Sussex begin their bid to secure promotion back to Division One of the County Championship with a trip to Wantage Road, where they face a Northamptonshire side once again playing the role of the underdog.
With only one promotion place available from the second division, the battle at the top looks likely to be harder than ever, however the south coast outfit look well placed to ensure their stay in the bottom flight in the short one.
A reshuffle of captain and coach has seen Luke Wright and Mark Davis take over, and the pair will be looking for a fast start to stamp their mark on the promotion race. If they do so, Sussex could be hard to catch this year.
For Northants, a small squad is set to limit any challenge for Championship promotion but the early weeks of the season could provide them a chance to field their strongest side, before having to start rotate when the white-ball competitions begin.
On paper, their first choice line-up looks competitive but injuries will hit them harder than most, especially as they go into the opening game already three players down. In youngsters Olly Stone and Ben Duckett, however, Northants have a squad with plenty of potential.
Head Coach David Ripley said playing Sussex will provide a benchmark for his side and, if confident, they can be competitive:
“It’s a tough start but I like the idea of playing one of the form teams. They’re favourites for the competition and it will give us a good benchmark to see where we are,” he said.
“It’s a shame we haven’t got a full squad to select from, and we’re three men down, but we’ve got enough good players that if we have enough of those players playing well over four days we should be competitive.”
Northants captain Alex Wakely spoke of his desire to lead from the front as the clubs leading run scorer and, as he looks for 1,000 runs, he will be eager for a fast start. A depleted batting line-up will mean largely relying on Wakely at number three, if Northants are to avoid the top order collapse that have blighted their Championship cricket in recent years.
Steve Magoffin has been a staple of the Sussex bowling line-up in recent years and despite relegation, the Aussie still finished second in Division One’s wicket takers. Having secured British Citizenship, allowing Sussex to bring in Ross Taylor as an overseas player, he could prove even more valuable, especially on early season pitches.
Northants have brought in Nottinghamshire opener Jake Libby on loan for the opening month of the season and he is set to come straight into the side, with both Rob Keogh and Steven Crook set to miss the first few weeks with back and shoulder injuries. Rob Newton is also out while Monty Panesar is still a couple of weeks away from full fitness.
England’s Chris Jordan is rested following the World t20 but Sussex will have Ross Taylor available, as the New Zealander arrived in the country this week. Danny Briggs could make his debut, having signed from Hampshire.
Northants squad (TBC): Alex Wakely (captain), Muhammad Azharullah, Josh Cobb, Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Levi, Jake Libby, David Murphy, Adam Rossington (wicket-keeper), Ben Sanderson, Olly Stone, Graeme White, Saif Zaib.
Sussex squad: Luke Wright (captain), Danny Briggs, Ben Brown (wicket-keeper), Harry Finch, George Garton, Lewis Hatchett, Ed Joyce, Matt Machan, Steve Magoffin, Chris Nash, Ollie Robinson, Ajmal Shahzad, Ross Taylor, Luke Wells.
Weather and conditions
Sunday’s forecast looks fine for Northampton, but the same can’t be said about the rest of the week. A mixture of rain, showers and even thunderstorms on Wednesday is expected, which could make a result difficult. Six of the eight Championship matches at Wantage Road finished as draws in 2015, with pitches often flattening out.
Date: 10th – 13th April 2016
Ground: Wantage Road
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough & Billy Taylor.
Odds (SkyBet): Northants 6/4, Sussex 1/2