 champions Lancashire had the ignominy of being relegated last season, whilst Gloucestershire will be keen to avoid finishing dead last for the second successive year.
Didn’t actually finish bottom of Division One, but to end 2012 so badly after the high of the year before will have hurt them a lot. The batting looks solid, with Simon Katich and Ashwell Prince adding solidity and stability too. On the other hand, the bowling is going to be heavily reliant upon old stager Glen Chapple, who is now 39. They have brought in Kabir Ali and Wayne White from other counties, but neither can be relied upon to pick up 40 or 50 wickets in the season.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 2/1
Were the only county to finish below Lancashire in Division One last season and have similar problems to them this year. The bowling attack is overly dependent upon a veteran, this time the 38 year old former Wisden Cricketer of the Year Alan Richardson, with little in reserve if he breaks down. Another veteran, Vikram Solanki, was released at the end of the season and immediately snapped up by Surrey, leaving a gap in the batting which they have sought to fill with Sri Lanka’s Thilan Samaraweera - the problem here being that Samaraweera was one of many Sri Lankans who looked all at sea in English conditions when they toured here in 2011. It could be a long hard season down at New Road.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 9/2 for your Sports Picks
Kent were unlucky to miss out on promotion last season and have one of the strongest squads in the lower division this time around. Veteran players such as Rob Key - now relieved of the burden of captaincy - and Darren Stevens have integrated seamlessly with exciting young batsmen Sam Northeast, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Billings, whilst all-rounder Matt Coles will be encouraged to devote himself fully to performance on the pitch in order to put aside the discipline issues that saw him sent home early from the England Lions tour this winter. The only real concern for them is that new captain James Tredwell may be needed by England should Graeme Swann’s troublesome elbow not recover from surgery last month. Nevertheless, they are my tip for the Second Division title this year.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 4/1
… on the other hand, completely blew their own promotion chances in 2012. After winning both one day competitions at the end of August and beginning of September, they then lost their last three Championship games to slip back into mid-table from a strong position. They’ve reinforced that side this year, bringing in Australia’s T20 captain George Bailey and - rather controversially - tempting wicketkeeper/batsman Adam Wheater away from Essex. It’s an outside chance to win the division, but a very strong candidate for the second promotion spot.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 9/4
Must, of course, put the rancour caused by Wheater’s departure behind them as they try and improve upon last season’s mid-table finish. The squad, Wheater aside, is largely unchanged, although they have added Sajid Mahmood to the ranks over the winter. Overseas signing Rob Quiney is an interesting addition as, after scoring heavily enough in domestic cricket down under, he made his Test debut, had a torrid time and then went of the boil when sent back to state cricket, too. With the Aussies touring later in the summer and definite gaps in their middle order, some strong performances in the early season could see him back in contention - which would, of course, be to Essex’s detriment in the second half of the season.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 11/2
were, in a small way, one of the surprises of 2012. Widely tipped to finish at or near the bottom of the table, they ended up a creditable sixth. They’ll miss fast bowling talent James Harris, although not too badly as Michael Hogan has been brought in to replace the Middlesex-bound seamer. A lot will depend, though, upon Jim Allenby recapturing his form of 2012, when he was the leading wicket-taker and the leading allrounder in the Championship. Throw in the likes of former Australia batsman Marcus North and an established veteran such as Murray Goodwin (signed from Sussex) and you have a team which, although a little short of promotion material, will be a match for anyone on their day.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 18/1
Also had an improved 2012, albeit only slightly. Financial constraints have once again seen them lose key players in the close season, and whilst the loss of White to Lancashire won’t be as keenly felt as other departures it was still a dent in a fast bowling corps overly reliant upon the injury-prone Matthew Hoggard. Hoggard himself has passed the captaincy to West Indian Ramnaresh Sarwan and the club also recruited well during the winter, bringing in Irish wicketkeeper/batsman Niall O’Brien from Northamptonshire and signing Australia A batsman Joe Burns to cover Sarwan’s international absences. All eyes will be on 19 year old Shiv Thakor, who topped the county batting averages last year, his debut season.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 37/1
have wielded the new broom with a vengence after finishing next to last in 2012. Several senior players have left along with coach David Capel. Steven Peters, an old hand of the county circuit, has been handed the captaincy whilst solid pros such as Matt Spreigel and Steven Crook have been persuaded to leave London. Despite this, promotion this year will be beyond even their wildest dreams and a solid mid-table finish will be an achievement.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 13/1
had a disaster of a season, losing more games than anyone else in the Championship and ending up propping the whole thing up. Despite this, they have kept faith with most of the squad from last season, the major change being Alex Gidman’s replacement as captain by the experienced Australian Michael Klinger. The effect of all of this is that the side looks more functional than competitive, long on exciting youngsters but short on experience. Expect a better year, but not a great one.
Best betting odds (to win the division) - 20/1at Sports Bet