LVCC Preview: Surrey v Essex

Another round, another week to talk about Kevin Pietersen. While some will have already grown weary of the on-going discussion surrounding KP’s return to first-class cricket and possible England reappearance, this weekend sees his first game of the season at the Kia Oval, to which a large greeting party is predicted.

Just under 3,000 spectators watched the opening day at Glamorgan last week as Surrey, thanks to Kumar Sangakkara and Steve Davies, piled on the runs to finish the day 363/3. They were unable to take advantage of their first innings total of 563/7 declared though, as the hosts battled back to secure a draw. It was an underwhelming start to the season for Surrey, who with a squad boasting seven international players and dreams of promotion, were hampered by a gritty Glamorgan and unfavourable weather.

Essex in comparison, clinched victory over Kent to record their sixth consecutive Championship win. In a low-scoring duel decided by the clinical line-and-length-bowling of Jesse Ryder, David Masters and Greg Smith, and assistance of a temperamental pitch, Essex also at times demonstrated their desire to dig in, which has been missing from previous seasons.

This was best personified by Nightwatchman Jamie Porter, whose second innings 81-ball vigil helped blunt Kent’s attack. But on an Oval pitch that averaged 248 runs per innings last year, Essex will need to add consistency to that bloody-mindedness, while overcoming a weakened top order.

Key Men 

A little over 10 weeks stand between now and the opening Ashes Test. In that time Kevin Pietersen hopes to demonstrate to the England selectors that he is worthy of a recall. Having been cast out of the national side 15 months ago, his first significant dip back into first-class waters at Glamorgan was not the most impressive of auditions, recording just 19 runs in the first innings before a rejuvenated unbeaten 53 in the second. But back in front of a home audience, and as he closes in on the record for fastest Surrey player to 1,000 first-class runs – he requires two in this match to achieve the feat – we can expect him to bring the house down.

With Jesse Ryder back at Chelmsford, can Essex lead a promotion push?
Jesse Ryder

With two experienced campaigners away at the IPL, the star opener perennially on international duty and an upcoming batsman missing with a broken finger and Essex’s top-order batting looks rather depleted. Chuck in the absence of injured seamer Reece Topley and all-rounder Jesse Ryder is going to be key if Essex are to win. While Ryder’s batting hasn’t provided the wealth of runs expected – finishing 2014 with 650 in the Championship – his bowling does continue to claim wickets, as shown against Kent last weekend. He did during that match, however, provide a glimpse of the batting prowess he possesses – making 29 off 26 balls, including 26 runs by way of boundaries. A session of power-hitting could be the difference for Essex.

Team News

Surrey stick with the same players from their opening round fixture, with only Vikram Solanki missing from the squad. He didn’t feature though, and the starting line-up is unlikely to change, Stuart Meaker again making way. While Surrey were unable to take all 20 Glamorgan wickets, Meaker has gone through some difficult times in the last few years due to injuries, and with a requirement to bowl a different length compared to what he’s previously been used to, his form has suffered and seen his first XI opportunities limited.

Surrey squad: Gareth Batty (captain), Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns, Tom Curran, Steven Davies (wicketkeeper), Jade Dernbach, Matthew Dunn, Stuart Meaker, Kevin Pietersen, Jason Roy, Kumar Sangakkara, Gary Wilson

Youngster Kishen Velani has been drafted in for batsman Tom Westley, who broke a finger during practice earlier this week; the injury is likely to see Westley miss a number of weeks. It will be his 20-year-old replacement’s sixth first-class appearance, having debuted in 2013. Reece Topley is still a long-term absentee, as he continues his rehabilitation captaining Essex’s second XI.

Essex squad: James Foster (captain), Nick Browne, Dan Lawrence, Jaik Mickleburgh, Graham Napier, Monty Panesar, Mark Pettini, Jamie Porter, Jesse Ryder, Greg Smith, Kishen Velani

Weather and conditions 

A damp, dark opening day gives way to better conditions for the rest of the match. While still overcast, a full four days play is expected.

Date: 26th – 29th April 2015

Ground: Kia Oval, London

Time: 11:00 am

Umpires: Martin Bodenham and Nick Cook

Odds (via Skybet): Surrey, 4/6, Essex 5/4

LVCC Preview: Durham v Sussex

Sussex will look to continue their excellent start to the County Championship campaign when they make the long trip to Durham and Chester-le-Street, starting on Sunday.

Two wins from two fixtures sees Mark Robinson’s side sitting proudly on the perch of Division One as they look to win their first Championship title since 2007. Whilst their victories so far have come against sides likely to be featuring close to the bottom of the table, Hampshire and Worcestershire, the signs are there for Sussex to be pushing towards the business end come September.

Ajmal Shahzad has proved to be nothing short of a revelation down at Hove, having struggled to engratiate himself fully into the bowling attacks at Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, despite showing glimpses that earned him international recognition. The 29-year-old has 12 wickets to his name so far this season, including a match-winning five-wicket haul against Worcestershire last time out, whilst he has averaged close to 50 with the bat – deservedly topping the Most Valuable Player list so far this season.

