All you need to know ahead of an action-packed weekend of Specsavers County Championship cricket, which sees the title-holders begin their defence, a former England captain make his season debut, and two northern powerhouses go head to head.
Hampshire v Middlesex
Champions Middlesex launch their defence of the title at Hampshire, who got their season off to a perfect start with an excellent battling win at Yorkshire. Steven Finn is set to lead the champions' attack, while James Franklin continues as captain. Nick Compton misses out, though, as he continues to recover from a shoulder problem. Meanwhile, the South African pair of Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott made impressive debuts for Hampshire and will most likely keep their starting places. Leg-spinner Mason Crane could also come into consideration for this encounter.
Somerset v Essex
Alastair Cook is inluded in the Essex squad for their trip to Somerset, and is set to make his first appearance of the season. So to are Somerset, who missed the opening round of fixtures, but will be aiming to go one better than last season’s last-day heartbreak, and seal a first Championship title – having ended last season with three consecutive wins. They have a new captain in 23-year-old Tom Abell, who will bat at 3 behind Marcus Trescothick, starting his 25th season at the age of 41, and Dean Elgar, the South African left-hander returning for a second stint. Steve Davies, who was signed from Surrey at the end of last season, will make his county debut.
Surrey v Lancashire
Surrey could offer further evidence of the strength of their squad by making changes to the team who crushed Warwickshire in their opener at the Kia Oval, with Zafar Ansari and Stuart Meaker both in contention to come in. That win was their seventh in a 15-match unbeaten run in Championship matches at the Kia Oval – while Lancashire have gone 11 away Championship games against Surrey without a win, and their inability to force victory against Essex at Chelmsford made it 12 without a win in Championship cricket. They are missing Jimmy Anderson under instructions from England and skipper Steven Croft through injury, which means Liam Livingstone will continue his rapid rise and captain the Red Rose. Haseeb Hameed continues to be available.
Warwickshire v Yorkshire
Yorkshire include David Willey, Matthew Fisher and Adil Rashid in a 13-man squad as they aim to bounce back from their opening defeat at home to Hampshire. They are still missing Ryan Sidebottom, Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett through injury, and Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow on instructions from England. But they have an outstanding record both at Edgbaston, where they have won on three of their last four visits, and against Warwickshire, with nine wins and a single defeat in the last 17 meetings.
Derbyshire v Northamptonshire
Derbyshire make a late start to their campaign, with a squad that has been considerably reshaped by director of cricket Kim Barnett, against a Northants side who are on a run of four consecutive wins stretching back to last season, having claimed a first-round win for the first time since 1995 by demolishing Glamorgan inside two days. The Peakites are missing one of their major winter signings as South African seamer Hardus Viljoen is injured, but could have four debutants – Ireland wicket-keeper Gary Wilson, who has arrived from Surrey and been appointed vice captain; Sri Lankan leg-spinner Jeevan Mendis; Daryn Smit, an England-qualified South African batsman who played for Ramsbottom last summer; and former Lancashire all-rounder Luis Reece.
Durham v Nottinghamshire
The two teams who came down from Division One last season, albeit in contrasting circumstances – and after Notts opened with a convincing win at Leicester, they are already 70 points ahead of Durham as a result of the latter’s 48-point handicap. Notts will have to make at least one change, with Stuart Broad resting under instruction from the ECB, and likely to be replaced by Jake Ball. Durham include their England pair Keaton Jennings and Mark Wood, and are set to hand a debut to South African opener Stephen Cook.
Glamorgan v Worcestershire
Aussie seamer John Hastings is set to make his debut for a Worcestershire team under the fresh captaincy of Joe Leach, with Daryl Mitchell returning to the ranks. Glamorgan have a good recent record against them in Wales, with two wins and two draws in the last four meetings, but made a nightmare start to the season as they lost inside two days at Northampton, despite handing a debut to Marchant de Lange and re-signing Harry Podmore on a second loan spell from Middlesex.
Gloucestershire v Leicestershire
Two teams aiming to bounce back after opening defeats at Kent and at home to Nottinghamshire respectively. Leicestershire, who still have to reclaim 11 of the 16 points they were docked on the eve of the season for disciplinary issues, are boosted by the return to fitness of the former Middlesex captain Neil Dexter, and the former Warwickshire and Worcestershire seamer Richard Jones. Gloucestershire are set to be unchanged with former Durham wicketkeeper Phil Mustard continuing as captain as Gareth Roderick recovers from illness.
Sussex v Kent
Sussex give debuts to two South Africans – Vernon Philander, who has joined them as overseas player for the early weeks of the season, and Stiaan van Zyl, a left-hander who has joined them as a Kolpak registration – while a third, the seamer David Wiese, has rejoined for a second stint. Kent also have a returning South African in Wayne Parnell, the left-arm seamer who has signed a short-term deal, and boosts their bowling options after an opening win against Gloucestershire in Canterbury. They dominated both Championship meetings between the south coast neighbours last summer, with Sussex hanging on for a draw at Tunbridge Wells but suffering an innings defeat at home in Hove.