Vitality County Championship team-by-team preview: Division One

Who's got what it takes to lift the Vitality County Championship trophy this summer? Members of our Reporters Network look at each county's prospects.


Previewed by Graham Hardcastle - ECB Reporters Network

Captain: Scott Borthwick 

Head Coach: Ryan Campbell 

2023 finish: Champions (Division Two)

2023 highest run-scorer: Alex Lees (1,347) 

2023 highest wicket-taker: Ben Raine (60)

Key winter moves: Australia cult-hero Scott Boland has signed an overseas deal until the end of July; the seamer could play as many as nine Vitality County Championship matches alongside South Africa batter David Bedingham, who returns for a full summer. England Lions left-arm spinner Callum Parkinson and experienced Netherlands batter Colin Ackermann have signed from Leicestershire, while club legend Graham Onions returns as lead bowling coach from Lancashire with a burgeoning coaching reputation. 

What we’re looking forward to seeing: Durham will not be returning to Division One to just survive. You just know with the positivity their coach Ryan Campbell exudes that they will be aiming big. Look out Surrey! Campbell has made no secret of his contempt for draws, so strap yourselves in, this could be a fun ride. 

Player most likely to Bazball: Alex Lees, last season’s leading run-scorer in Division Two, was in possession of an England opener’s berth at the start of the Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes era and will be desperate to regain his place. Loves to dominate from the off. 

Final thought: Durham’s seam bowling unit has a fearsome look about it heading into 2024. Boland will begin his maiden county campaign with big expectations, while fellow quicks Ben Raine and Matthew Potts both topped 50 wickets in Division Two last season. Then there are the likes of Brydon Carse, Bas de Leede, Paul Coughlin and young gun Ollie Gibson. Add in the wily left-arm spinner Parkinson and you can see why there is plenty of excitement building in the North East.


Previewed by Martin Smith – ECB Reporters Network

Captain: Tom Westley

Head Coach: Anthony McGrath

2023 finish: Second (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: Tom Westley (1,130)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Simon Harmer (61)

Key winter moves: Essex moved promptly and astutely to cover the retirement of Sir Alastair Cook and defection (to Surrey) of Dan Lawrence. They brought in another former Test captain at the top of the batting in South African Dean Elgar and prised away promising wicketkeeper-batter Jordan Cox from Kent to enhance the middle-order.

The big question: Who will be the next player to roll off the Academy production line? Charlie Allison, Luc Benkenstein and Noah Thain all represented England at under-19 level over the winter and showed enough promise in the Metro Bank One-Day Cup last season to warrant a look at some point this summer.

What we’re looking forward to seeing: For the first time since 2019 the two heavyweights of domestic red-ball cricket in the last decade – namely, Essex and Surrey – are scheduled to play each other home and away. It would be a sight to savour if the season’s finale at Chelmsford in late September was winner-takes-all for the title.

Player most likely to Bazball: If the circumstances are right, Matt Critchley is capable of stepping up to the plate, lighting the after-burners and taking the game away from the opposition in a whirlwind of boundaries. His leg-breaks can cause havoc, too.

Final thought: While there has been remedial surgery in the batting ranks with the loss of Cook and Lawrence, Essex are still able to field one of the most balanced and penetrative bowling attacks in the competition. Seamers Jamie Porter and Sam Cook will again soften up the opposition batters, weighing in with their fair share of wickets, before leaving Simon Harmer to bemuse any survivors with his relentless off-spin.


Previewed by Alex Smith - ECB Reporters Network

Captain: James Vince

Head Coach: Adi Birrell

2023 finish: Third (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: James Vince (1,007)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Mohammad Abbas (53)

Key winter moves: Ali Orr has moved down the coast from Sussex to improve the top-order batting. Australian quick Michael Neser has joined predominantly for the Vitality Blast, but the door has been left ajar for him to feature in the Championship. Aneurin Donald is the only major departure, although Scott Currie and Mason Crane are spending season loans away from the newly-rebranded Utilita Bowl.

The big question: As it has been the same for the past couple of years - can Hampshire finally end their title drought? This will be the 52nd season since they last won the Championship, and with the likes of Kyle Abbott and Keith Barker into their twilight years, this could be the last dance for this highly-talented era.

What we’re looking forward to seeing: Seeing how Ali Orr gets on in Division One. Those who have watched the left-handed batter regularly have purred at his shot-making and predicted England honours. Hampshire have been dreaming of a dependable opener since the days of Michael Carberry and Jimmy Adams, and the 22-year-old might be the man to set a platform for the likes of James Vince and Liam Dawson to cash in.

