County Championship Predictions 2018
Ever tried to sort 18 teams into an order? Relegating two of them whilst promoting two others?
It’s madness. Especially when the unlikeliest of heroes can suddenly emerge to lift a team’s season and a broken schedule can warp a team’s hopes in a spring downpour or a sudden burst of fortune on green-tinged surfaces can shift the pendulum of momentum.
Never the less, one must soldier on and embrace the fact he must write a list which will doubtless make him look silly in September:
CHAMPIONS – ESSEX
From last gasp wins to unexpected wicket windfalls, Essex basically ran the table in 2017 as almost everything went their way, securing their seventh County Championship.
The surprise factor is gone this year however. The East Anglians are no longer the newly promoted side many would tip to be fighting against relegation, as they were 12 months ago.
Head Coach Chris Silverwood has also moved on, joining the England setup.
This is still basically the same team that won ten of their 14 games last season however, accruing a whopping 248 points and finishing 72-points ahead of their nearest rival.
New Coach Anthony McGrath was Silverwood’s deputy last year, so a seamless transition can be expected, with new Assistant Coach Dimitri Mascarenhas a man who ‘knows his apples’.
Alastair Cook will again be available for a healthy number of early Championship games to boost a batting line-up overflowing with talent.
The bowling attack – seen by many as Essex potential weakness last year – will be bolstered by the arrival of effective-seamer and useful lower-order-biffer Matt Coles, while Peter Siddle and the returning Neil Wagner provide effective overseas support.
Coles in particular should take some of the pressure off Jamie Porter, a revelation last season with 75 wickets at 16.82, and even if Porter and spinner Simon Harmer are not quite the gang-busters they were last year, it’s hard not to feel like a repeat is a distinct possibility.
2ND – LANCASHIRE
Winners of the Keaton Jennings sweepstakes, Lancashire will be there or thereabouts once again this season. Many would back Liam Livingstone to take to the captaincy in his stride, perhaps freeing up Steven Croft to rediscover his old form, while Graham Onions is more-or-less a direct replacement for the outgoing Kyle Jarvis, ensuring the club’s seam bowling options remain healthy.
Kolpak signings Dane Vilas and the seemingly ageless Shivnarine Chanderpaul provide strength in the middle order, whist opener Alex Davies has emerged as one of the most exciting wicketkeeper-batsmen in the County game.
The Red Roses are a team with a solid spread of talent and a healthy amount of depth, don’t be surprised if they are in the mix for all three trophies this year.Embed from Getty Images
3RD – SURREY
Even without Tom Curran – who made his Kolkata Knight Riders debut on Tuesday – early on, Surrey’s bowling attack is somewhat terrifying now Morne Morkel’s arrival has been confirmed.
The veteran seamer joins Sam Curran, Jade Dernbach (love him or loathe him) and Stuart Meaker as one of four experienced pace options, Gareth Batty and Scott Borthwick ‘bring the spin’ while youngster Ryan Patel is well thought of.
Can Surrey’s batsmen replace the runs Kumar Sangakkara provided last season? That is the kicker for ‘The Rey’.
A run in the side for beleaguered England opener Mark Stoneman may help, whilst Borthwick will be determined to rediscover his form with the bat; but it remains to be seen whether a potentially handy batting line-up can perform on the field, even with The Oval’s somewhat lifeless wickets.
With Morkel secured, a move to replace the injured Mitch Marsh with Dean Elgar, at least for part of the season, seems sensible in this regard.
4TH – HAMPSHIRE
Adding Sam Northeast to an already solid batting line-up will give Hampshire a fighting chance in all three formats this season, but is there enough depth in the bowling attack to penetrate the upper echelons of the Championship?
Kyle Abbott was a phenomenal signing, and a possible return for Dale Steyn late in the season (following his planned appearance in June) might be the shot in the arm Hampshire need to make a late charge, but can Fidel Edwards, Liam Dawson and co. give Abbott the assistance before then?
Hampshire are a team that could do an awful lot this year, or very little….
5TH – NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
2017: Promoted as Division 2 runners-up
Ross Taylor’s presence will help shore up the Nottinghamshire batting line-up; but there are still questions to answer on that front.
The Outlaws appeared set to win Division 2 at a canter at one stage last season, but ultimately finished just 5 points ahead of Northants and lost the title to Worcestershire.
Although neither Michael Lumb nor Brendan Taylor set the red-ball world alight last season, that’s still a lot of experience out the door, whilst Chris Read’s retirement removes not only a safe pair of hands behind the stumps but also valuable late runs and more ‘match saving/winning’ performances than you can shake a stick at.
