Winter may be coming to Game of Thrones this weekend, but for all county cricket fans, winter is coming to an end, as the County Championship gets underway on Friday.
If you support a county beginning with D, the Derby is the place to be, as Derbyshire host Durham for the opening match of the season.
Both sides struggled last season in first-class cricket and finished in seventh and eighth places in the table, both winning four games and frustrating in many more.
Derbyshire made a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory last season and could have won another three games easily which would have placed them as high as third in the table. If they can do this again, then they may prove to be a dark horse for promotion, especially this season where three sides will be promoted to Division One.
Durham could look a weaker side than last season, with Paul Collingwood retired and the chances of them seeing Ben Stokes and Mark Wood appear for them this season slim to none. That being said, they have recruited well this Winter, bringing in Ben Raine from Leicestershire and Alex Lees from Yorkshire, both players of much talent and ability.
They have also brought in Ned Eckersley from Leicestershire too, quite under the radar, a very underrated player. When you also consider their Australian captain Cameron Bancroft, they may not be as weak as first thought and given the rub of the green they may be higher in the table then many give them chance for.
Both sides have played one first-class match this season already, brushing aside student sides in University games and winning comfortably, both winning by around 300 runs. Both had two players make centuries and have batsmen in form and bowlers who shared around the wickets, especially the seamers, so will be going into Friday’s game full of confidence.
The bookies have Durham as odds on favourites but it would be a surprise if it was that clear cut a result. Both sides are evenly matched as shown by their finishes last season in the table. A lot will depend on the pitch conditions and how the batsmen go against the moving ball this early in the season.
Derbyshire: In early season you may think bowlers will be key, but in helpful conditions often batsmen are key and for Derbyshire you can look no further than their captain Billy Godleman. He has become a consistent performer for Derbyshire at the top of the order, and has developed his game to make him a more attacking player able to give the innings impetus.
He is now the complete batsman, able to nullify swing, and seam with his sound technique, but when ready he can press the accelerator too. When you consider his leadership both on and off the field, coupled with his batting, Godleman’s success will be key to Derbyshire’s success in this match and for the season to come.
Durham: If Godleman will be key for Derbyshire then Alex Lees will be equally key for Durham. He is an opening batsman of undoubted talent and will be looking to realise this talent following his move from Yorkshire where he had stagnated. He currently averages just over 33 in First Class cricket and will be looking to improve on this, this season and if he can he will go a long way towards contributing to a successful season for Durham.
Dave Houghton has a fully fit squad to pick from for the first game of the season. The squad for the game has yet to be announced, however the side that takes the field could well be the same as for the University game, apart from Logan Van Beek and Tony Palladino replacing Anuj Dal and James Taylor, both making their championship debuts.
Durham will be without their Australian skipper, where they have been on the rough side of a Cricket Australia decision that Bancroft must remain in Australia to attend a function before joining his county for the season, expect Alex Lees to deputise in his absence. Expect to see debuts for recent signings Eckersley and Raine, with Eckersley coming into the side in the only change from the game against the university students from down the road.
Derbyshire squad: Billy Godleman, Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen, Tom Lace, Alex Hughes, Harvey Hosein, Matt Critchley, Anuj Dal, Logan van Beek, Tony Palladino, Ravi Rampaul, Sam Conners
Durham Squad: Alex Lees, Gareth Harte, Will Smith, Michael Richardson, Jack Burnham, Stuart Poynter, Ned Eckersley, Ben Raine, James Weighell, Liam Trevaskis, Josh Coughlin, Matt Salisbury, Chris Rushworth
Weather and Conditions
The weather forecast shows the weather to be set fair throughout the game, with only a slight chance of rain on each day. If you are watching though, make sure you wrap up warm, the temperature isn’t predicted to rise above 13 degrees over the four days.
There has been one game at the Pattonair County Ground this season against Leeds/Bradford University which saw Derbyshire score freely, amassing 630 runs across two declared innings for the loss of 10 wickets, so you may think more runs will be on offer. However the students were bowled out for 94 in their second innings, so clearly there was help there for the bowlers too.
The first game of the season, especially starting this early is always an unknown, so don’t expect Godleman to need his coin for the toss and him to be batting first.
Date: 5th-8th April 2019
Ground: Pattonair County Ground, Derby.
Odds (SkyBet): Derbyshire 11/10, Durham 8/11