Durham, meanwhile, also boast a 100% record thus far this season, although the North East side have played just the one game so far, when a Paul Collingwood-inspired performance led to a well-earned victory over Somerset. Like Sussex, Collingwood and co. will also have at least half an eye on the title following their success in 2013, a season in which they gained victory in the subsequent fixture in their late season blitz to glory.

The hosts were also successful when the two sides last met, also at the Riverside, where centuries from Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings led Durham to a thumping 309-run victory, although the match will be remembered for Ben Stokes’ incredible bowling display, taking 7/65 in Sussex’s first innings last June.

Key Men

109 runs without being dismissed, plus six wickets including a five-wicket haul – all in a game’s work for Paul Collingwood. The veteran all-rounder proved he still has it against Somerset a couple of weeks ago, and the 38-year-old will be desperate to show that this wasn’t just a one-off event, as he looks to lead Durham to a fourth County Championship title, adding to an already-impressive CV in the process.

Matt Machan and Ed Joyce running against Worcestershire
Matt Machan and Ed Joyce running against Worcestershire

Although he wasn’t due to be playing in the game, Matt Machan surely caused the selectors some welcome problems with an excellent 135 from just 100 balls against Worcestershire. The 24-year-old may only have 21 first-class games under his belt, but an average of 36 is certainly a solid foundation to build on. The Scotland international has also spent time, ironically, with Collingwood, who was part of the Saltires’ international setup during 2014 and the 2015 World Cup.

Team News

Whilst Durham have named an unchanged 13-man squad from their victory at Taunton, impressive performances from Ryan Pringle and Usman Arshad, on Second XI duty, could lead to some changes in the final team.

Durham squad: Paul Collingwood (captain), Usman Arshad, Scott Borthwick, Paul Coughlin, John Hastings, Keaton Jennings, Calum MacLeod, Phil Mustard (wicketkeeper), Ryan Pringle, Graham Onions, Michael Richardson, Chris Rushworth, Mark Stoneman

Chris Nash returns for the visitors after missing the last game due to a hamstring injury, although Matt Prior, James Anyon (both injured) and Michael Yardy (ill) still remain on the sidelines. New signing Oliver Robinson, formerly at Yorkshire, is straight into the squad.

Sussex squad: Ed Joyce (captain), Ben Brown (wicketkeeper), Craig Cachopa, Harry Finch, Matthew Hobden, Matt Machan, Steve Magoffin, Chris Nash, Steffan Piolet, Oliver Robinson, Ajmal Shahzad, Luke Wells, Luke Wright

Weather and Conditions

The notoriously helpful bowling conditions at Chester-le-Street will be further enhanced with the overcast conditions expected across the first couple of days. Rain is also expected during Day Two, and perhaps Day Four should the game go that far, but likely to be nothing more than a passing shower.

Date: 26th – 29th April 2015

Time: 11:00am

Ground: Emirates International Cricket Ground, Durham

Umpires: Peter Hartley & Graham Lloyd

Odds (via SkyBet): Durham 20/23, Sussex 20/21

 

LVCC Preview: Gloucestershire v Derbyshire

Two seemingly evenly-matched sides meet in this early season encounter at Bristol, both hoping to record their first wins of campaign.

The hosts drew with Northamptonshire in their first fixture at Wantage Road. In a high scoring affair played upon a blameless surface, Northants set Gloucestershire a massive 453 in the final innings to win the match. In the event the visitors emerged with credit, making 296/2 to merit a hard-fought draw. The main Gloucestershire contributor was opener Chris Dent who made an unbeaten 104 from 285 balls.

Derbyshire lost their opening match at Derby to Lancashire. Like Gloucestershire, the Midlanders faced a large total to win in the fourth innings, 365. They were bowled out for 114 with only New Zealand World Cup hero Martin Guptill and skipper Wayne Madsen reaching double figures. But Derbyshire will be comforted by the batting form in the first innings of Billy Godleman and Wes Durston, both of whom made healthy totals (76 and 85 respectively).

Key Men

In addition to Dent, 20-year-old seamer Craig Miles was Gloucestershire’s stand out performer at Northampton. In the home side’s first innings he took 6/63, following this with two more wickets in the second innings. Fresh from a winter in South Africa with the England Potential Performance Programme (at which he was accompanied by Derbyshire’s Mark Footit) Miles will be looking to build on this excellent start in the damp early season conditions at Nevil Road promised by this week’s weather forecast.

Derbyshire’s Stoke-on-Trent born Tom Taylor is only a few months younger than Miles and delivered a very similar performance with his quickies against Lancashire. He too took eight wickets in the match, achieving the excellent figures of 6/61 in the Red Rose County’s second innings .

Team News

Both counties have named unchanged squads for the Bristol game. For Gloucestershire it will be a first home appearance as captain for Geraint Jones and home debuts for Kiwi Kieran Noema-Barnett and Australian overseas player Peter Handscomb.

