County Championship: Division Two guide
So who will be aiming for promotion this year? We take a look at the runners and riders.
By Joe Drabble, Rob Lancaster & Paul Vinnell
Last Updated: 08/04/13 10:27am
Captain: James Foster
Head coach: Paul Grayson
Overseas: Rob Quiney (Australia, first half of season), Shaun Tait (Australia, for t20)
Ins: Sajid Mahmood (Lancashire)
Outs: Billy Godleman (Derbyshire), Michael Comber, Charl Willoughby (retired), Adam Wheater (Hampshire)
Having added experience to their squad in the signings of Alviro Petersen, Greg Smith and Charl Willoughby, hopes were high that Essex would be able to push for promotion to the top flight in 2012. Instead they struggled, managing just three Championship wins.
Their form in limited-overs cricket wasn't much better, even if they did reach the knockout stages of the Friends Life t20, and now the pressure is on coach Paul Grayson and captain James Foster to turn obvious potential into consistent results.
Runs are what will be required; last year Tom Westley topped their list with 786 in first-class cricket, though Essex weren't helped by lengthy absences for Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah.
South African Petersen struggled, so the county will hope for much better this year from eager Australian Rob Quiney (it's never a bad thing to sign a player from Down Under in an Ashes year, is it?). Also look out for Ben Foakes, a talented wicketkeeper who will likely play as a batsman whilst Foster is still around.
David Masters and Graham Napier were the top bowlers, though quite who Grayson and Foster choose for the rest of the attack will be interesting; the talented but unpredictable Sajid Mahmood will hope to revive his career after being released by Lancashire, while Chelmsford is the home for two extremely talented left-arm seamers in Reece Topley and Tymal Mills.
If the management team can work out their best XI, and Bopara puts behind him a difficult 2012 on and off the pitch, then there's no reason why Essex can't challenge on all fronts. The thing is, the same has been said in previous years, too.
Key player: Ravi Bopara - There are few more talented players in the English game than Bopara, plus his bowling is more than useful at county level. If he has hopes of playing international cricket again - and there's been no suggestion he doesn't - then the right-hander should be looking to fill his boots at domestic level. He averaged more than 66 in five appearances last summer.
Fults says... To me they look like 'a bits-and-pieces' team who need to generate a real togetherness. Essex's strengths will be in their one-day cricket. Read his full preview
Captain: Mark Wallace (Championship), Marcus North (limited-overs cricket)
Coach: Matthew Mott
Overseas: Marcus North (Australia), Dirk Nannes (Australia, for t20)
Ins: Michael Hogan (Western Australia, on UK passport), Murray Goodwin (Sussex)
Outs: Robert Croft (retired), James Harris (Middlesex), Chris Ashling, Aneurin Norman, Mike O'Shea
While trophies may possibly be out of Glamorgan's reach this year, it is time for the Welsh county to show some signs of progress. That will not be easy, however, now they are without the talented James Harris and the evergreen Robert Croft.
Harris himself played just four first-class games in 2012 but such is his talent that England called him up for the one-day series in India at the end of the year. Croft, meanwhile, bowed out in style with a five-for in a victory over Kent, ending a 23-year career on a deserved high.
At least Mark Wallace as captain remains a constant in first-class cricket, and the wicketkeeper seemed to revel in the extra responsibility last year as he managed 775 runs. Only Stewart Walters (813) managed more in the LV= County Championship.
Jim Allenby also impressed with both bat and ball, leading a bowling attack that was weakened by a number of injuries over the course of the summer. Speaking of the summer, Glamorgan's cause wasn't helped either by the miserable weather - particularly in one-day cricket.
Of course, the biggest thing that overshadowed the season was the death of Tom Maynard. Wallace wrote a very moving tribute to his former team-mate and the Glamorgan and Surrey players combined to help launch the Tom Maynard Trust at a Clydesdale Bank 40 fixture between the two counties in August.
With Division Two highly competitive, promotion looks a push. Limited overs action, though, could be a route for success. Marcus North will be in charge instead of Wallace and with Dirk Nannes joining his fellow Australian for the t20 tournament, the Dragons could upset a few.
Key player: Jim Allenby - Runs, wickets, Allenby provided plenty of both last season. Glamorgan will need the same, if not more, this year from a seriously talented all-rounder. At 30 it may be too late for international recognition, but the Australian-born Allenby seems to be getting even better with age.