Player most likely to Bazball: John Turner - England liked what they’ve seen in 31 professional matches so much that they have already given him a Development Contract. Very quick, very accurate and very much likely to skittle batting line-ups this season.

Final thought: After three straight third-placed finishes, all the ingredients are there for another tilt at the title…but can they finally do it? They ended last season by beating the top two, with only Surrey equalling their eight victories across the campaign. Erratic performances have stunted them in recent seasons but if they can find a smooth consistency in all sessions then silverware should follow. A trip to the Kia Oval in late April will be a good barometer of their hopes.


Previewed by Fred Atkins - ECB Reporters Network

Captain: Daniel Bell-Drummond

Head Coach: Matt Walker

2023 finish: Eighth (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: Ben Compton (735)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Wes Agar and Matt Quinn (both 21)

Key winter moves: The angst caused by Jordan Cox’s cross-Thames flit to Essex was more than offset by Matt Parkinson’s arrival from Lancashire and Xavier Bartlett will be available for the first three months. George Garrett and Michael Cohen should bolster a bowling attack that was on its knees by the end of last season.

The big question: Were Kent lucky or unlucky last year? Critics can claim that survival on the final day suggests the former, but after losing six potential overseas bowlers to injuries and having to do without Nathan Gilchrist for almost the entire season, the club could argue they were dealt a bad hand that they played as well as they could.

What we’re looking forward to seeing: A spinners’ paradise at Canterbury? Parkinson is arguably Kent’s biggest transfer coup in a generation, giving them a genuine match-winner and the front-rank spinner they’ve arguably lacked since James Tredwell retired. Hamid Qadri is improving all the time and 18-year-old Jaydn Denly, nephew of Joe, broke into the white-ball squad last year.

Player most likely to Bazball: Grant Stewart tends to score quickly or not at all and his lower-order pyrotechnics have rescued a number of failing innings.

Final thought: Can Kent hope for anything more than survival this year? They stayed up by beating Northamptonshire twice and grinding out five draws, but 2023 was a frequently grim experience that ended with players, staff and fans alike huddling around phones and laptops to watch Middlesex’s nerve-shredding defeat at Trent Bridge. Canny reinforcements at least offer some hope this time round.


Previewed by Graham Hardcastle - ECB Reporters Network

Captain: Keaton Jennings  

Head Coach: Dale Benkenstein  

2023 finish: Fifth (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: Josh Bohannon (1,257)  

2023 highest wicket-taker: Tom Bailey (50)

Key winter moves: Dale Benkenstein has replaced Glen Chapple as head coach, the ex-South Africa batter moving from Gloucestershire. The Red Rose have pulled off the winter’s eye-catching overseas signing, bringing in Australian off-spin legend Nathan Lyon, initially for a full season before Cricket Australia recently revised his availability to seven matches during the first half of the summer. New Zealand batter Tom Bruce also arrives at Emirates Old Trafford for a full summer.

What we’re looking forward to seeing: The arrival of Lyon is mouthwatering prospect, no doubt, but from an England point of view it will be interesting to see if England Lions skipper Josh Bohannon, the county’s new vice captain, can back up his brilliant 2023 summer, in which he was the top flight’s leading run-scorer. If he does, a Test call might be in the offing.

Player most likely to Bazball: Lancashire have a number of contenders, and dynamic young wicketkeeper-batter Matty Hurst is one if he gets a run in the side. But imposing and experienced opener Luke Wells is capable of taking a bowling attack apart if he gets going.

Final thought: Lancashire finished second in all three competitions in 2022, so a fifth-placed finish in last season’s Championship stung. They struggled to get results on flat pitches at Emirates Old Trafford, hence the marquee signing of Lyon. But, after his recent 22-wicket return in the India v England Test series, a lot of focus will be on left-arm spinner Tom Hartley. How will Lancashire’s management handle his development during the first half of the summer when playing two spinners in English conditions is not always possible?


Previewed by Jon Culley - ECB Reporters’ Network

Captain: Haseeb Hameed

Head Coach: Peter Moores

2023 finish: Sixth (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: Joe Clarke (1,053)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Brett Hutton (62)

Key winter moves: After Steven Mullaney’s switch to Second XI captain and player-coach, Haseeb Hameed skippers the red-ball side with Joe Clarke leading in T20. Samit Patel and Jake Ball depart, while fast bowler Dillon Pennington, England quick Josh Tongue (currently injured) and young batter Jack Haynes arrive from Worcestershire. New Zealand batter Will Young returns from mid-April until the end of the Blast.