Gloucestershire squad: Geraint Jones (captain), Chris Dent, James Fuller, Peter Handscomb, Hamish Marshall, Craig Miles, Kieran Noema-Barnett, Liam Norwell, David Payne, Gareth Roderick (wicketkeeper), Tom Smith, Will Tavare, Matt Taylor

Derbyshire’s Elite Performance Director Graeme Welch has named the squad that faced Lancashire. Jonathan Clare again is absent through injury, but another long-term injury absentee, spinner David Wainwright, returned to action for the Second XI this week as he continues his recovery.

Derbyshire squad: Wayne Madsen (captain), Ben Cotton, Wes Durston, Mark Footitt, Billy Godleman, Martin Guptill, Harvey Hosein (wicketkeeper), Alex Hughes, Chesney Hughes, Tony Palladino, Ben Slater, Tom Taylor, Shiv Thakor

Weather and conditions

The weather forecast for Bristol for the duration of the match is unsettled. For the first two days it is mainly dry with sunny intervals but the latter part of the match is likely to be rain- affected. It will be distinctly chilly for the whole period of the match.

Date: 26th – 29th April 2015

Time: 11:00am

Ground: The County Ground, Nevil Road, Bristol

Umpires: Steve Gale and Martin Saggers

Odds (via SkyBet): Gloucestershire 10/11, Derbyshire 10/11

LVCC Preview: Lancashire v Kent

Lancashire and Kent meet at Emirates Old Trafford for an early-season battle of top versus bottom in the second division. The two teams experienced conflicting starts to the County Championship, with Lancashire launching themselves to the top of the table with a 250-run victory against Derbyshire. Kent meanwhile suffered a five-wicket defeat at the hands of Essex in a low-scoring affair at Chelmsford. 

The hosts are aiming to replicate this victory and ultimately mimic a superior run of form to return to the Division One at the first time of asking, as they did the last time they were in the second-tier. Kent will feel frustrated that they were defeated in their Championship curtain raiser, due to the fact that they managed a slender first innings lead and had Essex 66/4 in their pursuit of 198.

In an interview with Ashley Giles this week, the new Head Coach at Lancashire said: “I thought the all-round performance of the team at Derby was extremely good in that there were contributions from a lot of guys, not just a couple.

“All the way down they fought when it was difficult, when they had opportunities to make an impact they did and ultimately it was a tricky game because Derby played well,” he added.

Giles will be hoping to carry some of the confidence earned from his inaugural match as Head Coach into his first Championship match at Old Trafford, as Lancashire look to extend their lead at the top of the table.

Impressive performances from wicketkeeper Alex Davies, who recorded his highest first-class score for Lancashire, and Kyle Jarvis, who claimed 5/13 on the final morning to reduce Derby to 114 all out were pleasing for a Lancashire side very much involved in a transition period after a number of wholesale changes over the winter.

Kent’s side has not changed all that much from last year, although there is a sense that Jimmy Adams’s men should be finishing higher than they did in 2014.  The acquisition of Joe Denly was welcome news to the Canterbury faithful who were frustrated by the lack of runs and – more to the point – lack of consistency of the more senior players at Kent.

The younger players at Kent carry a lot of responsibility than those at other counties and they are, perhaps, a side that could go under the radar this year if they are able to find some form with the bat, although in fairness they were not the only casualty of early-season conditions.

Key Men

Lancashire’s inability to score runs was a big issue last year, but South-African Ashwell Prince remains the one dependable figure in a top order desperate to find form in the second division. The veteran batsman scored centuries in both innings the last time these two teams met in a four-day encounter at Canterbury and his role in their promotion in 2013 proved vital alongside Australian Simon Katich. A return 1,160 runs was by far Lancashire’s biggest return with the bat in 2014 and if the Red Rose are depending on Prince and countryman Alviro Petersen then they will have to make the most of his abilities after he reversed his decision to retire at the end of last season.

Prince started the season with scores of 21 and 97 against Derbyshire and in both innings he was able to stand strong while so many others came and went. His second-innings partnership with Steven Croft worth 160 runs proved to be the turning point with the visitors struggling on 43/4 at a stage when the game could still have gone either way.

Adam Riley
Adam Riley

A sedate start for Adam Riley did not do his potential as an off-spinner justice in a match which seemed to be dominated by fast bowlers, as it the case at this time of the season. However, Old Trafford wickets tend to offer something for spinners, particularly as the match progresses and the footmarks left by fast bowlers come into play, an aspect which could make Simon Kerrigan one to look out for.

Considering Kent’s mediocre mid-table finish, a return of 48 wickets an average of 32.58 was a respectable effort for Riley, who has perhaps received more England speculation than he might have done for his efforts were England not in the midst of a crisis in finding a frontline spinner. Nevertheless, he remains an exciting prospect and will be looking to simply get some overs under his belt after bowling just the one in the entirety of the first match at Chelmsford.