Can County stalwart Chris Nash fill the void? Will Billy Root kick on and deliver on his promise? And what effect will the captaincy have on the underrated Steven Mullaney?
Notts are fortunate enough to have a plethora of bowling options however, enough to take 20 wickets on a regular basis (or so the Outlaws would hope anyway).
Stuart Broad’s early availability is a boon, whilst Jake Ball will be aiming to re-establish himself as an England option. Add in the returning Luke Fletcher, a hopefully healthy Mark Footitt, young left-armer Luke Wood, Harry Guerney and Samit Patel’s useful spin (as well as Muallaney’s own handy medium pacers) and it’s something of an embarrassment of riches with the ball at Trent Bridge.
Oh, and that’s without mentioning promising all-rounder Paul Coughlin – signed from Durham in September, but injured during the pre-season. Coughlin is expected to miss at least four months with a dislocated shoulder but a return to fitness for the later Championship games will only further boost Notts chances of cementing a place in Division 1.Embed from Getty Images
6TH – WORCESTERSHIRE
2017: Promoted as Division 2 Winners
Let’s take the optimistic root here – in Joe Clarke (above), Worcestershire have one of the finest young batsmen in the County game. Joe Leach heads up a group of good seam bowlers and Daryl Mitchell has been around the block enough time to provide the kind of veteran experience an otherwise young squad will probably need if they are to survive Division 1.
It does not feel like there is a tremendous amount of depth at New Road, but the squad they do have has potential, team spirit and enough talent to make a decent fist of it.
If it all comes together, there’s enough there to survive – though it might be close, and relies heavily on maintaining a healthy squad.
7TH – YORKSHIRE
Yorkshire’s woes this season may not be of their own making. But with two teams out of eight set to go down, the numbers game may catch up with the White Roses this summer.
Root and Bairstow are integral parts of the England set-up, and are treated as such by the ECB; their absence was always expected. Adil Rashid’s move to a white-ball only contract came as a surprise, but he was hardly a gamebreaker in the Championship.
The real blow for Yorkshire was the last minute loss of Liam Plunkett and David Willey to the IPL. Whilst Ben Coad showed great promise on the way to 50 wickets last season, both Plunkett and Willey appeared to be earmarked for a larger role in the Championship side this season; but will now miss a significant chunk of it.
What remains at Headingley could be enough to keep Yorkshire in Division 1, but skipper Gary Ballance will need to hope Tim Bresnan and Jack Brooks find a bit of form with the ball if they are to do so. The 33-times Champions did not avoid the drop by much last year, despite finishing 4th, and it can be tremendously hard to recover from a bad start in an ultra competitive Division.
8TH – SOMERSET
Like Yorkshire, the numbers game could be against Somerset this year.
Having narrowly avoided relegation in 2017, the South Western side may lose star spinner Jack Leach to further England involvement – although Dom Bess looks to be a tremendous prospect – whilst captain Tom Abell is set to take on even more responsibility this term, despite his personal struggles last year.
A healthy Jamie Overton, working in tandem with brother Craig, will help, but the decision not to bring Cameron Bancroft in following the Australian ball-tampering scandal was (probably) the right one; though it leaves a significant hole in the batting line-up which Somerset must fill.
WINNERS – MIDDLESEX
2017: 7th in Division 1 (Relegated)
Assuming he stays healthy, Toby Roland-Jones will surely finish at or near the top of the wickets column this summer; with Harris, Rayner et al in support it ensures Middlesex have the bowling attack to back-up a batting line-up which includes England hopefuls Nick Gubbins and Sam Robson, the useful Stephen Eskinazi and the underrated John Simpson.
Anything other than an immediate return to Division 1 would be a shock. There’s little more to say than that.
2ND – WARWICKSHIRE
2017: 8th in Division 1 (Relegated)
The Bears endured a turgid start to the 2017 season, effectively relegating themselves before the first ‘break’ in the Championship schedule.
In Sam Hain they have a talented young batsmen, Dominic Sibley appears hungry to succeed while one last big push from Bell and Trott (and Tim Ambrose) would give Warwickshire the kind of batting that should ensure they are capable of setting and chasing totals.
Will the bowling back that up? It would be brave to bet against Jeetan Patel taking a sack full of wickets again, while Keith Barker seems to consistently fall under the radar. Without Woakes, the ‘wow’ factor does drop off, but surely there is enough there to get the job done?
