With a host of centrally contracted England players available for selection and a predicted heatwave on the horizon, it promises to be a fascinating opening weekend.
The White Rose went agonisingly close to winning a historic third straight County Championship title last season but were unforgettably pipped at the post by Middlesex. It’s been a busy winter up at Headingley with captain Andrew Gale becoming coach and Gary Ballance taking on the captaincy mantle. They’ll want to start the season strongly and a first home win is the target.
New signings Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw are set make their first-class debuts for Hampshire, while James Vince and Liam Dawson are also available against Yorkshire. Michael Carberry should also feature after his inspirational return to cricket following cancer treatment. Keep an eye on young leg-spinner Mason Crane, too, who’s enjoyed an impressive winter playing grade cricket in Australia.
With Durham duo Scott Borthwick and Mark Stoneman joining the likes of Jason Roy and Kumar Sangakkara at Surrey, the Rey’s batting line-up is a sight to behold this season. Add to that a bowling attack featuring Sam and Tom Curran, Mark Footitt and Zafar Ansari, and Gareth Batty’s men look a force to be reckoned with. Fifth-placed finishers last season, is a title challenge on the cards this summer?
It’s all change in Birmingham as Ashley Giles joined Warwickshire as sporting director from Lancashire and Jim Troughton stepped up to first-class coach over the winter. Alongside captain Ian Bell and run machine Jonathon Trott, the Bears possessed the best bowling attack statistically last season with Jeetan Patel and Keith Barker taking 69 and 59 wickets respectively.
Although Alastair Cook will miss this match with a hip injury, Division One new boys Essex have much to be excited about. After winning the only promotion place on offer last season, Chris Silverwood has bolstered his squad with the arrivals of left-arm paceman Neil Wagner from Lancashire plus Simon Harmer, Adam Wheater and Varun Chopra.
Lancashire stalwart Glen Chapple is the new head coach at the Red Rose county and he’ll be delighted that England’s leading Test wicket-taker James Anderson is available to play at Chelmsford. Young England opener Haseeb Hameed is also expected to play following a hand injury scare in the warm-up match. At the other end of the spectrum, 42-year-old veteran Shiv Chanderpaul adds some much-needed experience to the batting line-up.
Will Kent go one better than last season and gain promotion to Division One? New head coach Matt Walker certainly hopes so and he’ll have help from Jason Gillespie to begin with - a man who knows a thing or two about winning titles. Sam Northeast leads the side again and will hope to continue his formidable run scoring form after racking up 1,337 runs last summer.
Kent captain Sam Northeast talks about preparations and ambitions for 2017 season which starts on Friday https://t.co/LPLos1DM5c— Kent Cricket 🏏 (@kentcricket) April 4, 2017
Overseas signing Cameron Bancroft is expected to shore up Gloucestershire’s batting line-up ahead of the 2017 season. With reliable Hamish Marshall heading back to New Zealand and Michael Klinger only playing limited-overs cricket, last season’s sixth-placed finishers need to find some batting support for Chris Dent. However, with a new coach in Richard Dawson and a bowling attack featuring the likes of Liam Norwell and Craig Miles, there’s cause for quiet optimism in Bristol.
With 1,338 runs, Division Two’s top run scorer in 2016 Ben Duckett was the breakthrough performer last summer and he’ll want to pick up where he left off. His Northants side enjoyed a strong end to last season - winning four of their final six matches - and will begin the season all guns blazing.
Jaques Rudolph’s Glamorgan, on the other hand, suffered a disappointing season finishing in eighth place with just three wins under their belt. In fact, the Welsh county lost eight games in total - more than any other team in the division. Experienced wicketkeeper-batsman Mark Wallace retired over the winter but young record-breaker Aneurin Donald is a star in the making. The recent signing of South African quick Marchant de Lange should also put a spring in their step.
STATS// A few facts and figures from Marchant de Lange's career so far including 7️⃣/8️⃣1️⃣ on Test debut❗️ pic.twitter.com/C5k8uf6bnq— Glamorgan Cricket 🏏 (@GlamCricket) April 4, 2017
Leicestershire showed a marked improvement to finish seventh last season and Mark Cosgrove and his team-mates will hope to build on that. South African Colin Ackermann has been brought in to bolster the batting, as Pierre de Bruyn steps up as head coach.
Relegated from Division One after suffering nine defeats last season, Peter Moores’ Nottinghamshire will want to bounce straight back up, starting with victory against their East Midlands neighbours. With Stuart Broad and Alex Hales both made available for selection by England, and Aussie quick James Pattinson joining their attack, Notts could set the early Division Two pace.
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