Team news 

Lancashire have named a 14-man squad following from their win over Derbyshire, with Nathan Buck and Jordan Clark expected to miss out as they did in the first game, whilst Karl Brown’s addition is the only change to the squad. Peter Siddle is likely to enjoy the harder wicket at Old Trafford after a modest return of three wickets on his Lancashire debut.

Lancashire team: Tom Smith (captain), Tom Bailey, Nathan Buck, Karl Brown, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies (wicketkeeper), Paul Horton, Kyle Jarvis, Simon Kerrigan, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince, Luis Reece, Peter Siddle.

Fabian Cowdrey is the only omission from the squad after scoring 18 and 0 against Essex in Kent’s opening fixture. As ever, veteran Darren Stevens will be vital with bat and ball, as will former Hampshire all-rounder Matt Coles who made his return to Kent over the winter.

Kent team: Rob Key (captain), Joe Denly, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Brendan Nash, Sam Northeast, Darren Stevens, Sam Billings (wicketkeeper), Matt Coles, Mitchell Claydon, Adam Riley, Matt Hunn, Ivan Thomas, Charlie Hartley. 

Weather and conditions

The weather becomes typically unpredictable as the match progresses although this fixture is expected to start well with a generally bright and dry first day. When the sun goes behind the clouds it can be uncomfortably cold at Old Trafford although wind should offer assistance to the fast bowlers, particularly in the morning session of each day. Moving into the later stages of the game rain could become a factor but it is not expected to be a permanent fixture at any stage. For a full weather forecast click here.

Date: 26 – 29th April

Ground: Emirates Old Trafford

Time: 11.00am

Umpires: Jeff Evans and Tim Robinson

Odds (via SkyBet): Lancashire 8/13, Kent 11/8

LVCC Preview: Nottinghamshire v Yorkshire

Both Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire recorded strong performances in their first LV= County Championship fixtures of 2015 at Lord’s and New Road respectively, but only the latter were able to force a win after Middlesex frustrated their visitors with some resilient batting on Day Four.

A century from new Kolpak signing Brendan Taylor and two sizeable unbeaten contributions from wicketkeeper-captain Chris Read saw Nottinghamshire go into the final day needing just nine wickets to take the sixteen points. In reality, they only needed eight due to a nasty hand injury to Dawid Malan, but they couldn’t force their way through a resolute Middlesex line-up that included former England opener Nick Compton.

Yorkshire dispelled concerns about how they would cope without the six members of their first-team squad touring with England in the Caribbean as well as their suspended captain Andrew Gale, by thumping newly-promoted Worcestershire inside three days.

It was a commanding performance from a team clearly running high on confidence: even without a major contribution from their star overseas batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, and despite a highly creditable and competitive performance from their hosts, Yorkshire were still comfortable victors thanks to the superb bowling efforts of Jack Brooks and Steven Patterson in particular, and a late-order batting rally from Tim Bresnan.

Yorkshire’s seemingly bottomless pool of talented young players may be plumbed once more due to an injury to senior bowler Ryan Sidebottom; but with last year’s champions at their weakest, deprived of seven key players including a premier strike bowler, there may never be a better chance for a pretender county to take their scalp.

Key Men

In a week where he has expressed frustration at his treatment by the England set-up, Alex Hales will be keen to back up his words with a strong on-field performance against the champions. He looked a much-improved four-day batsman in 2014 after a tough 2013 in which he averaged 13.97 in the competition, and will be aiming to demonstrate that it was merely a bump in the road.

Steven Patterson demonstrated his value to the Yorkshire team he has served so well over recent years with excellent second-innings figures of 5-11 against Worcestershire. His economical bowling and lack of flamboyancy has inspired a parody twitter account – @boringpatto – but if he continues to play his vital role in this Yorkshire attack, they will be almost impossible to beat this year.

Team News

Yorkshire are still without the six first-team players – Adam Lyth, Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett – in the Caribbean on international duty. Club captain Andrew Gale returns to first-team action after his suspension at the end of last season. Seamer Ryan Sidebottom misses out with a calf injury, which has led to speculation that York-born bowler Matthew Fisher could make his Championship debut aged just 17.

Nottinghamshire are obviously without Stuart Broad, but have learned to account for his absence over the years of his successful England career. Otherwise, they have named an unchanged squad from the game at Lord’s, and are likely to field the same XI as well.

Nottinghamshire squad: Chris Read (c/wk), Jake Ball, Will Gidman, Harry Gurney, Alex Hales, Steven Mullaney, Samit Patel, Vernon Philander, Brendan Taylor, James Taylor, Riki Wessels, Luke Wood. 

Yorkshire squad: Andrew Gale (c), Jack Brooks, Tim Bresnan, Karl Carver, Matthew Fisher, Andrew Hodd (wk), Jack Leaning, Alex Lees, Steve Patterson, Cheteshwar Pujara, Richard Pyrah, Will Rhodes.