The big question: With Stuart Broad retired, club legend Patel moving on, Mullaney effectively calling time on his senior career and Alex Hales prioritising the Lanka Premier League over the Blast, it feels like the end of an era at Trent Bridge. The big question is how smoothly they can transition to a new one while two new captains simultaneously try to find their feet.

What we’re looking forward to seeing:  Whether Haynes, only 23, can make the impact many believe he can at a higher level after five Championship hundreds in the last two seasons for Worcestershire. The classy right-hander should bed in well with two New Road colleagues making the switch with him. He has the potential to be Nottinghamshire’s most important winter signing.

Player most likely to Bazball: Ben Duckett was Bazballing even before it was a thing, but in his likely absence with England, Clarke or wicketkeeper-batter Tom Moores are the likeliest to take an up-tempo approach.

Final thought: How well Nottinghamshire have recruited will be measured by whether they can finish higher than last season’s sixth, which was a fair reflection of their level. How much they see of the talented speedster Tongue is open to question, given that England will have first call on him once his latest injury has healed, but Pennington and Haynes look sound acquisitions and Young adds some proven quality. Members will welcome the promotion of exciting homegrown prospect Freddie McCann to the senior squad too.

Haseeb Hameed will lead Nottinghamshire in the County Championship

Captain: Lewis Gregory

Head Coach: Jason Kerr

2023 finish: 7th (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: James Rew (1,086)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Lewis Gregory (34)

Key winter moves: Matt Renshaw returns for a third spell in Somerset’s batting line-up to cover for Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s involvement in the Indian Premier League during April and May. Experienced former Nottinghamshire seamer Jake Ball will boost the bowling ranks, but hope of signing Will Sutherland were dashed when the Aussie all-rounder pulled out through injury. A replacement is being sought at the time of writing.

The big question: Will the forthcoming return of former captain Jamie Cox as chief executive help create the environment for Somerset to repeat the success of the Australian’s spell as a player, which saw him lift the 2001 C&G Trophy while leading the team to runners-up spot in the Championship the same season.

What we’re looking forward to seeing: How the experienced Lewis Gregory will cope with replacing Tom Abell as skipper in four-day cricket. The all-rounder has set a tremendous example in overcoming a series of major back problems, but faces a tough task maintaining form as a key figure with bat and ball, while shouldering the responsibility of captaincy.

Player most likely to Bazball: Matt Renshaw has scored five centuries for Somerset in 14 Championship appearances, including one before lunch against Yorkshire at Taunton in 2018. The Aussie is an exuberant character on and off the field and is sure to adopt a positive approach.

Final thought: Players and coaches alike are tired of being reminded about Somerset never having won the County Championship title, despite numerous near misses, and are desperate to make history. Last season began on a wave of optimism, but soon developed into a campaign of inconsistent performances without a victory until the sixth game. More top-order runs, particularly in the first innings, will be required to build winning positions this summer, while the return of the popular Steve Kirby as bowling coach will ensure a lively dressing room.


Previewed by Mark Baldwin - ECB Reporters Network

Captain: Rory Burns

Head Coach: Gareth Batty

2023 finish: Champions (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: Dom Sibley (746)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Jordan Clark and Dan Worrall (both 48)

Key winter moves: Dan Lawrence’s arrival from Essex is much anticipated at the Oval. Head coach Gareth Batty says: “Without taking anything away from the wonderful work Essex have done with him in his career so far, we feel we can help him to become an even better cricketer.” Expect, for instance, to see more of Lawrence’s idiosyncratic spin bowling as well as big runs. 

The big question: Can Surrey make it a hat-trick of titles after their triumphs of 2022 and last summer? Skipper Burns will actually be aiming for a fourth championship success in seven years, having led Surrey to the 2018 title in his own first season as captain, while Batty admits Alec Stewart’s decision to step down as long-serving director of cricket at the end of 2024 will only “add to our desire as a squad” to achieve the hat-trick as a tribute to the true Surrey (and England) great.

What we’re looking forward to seeing: A key feature of Surrey’s recent rise is the strength and depth of the homegrown core of their squad, with 10 of the 19 players who featured in championship cricket last summer qualifying on that count. Expect to see more evidence of that close-knit squad identity in this campaign.