3RD – DURHAM
2017: 9th in Division 2
Chris Rushworth will shoulder a significant share of the bowlers responsibility following the departure of Onions and Coughlin (and Jennings), but with the in-form Aiden Makram and Tom Latham slated to serve overseas stints with the team, and the talented Cameron Steel there is some talent in the 2018 Durham line-up.
Not starting 48 points behind everyone else is also a significant boost, not just to their potential Championship finish but also team moral!
It could be something of a slog in a somewhat boggy mid table, but Durham should never be underestimated.Embed from Getty Images
4TH – NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
2017: 3rd in Division 2
The team consistently greater than the sum of its parts. Ben Duckett’s early absence following surgery won’t help, but Northants have faced their share of adversity and doubt over the past few seasons and have come out the other side smiling every time.
Brett Hutton will be keen to impress after joining from Nottinghamshire, veteran Steven Crook remains a handy cricketer whilst others have a habit of chipping in at opportune times.
5TH – SUSSEX
2017: 4th in Division 2
Jofra Archer’s meteoric rise to stardom will rob Sussex of (arguably) their best two bowlers for the opening weeks of the season, with Chris Jordan also away at the IPL.
Indian seamer Ishant Sharma will ‘lead the line’ for the first five Championship games, whilst new coach Jason Gillespie has previously stated he believes the clubs crop of promising youngsters will step up and help cover for the absence or Archer and Jordan, as well as the departure of Chris Nash.
Should those youngsters perform ahead of expectations, the Southern side may even make a push for promotion.
6TH – KENT
2017: 5th in Division 2
The departures of Sam Northeast and Matt Coles have left a huge hole in Kent’s first choice XI, even if the latter did have his moments off the field.
Combined with Sam Billings absence, due to IPL commitments, during one of the busiest and most crucial periods of the Championship season and ‘the Spitfires’ could be in for a rough ride; especially if Joe Denly buckles under the weight of trying to be Kent’s ‘go-to’ batsman whilst also acting as captain while Billings is away.
That said, the arrival of young pace-man Harry Podmore should provide some firepower, whilst Paul Downton and Allan Donald’s arrivals ‘behind the scenes’ bode well for the club’s future.
Of course, Darren Stevens may continue to make a mockery of all of this by having another age-defying year of breathtaking brilliance.
7TH – GLOUCESTERSHIRE
2017: 6th in Division 2
The promising Ryan Higgins adds to a Gloucester side that appears to have enough in each area to compete. They can bat a bit, they can bowl a bit, they have reliable formers such as Chris Dent and they have found a way to get the job done in years past.
There seems no reason to think they cannot do something similar again, albeit the real aim may be white ball cricket.
8TH – GLAMORGAN
2017: 7th in Division 2
It seems possible one can get too high, or too low, on Glamorgan. Blessed with a number of potentially excellent players – such as Aneurin Donald, Marchant de Lange and Timm van der Gugten – the trick is figuring out whether that potential can be realised, both collectively and consistently.
The optimist might see them pushing for promotion, the pessimist might see them finishing bottom. It would be hard to argue with either…
9TH – LEICESTERSHIRE
2017: 10th in Division 2
Paul Nixon’s enthusiasm is infectious, Michael Carberry adds to the useful core of crafty veterans in the squad and the Leicestershire’s youth system has been consistently pretty good for several years now. Things can only get better, surely?
If Mohammad Abbas and Varun Aaron can find their stride it would help greatly, especially after Clint McKay was released during the winter, while Callum Parkinson could be one to watch.
The Foxes batting also looks solid, at least on paper, with Carberry joining Mark Cosgrove, Paul Horton and Neil Dexter as experienced hands who will be leaned on to help right a ship that has been listing in recent years.
A 9th placed finish might not sound a lot, but on the field things should be much better.
10TH – DERBYSHIRE
2017: 8th in Division 2
Multiple young cricketers out, Ravi Rampaul in on a three-year deal. It was a winter of head scratching when it came to Derbyshire. It’s unclear if any of the moves made the club any better.
They did at least win three games during 2017, after failing to win any in 2016, and 21-year-old Matt Critchley impressed during the North-South games; but you’d be hard pressed to get truly excited about Billy Godleman’s side this year.
Critchley and off spinner Hamidullah Qadri hint at a brighter future perhaps; though again the winter exodus may mitigate that view.
Perhaps another season of reasonable efforts with the white-ball, specifically in T20, may jolt them to life.
Posted on April 11, 2018, in County Championship, County Cricket, Derbyshire, Domestic Cricket, Durham, Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Yorkshire and tagged County Championship, County Cricket, Derbyshire, Domestic Cricket, Durham, Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Yorkshire. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.