Weather and conditions

Dark grey skies are predicted for the first morning of the game, with overcast conditions prevailing for the afternoon day one. Sunny intervals with clouds are forecast for the rest of the match, with some completely clear periods on days three and four. Few, if any, interruptions due to rain.

Date: 19th – 22nd April 2015

Time: 11:00 am

Ground: Trent Bridge, Nottingham

Umpires: Rob Bailey & Steve Gale

Odds (SkyBet): Nottinghamshire 20/23, Yorkshire 20/21

 

LVCC Preview: Glamorgan v Surrey

A Division Two fixture in Wales has probably never been so widely anticipated.

While the first round of LV= County Championship matches were being played, Surrey were warming up against a team of Oxford University students at the Parks. Glamorgan, tipped by many as contenders for this season’s wooden spoon, piled on the runs against a hapless Leicestershire attack, only to see their enormous 513-9 almost matched by their hosts’ 435, and a draw was inevitable. But the significance of this encounter goes beyond the context of English domestic cricket’s second tier.

Kevin Pietersen will be playing first-class cricket for the first time since the final Ashes Test at the start of 2014. He represented Surrey in the NatWest T20 Blast competition last, and was pencilled in to play their final couple of Championship fixtures, but the decision was taken that with little chance of achieving promotion, the long-term interests of the club were best served by giving opportunities to younger players.

Pietersen’s Surrey contract expired at the end of the season and he published his autobiography, replete with scathing assessments of the ECB, the English cricketing system, and many of his former teammates. It looked for all the world as if Pietersen would end his days as a globetrotting T20 specialist, until incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves sensationally left the door open for an unlikely return for the controversial batsman.

Pietersen gave up his IPL contract, and will be donating his Surrey salary to charity. He notched up a promising century against the students, but if he is to walk out to ‘Jerusalem’ in an England shirt once more, he will need to start the County Championship season with some of the best performances of his career.

Key Men

Mark Wallace may have only contributed 18 runs across two innings to Glamorgan’s drawn match at Grace Road, but in doing so he passed the milestone of 10,000 first-class runs for the county. It underlines how important he has been to the cash-strapped club over his 16-year career, and he is more vital than ever after they let key all-rounder Jim Allenby depart for Somerset over the winter.

Jade Dernba… just kidding. Rightly or wrongly, this match will be remembered for the performance of Kevin Pietersen. A first-ball duck, and his dreams of an England recall may well be irreparably damaged. A blazing double-century could just about see him on his way towards earning a precious England call-up in time for the Ashes. His return overshadows many important and exciting things, not least the arrival of Surrey’s glorious overseas signing Kumar Sangakkara, but overshadow them it does.

Team News

Chris Tremlett is unavailable for Surrey due to a minor hamstring injury, which gives an opportunity for either Jade Dernbach or Tom Curran to force their way into this competitive Surrey side. Kumar Sangakkara will make his debut for the county, having been named in the 13-man squad. Gareth Batty will captain the side, while last year’s skipper Gary Wilson is likely to take the wicketkeeping gloves.

The Glamorgan squad is unchanged from the side that drew with Leicestershire, and will be captained by Jacques Rudolph.

Glamorgan squad: Jacques Rudolph (c), William Bragg, Andrew Carter, Christopher Cooke, Dean Cosker, Colin Ingram, James Kettleborough, David Lloyd, Craig Meschede, Will Owen, Graham Wagg, Mark Wallace (wk). 

Surrey squad: Gareth Batty (c), Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns, Tom Curran, Steven Davies, Jade Dernbach, Matthew Dunn, Stuart Meaker, Kevin Pietersen, Jason Roy, Kumar Sangakkara, Vikram Solanki, Gary Wilson (wk).

Weather and conditions

Grey skies are expected on day one, but the rest of the match should be sunny, bright, and even reasonably warm at times. Chances of precipitation are low, so expect four full days of cricket.

Date: 19th – 22nd April 2015

Time: 11:00 am

Ground: SWALEC Stadium, Wales

Umpires: Peter Hartley & David Millns

Odds (SkyBet): Glamorgan 2/1, Surrey 2/5

 

LVCC Preview: Warwickshire v Hampshire

Hampshire face a tough challenge in their second match after promotion from Division Two. After suffering a home loss against Sussex last week they now travel to a strong looking Warwickshire side who will be buoyed by an excellent 2014 season. The Bears meanwhile could hardly have hoped for a better opening fixture with their home form a particular strength in the last campaign.

The Edgbaston outfit finished second behind Yorkshire in the County Championship last season and are likely to be challenging for a similar position this year. Warwickshire may also benefit from a settled squad having seen no new arrivals for the four day game. Given the chance on a wicket that generally plays well and provides few surprises a top order that includes experienced openers Varun Chopra and William Porterfield and exciting talent like Sam Hain could set daunting totals.

In contrast Hampshire’s batting unit twice failed to pass 300 against Sussex’s four-pronged seam attack and will face similar difficulties against Warwickshire. Fast bowlers Boyd Rankin and Chris Wright will look to emulate the successes of Ajmal Shahzad and Steve Magoffin and undermine the opposition with regular wickets. The visitor’s batting line-up certainly has the potential to succeed in Division One, but may take some time to adjust to the increase in quality.