Player most likely to Bazball: Jamie Smith, a stylish and powerful 23-year-old with all the shots, will be looking to go up another gear after 736 championship runs last season with two hundreds and four fifties cemented his place in a multi-talented batting line-up. 

Final thought: Surrey’s dominance in recent seasons has been based on relentless fast-bowling power and a batting order of enviable depth. In 2023, while the overall batting effort might have been better, no fewer than 16 different players scored at least one championship half-century (from 33 in all) while six of them also featured in a total of nine hundreds. Much more impressive, though, were the records of a magnificent seven-strong seam attack: Clark and Worrall’s 48 wickets apiece came at an average of 21.35 and 24.20 respectively, followed by Tom Lawes (39 at 19.76), Sean Abbott (37 at 24.78), Kemar Roach (26 at 26.26), Gus Atkinson (20 at 20.20) and Jamie Overton (14 at 24.64). Roach and Abbott both return as overseas players.


Previewed by Brian Halford - ECB Reporters Network

Captain: Alex Davies

Head Coach: Mark Robinson

2023 finish: Fourth (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: Sam Hain (706)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Olly Hannon-Dalby (54)

Key winter moves: Alex Davies has replaced Will Rhodes as captain, the latter having stepped down after an impressive tenure which included leading the side to the Championship title in 2021. Pakistan paceman Hasan Ali returns until at least the end of July to rejoin a seam attack which will be without Henry Brookes who has moved to Middlesex.

The big question: Which direction will Warwickshire take after an erratic 2023 red-ball season which brought some brilliant days and some very poor ones? Rhodes’ departure as captain caused some disappointment among the fans who will be hoping that the focus of leadership helps Davies to improve a batting average of 27.15 for the Bears in first-class cricket.

What we’re looking forward to seeing: A seam-attack of the highly-skilled Olly Hannon-Dalby and Chris Rushworth (107 wickets between them last season) assisted by charismatic overseas star Hasan Ali and the fast-improving Ed Barnard with, who knows, perhaps the occasional pinch of Chris Woakes stirred into the mix.

Player most likely to Bazball: Olly Hannon-Dalby – always hunting wickets with the ball, as shown by his 450 across the formats for Warwickshire, and increasingly effective as a polished, left-handed, lower-order hitter with a cover drive that has drawn comparison with David Gower.

Final thought: Warwickshire should have enough about them to stay out of relegation trouble. To challenge at the other end of the table they will need good fortune with injuries in the bowling department – 51% of their Championship wickets last season were taken by two men aged 34 and 37. They will also need considerably more match-shaping innings from their top order. Only Sam Hain and Rob Yates scored more than one Championship century for Warwickshire in 2023.


Previewed by John Curtis - ECB Reporters Network

Captain: Brett D’Oliveira

Head Coach: Alan Richardson

2023 finish: Second (Division Two)

2023 highest run-scorer: Jake Libby (1153)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Joe Leach (48)

Key winter moves: Rob Jones will strengthen the top order batting after his move from Lancashire on a three-year contract. All-rounder Tom Taylor from Northamptonshire will primarily add depth to the bowling department after penning a four-year move. New Zealand all-rounder Nathan Smith, leading wicket-taker in the Plunket Shield, is available all summer for all formats.

The big question: Can Worcestershire finally establish themselves as a top division county after years of see-sawing in between the two divisions. It is a massive challenge particularly after losing established players Dillon Pennington, Jack Haynes and Josh Tongue to Nottinghamshire but a tightly-knit squad will help them through what are bound to be some challenging days.

What we’re looking forward to seeing: Captain Brett D’Oliveira put the accent on playing positive cricket last summer, not being afraid to lose in a bid to force a win, and he has indicated there will be a similar approach in 2024 although recognising the difference in quality of the opposition.

Player most likely to Bazball: Kashif Ali played several destructive innings last summer, most notably his 88 off 36 balls in a Metro Bank One-Day Cup match against Derbyshire, and the signing from the South Asian Cricket Academy is capable of more similar heroics in 2024.

Final thought: Ashley Giles has brought a positivity to the club in his role as CEO and quickly earned the support and respect of players, coaches and members alike despite his long-standing Warwickshire connections. He is aware of the demanding task ahead in trying to finish above the bottom two but there is a belief that Worcestershire can at least compete in Division One.