Overall, a trip to Edgbaston should give a clear indication about Hampshire’s chances in the top flight – whether they can compete with the stronger sides, or set their sights upon survival.

Key men

Rikki Clarke has long been a key player for Warwickshire and is one of the most consistent performers in Division One. The all-rounder offers an edge in both disciplines as well as vital experience and know-how at the top level. He looked in good touch in Warwickshire’s pre-season match, scoring a century against Durham MCCU and will look to contribute with bat and ball.

James Vince scored 1,525 runs at an average of 61 to finish as Division Two’s leading run scorer last season. He was an important part of Hampshire’s promotion and they will need him to re-find his exceptional form in the face of better bowling attacks. Vince will be looking to replicate his last performance at Edgbaston when he scored 145 in 2011.

Team news

Warwickshire name a familiar looking squad with Varun Chopra captaining after Jim Troughton’s retirement through injury last year.

Warwickshire squad: Varun Chopra (captain), Tim Ambrose (wk), Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans, Sam Hain, Ateeq Javid, Richard Jones, Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, Ian Westwood, Chris Wright

New signing Andre Adams in the squad and likely to make his Hampshire debut after missing the opening week loss to Sussex. Australian pace bowler Jackson Bird is still out injured.

Hampshire squad: Jimmy Adams (captain), Will Smith, Sean Ervine, Liam Dawson, Gareth Berg, James Vince, Michael Carberry, Danny Briggs, James Tomlinson, Chris Wood, Adam Wheater (wk), Andre Adams, Brad Wheal.

Weather and conditions

The forecast is extremely promising with no rain forecast and dry conditions set to maintained throughout the week. Temperatures are as high as can be expected in the early season and a far cry from previous seasons.

The pitch at Edgbaston is usually hard and true, holding up well through the four days. Traditionally it has been favourable to batsmen, but the weather should allow for some pace and bounce – good news for the likes of Boyd Rankin and James Tomlinson.

Date: 19th – 22nd April 2015

Ground: Edgbaston

Time: 11:00am

Umpires: Graham Lloyd & Tim Robinson

Odds (via SkyBet): Warwickshire 4/9, Hampshire 15/8  

LV County Championship Match Stats (in association with Opta)

  • – Michael Carberry averages 54.80 in all first-class matches against Warwickshire

LVCC Preview: Sussex v Worcestershire

Two teams who experienced contrasting fortunes in their opening fixtures meet at The BrightonandHoveJobs.com County Ground this week, as Sussex play host to Worcestershire for the first time since 2012 in the County Championship.

Whilst Sussex underlined their dark horse credentials with a 92-run win over Hampshire, Worcestershire faded badly in their battle to upset champions Yorkshire, bowled out for 100 en route to a ten wicket defeat.

Championship titles may not be won in April, but they can certainly lay a strong foundation, and Sussex will certainly be eyeing this game as an opportunity to send out a message to their rivals.

There have been murmurings of the strongest bowling attack in the division across the country after their victory last week, and although other sides may dispute that claim fervently, certainly, their pace attack looks daunting, with the likes of Steve Magoffin, Tymal Mills, and Ajmal Shahzad steaming in at Hove.

Worcestershire coach Steve Rhodes praised the ‘Test match attack’ of Yorkshire, and there seems to be no let-up this week, testament to the strength of Division One. Despite a heavy defeat, Worcestershire will not panic; teams, equally, are not relegated in April, and they have been written off many times before.

There were certainly signs of promise in that ultimately crushing loss, notably the century of Tom Fell and a five-wicket haul from Gareth Andrew that marked a statement of intent after a fractured last couple of years. If they can piece together consistent cricket, there is sufficient quality within the ranks to prove the doubters wrong.

Key Men

Ajmal Shahzad
Ajmal Shahzad

Timely runs and important wickets for Ajmal Shahzad ensured that his Championship debut for Sussex was a happy one, as the Yorkshire-born player contributed six wickets in a winning cause. There is no denying that Shahzad has great quality, but if he is to add to his single Test cap, it is likely that he needs to make his stay at Sussex, his fourth county already, a sustained and profitable one.

Youngster Tom Fell may have dug his top order out of a sizeable hole against Yorkshire last Sunday, but, as the second innings proved, that will not always be the case. You suspect that if Worcestershire are to be toasting survival come September, then captain Daryl Mitchell will have to recreate his form of 2014, in which he averaged 58 in the County Championship. Hove, against one of the best bowling attacks in the division, would be a fine place to start.

Team News

Sussex are likely to stick with the same side that recorded victory last week. James Anyon, Lewis Hatchett, and Matt Prior remain sidelined through injury. As of yet, there is no news as to when Prior will make his comeback from his achilles problem, with head coach Mark Robinson saying that the former England man is out ‘indefinitely’. Matt Machan replaces Michael Yardy (ill) in the only change in the squad.

Sussex squad: Ed Joyce (captain), Ben Brown (wicketkeeper), Craig Cachopa, Matthew Hobden, Matt Machan, Steve Magoffin, Tymal Mills, Chris Nash, Ajmal Shahzad, Luke Wells, Luke Wright, Ashar Zaidi

Moeen Ali is unavailable for Worcestershire, having flown out to the West Indies to join up with the Test party. In his place, Alexei Kervezee is likely to come in, with Tom Fell moved up to number three following his hundred last week. Joe Leach, the all-rounder, is also in the squad.

Worcestershire squad: Daryl Mitchell (captain), Richard Oliver, Tom Fell, Alex Gidman, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Alexei Kervezee, Ben Cox (wicketkeeper), Gareth Andrew, Jack Shantry, Sachithra Senanayake, Charlie Morris, Joe Leach.

Weather and conditions

The fine weather is likely to continue into next week, although there could be some cloud cover early on Sunday. This is the first game at Hove this season, although both April fixtures at the same ground in 2014 ended comprehensively, with Sussex experiencing both victory and defeat by an innings.

Date: 19th – 22nd April 2015

Time: 11:00am

Ground: The BrightonandHoveJobs.com County Ground, Hove

Umpires: Neil Bainton & Steve O’Shaughnessy

Odds (SkyBet): Sussex 2/7, Worcestershire 11/4

LVCC Preview: Derbyshire v Lancashire

Derbyshire and Lancashire, both promotion hopefuls, kick off their season this weekend at the newly refurbished 3aaa County Ground at Derby. Both sides have had large changes to personnel in the last couple of years and, while Derbyshire started to reap the rewards of theirs last year, Lancashire will be hoping to see quick improvements following September’s heartbreak. 

After a disappointing 2014 that ended in relegation in the final game of the season, Lancashire have appointed Ashley Giles as Director of Cricket and brought in some other new faces, such as former Leicestershire seamer Nathan Buck and Australian, Peter Siddle, to boost their bowling stocks. Another key signing is Alviro Peterson, who brings experience to the top of the order having played in both county and international cricket in England.

Tom Smith steps up as club captain as veteran Glenn Chapple has moved into his new player/coach role.

Derbyshire’s new coaching structure really started to come into its own late last season and Graeme Welch’s side will be looking to maintain that momentum and take another, stronger stab at promotion. The county has a strong bowling side, led by Mark Footitt and Tony Palladino, and a solid batting line-up that will be boosted by the return of New Zealand international, Martin Guptill.

Derbyshire and Lancashire are strong and both will consider themselves promotion contenders. They meet each other this week to get their County Championship campaigns going, with the two sides boasting strong batters and quality bowlers in abundance.  Can Welch’s Derbyshire and its proven coaching set up take advantage of Lancashire’s new and arguably unsettled one, or will Giles’ Red Rose fight back from relegation fast and take victory?

Key Men

Derbyshire’s Mark Footitt, and his speed in particular,  raised a few eyebrows last season and even sent a couple of batters to hospital. Derby is set to have overcast conditions and a possible sprinkling of rain, which should create conditions that the left handed seamer will enjoy. Very much a key feature of Derbyshire’s attack, Footitt’s 82 Championship wickets will not have gone unnoticed by the Lancashire men.

Tom Smith
Tom Smith

New captain Tom Smith has big shoes to fill but his promotion to captain is well deserved. Last season, he stood out for his all round consistency while as others struggled around him and finished the year as the club’s highest wicket taker in the Championship. He will be keen to make his mark quickly and set Lancashire’s campaign off to a good start.

Team News

Overseas batsman Martin Guptill has made a welcome return to the county with a bruising 161 against Cambridge MCCU last week and is, unsurprisingly, set to appear in tomorrow’s opening fixture. Shiv Thakor is also likely, making his first-class debut for Derbyshire. Tony Palladino and Chesney Hughes missed the university match but return to the squad this week and young Harvey Hosein steps in with the gloves. David Wainwright is still recovering from an ankle operation and Jonathan Clare, although back in training after his operation, is not yet ready to return either.

Derbyshire squad: Wayne Madsen (captain), Ben Cotton, Wes Durston, Mark Footitt, Billy Godleman, Martin Guptill, Harvey Hosein (wicketkeeper), Alex Hughes, Chesney Hughes, Tony Palladino, Ben Slater, Tom Taylor, Shiv Thakor

Lancashire will have experienced Australian international, Peter Siddle, available on Sunday. He, South African opener Alviro Peterson and Nathan Buck should all make their debuts for the Club.

Lancashire squad: Tom Smith (c), Alex Davies (wk), Tom Bailey, Nathan Buck, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Paul Horton, Kyle Jarvis, Simon Kerrigan, Alviro Peterson, Ashwell Prince, Luis Reece, Peter Siddle

Weather and conditions

It looks as though it’s set to be a chilly and slightly windy week, maybe with some dark cloudy patches on Sunday, but there shouldn’t be much if any rain.

Date: 19th – 22nd April 2015

Time: 11.00am

Ground: The 3aaa County Ground, Derby

Umpires: Mark Benson & Martin Bodenham

Odds (SkyBet): Derbyshire 11/8, Lancashire 8/13

LVCC Preview: Essex v Kent

Five years have passed since these two sides met in Division One – the 2010 season signalling the end of their time in the County Championship top tier. And while both have come close to a return, their prolonged stay in Division Two reads like a warning sign to those who think they can bounce-back instantly following relegation.

But confidence is high in both camps, with a focus on promoting youth seemingly set to prosper after a couple of years acclimatising. Importantly for Essex, while promising youngsters Tymal Mills and Ben Foakes departed for Sussex and Surrey respectively, the majority of their squad were retained.

They’re further buoyed by the return of Jesse Ryder, who led the County’s wicket-taking table with 44 scalps; expect an undercooked batting display of 630 runs to be bettered too. The New Zealand international’s early season form could be crucial to their promotion hopes as Essex make do without Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate, who are both away at the IPL.

For Kent, travelling to Chelmsford is a difficult opening fixture, where Essex are unbeaten in their last 12 matches. But with youth, which Kent have in abundance, comes a fearlessness that is unlikely to be broken by unfavourable statistics. In what was a quiet summer for Kent, the signing of old boy Matt Coles might prove to be decisive as they attempt to contend for a top-two spot. As well as beefing up the bowling, his arrival should see Darren Steven’s load lightened, in turn allowing for greater efforts with the bat.

Key Men

The troublesome opening spot has hindered Essex for years; their inability to find a replacement for the absence of Alastair Cook while away with England a problem which has never been suitably addressed. But the emergence of Nick Browne last season, alongside an improving Tom Westley, looks to have changed all that. Brought in midway through the season, having previously made three appearances for the County in 2013, Browne struck 650 Championship runs at an average of 54.16, demonstrating that he posses the attitude to score big runs at the top of the order. Backed up by a strong pre-season in which he made back-to-back hundreds and Browne has made a wonderful start to his two-year contract with Essex.

Matt Coles
Matt Coles

On paper, Matt Coles‘ 2014 season with Hampshire looked to have gone well, and the memory of being expelled from an England Lions tour the year before banished. A T20 Finals Day appearance and promotion to Division One secured, the brief press release sent out in early March announcing Coles’ departure came as a surprise. Now he finds himself back home, at a county he knows well and full of friendly faces; captain Rob Key even had Coles help him with building work on his house during the off-season. At least that should have got him used to labourious work, which is likely to continue as he shoulders the brunt of Kent’s new-ball bowling, starting on Sunday against Essex.

Team News

Reece Topley and fellow bowler Matt Salisbury are ruled out of the opening county fixture for Essex through injury, while Bopara and ten Doeschate are unavailable due to IPL commitments. Cook’s perennial England duties means he will not be adding to his seven Championship matches in the past three seasons. Essex do have the decision to make whether they go with an all out seam attack, utilising Westley as the spin option, or starting Monty Panesar. With early conditions likely to be cloudy Panesar may make way.

Essex Squad: James Foster (captain, wicketkeeper), Nick Browne, Dan Lawrence, Jaik Mickleburgh, Tom Moore, Graham Napier, Monty Panesar, Mark Pettini, Jamie Porter, Jesse Ryder, Greg Smith, Tom Westley

Few clubs can boost a squad containing as many home-grown players as Kent, with 10 of their 12 coming through the County. Old academy products Joe Denly and Coles return, both hoping to find the form and consistency that saw them pull on national colours. Brendan Nash is missing with an illness, and he’s joined on the sidelines by Ben Harmison (knee) and David Griffiths (tricep). Ivan Thomas is likely to play ahead of Charlie Hartley, having featured in more pre-season games.

Kent Squad: Robert Key (captain), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Sam Billings (wicketkeeper), Mitch Claydon, Matt Coles, Fabian Cowdrey, Joe Denly, Charlie Hartley, Adam Riley, Darren Stevens, Ivan Thomas

Weather and conditions

A return to more recognised April weather sees the game start under cloudy skies before giving way to intermittent sun. Sixteen wickets fell on the first day of a pre-season match at Chelmsford and, with overcast conditions, whoever wins the toss is probably going to field first.

Date: 19th – 22nd April 2015

Ground: County Ground, Chelmsford

Time: 11:00 am

Umpires: Paul Baldwin and Neil Mallender

Odds (via Skybet): Essex 8/13, Kent 11/8

LV County Championship Match Stats (in association with Opta):

  • – Sam Billings and James Foster both notched up 56 dismissals in Division Two last year, only Mark Wallace of Glamorgan recorded more.
  • – Billings made more stumpings (6) than any other wicket-keeper in county cricket last season.
  • – Kent have lost just twice in their last 13 games when they have won the toss, one of these defeats coming against Essex in Chelmsford last season.