Fults says... Glamorgan have struggled in the last few years but Mark Wallace is a good guy to have as captain. Mid-table is probably the best they could hope for. Read his full preview
Captain: Michael Klinger
Head coach: John Bracewell
Overseas: Michael Klinger (Australia), Dan Christian (Australia, for Twenty20)
Ins: Gareth Roderick, Cameron Herring
Outs: David Wade (released), Jonathan Batty (retired)
The disappointment of finishing bottom of Division Two of the LV= County Championship was quelled with some promising one-day form at Gloucestershire.
The Gladiators finished bottom of the first-class heap after losing more fixtures than any of their Division Two rivals, although another way of reviewing their campaign is that they were just one win away from fifth spot.
A quarter-final run in the Friends Life t20 provided welcome relief from their four-day troubles and they will begin the 2013 season under the captaincy of experienced Australian opening batsman Michael Klinger.
Klinger has made the switch to Bristol after a brief stint nearby at Worcestershire last season and faces a tough job in galvanising a largely youthful squad.
Up and coming seam bowlers Liam Norwell, David Payne and James Fuller look decent prospects and with Ian Saxelby and all-rounder Will Gidman also more the useful seam-up options, Gloucestershire have one of the stronger bowling units in the second tier.
Batting big has long been a struggle, though, and the onus will be on the likes of Hamish Marshall and Alex Gidman to give the young bowlers something to work with.
Key Player: Alex Gidman - After giving up the captaincy to concentrate on his batting, Gidman will now be expected to deliver consistently with the bat as one of Gloucestershire's experienced heads.
Fults says...I expect them to struggle for a couple more years but they are hopeful of hosting one of the England v India fixtures in 2014 and if they can do that will improve their finances and they can start to build a squad again. Read his full preview
Captain: Jimmy Adams
Head coach: Giles White
Overseas: George Bailey (Australia, first half of season), Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan, from August)
Ins: George Bailey, Saeed Ajmal, Adam Wheater (Essex), Michael Roberts (Unicorns)
Outs: Kabir Ali (Lancashire), Simon Katich (Lancashire), Bilal Shafayat (released)
Kings of one-day cricket in 2012, but a whopping 41 points off the pace in Division Two, Hampshire will prioritise promotion back to Division One this year and they should achieve it.
The top six - on paper - is one of the strongest in either division, and the departure of Simon Katich to Lancashire is more than offset by the arrival of George Bailey, Australia's T20 captain and run machine. The whisper from Down Under though is that he may be given a call-up to the Ashes squad and that would see some frantic phoning around the globe for a replacement.
Jimmy Adams, the ever-improving Liam Dawson, Michael Carberry, James Vince, Bailey and Sean Ervine should provide enough runs - and the solid Neil McKenzie will bolster the batting options from June when he arrives from South Africa.
If Hampshire can stay in the hunt come July, the ace up the Royals' sleeve is Saeed Ajmal, the Pakistan spin magician who will play for the last two months of the season.
The big concern for Hampshire fans is the fast bowling. David Balcombe, top wicket-taker last year with 59 and - when fit - James Tomlinson are willing enough, but they need much more help from the likes of Chris Wood, David Griffiths and the team's lynchpin Sean Ervine.
Watch out for Adam Wheater, the highly-rated wicketkeeper batsman who arrives from Essex. He will provide competition for Michael Bates, one of the finest glovemen in the country, but short of runs last season. Wheater's average is 20 an innings better.
Key player: Sean Ervine - He rarely misses a game, and delivers when Hampshire most need it. A handy bowler and under-rated batsman, the Zimbabwean is a man you want with you in the trenches.
Fults says... Wheater's arrival - coupled to the experience and ability of skipper Jimmy Adams, Michael Carberry, Sean Ervine, James Vince, Liam Dawson et al - means Hampshire would be my tip to go up with Lancashire. Read his full preview
Captain: James Tredwell
Head coach: Jimmy Adams
Overseas: Brendan Nash (West Indies)
Ins: Calum Haggett
Outs: Simon Cook
Kent were the nearly men of 2012 - they fought hard for a return to Division One in the LV= County Championship before falling short, while they missed out on a semi-final place in the Clydesdale Bank 40 competition after losing a winner-takes-all showdown with Sussex.
However, the fact they fell just short should not take away from a summer of real progress under new coach Jimmy Adams. The West Indian took charge of a much-changed squad that had seen the arrival of several new players.
Seamers Charlie Shreck and Mark Davies proved shrewd acquisitions and Adams used his Caribbean connections to bring in a wily left-hander made in the mould of himself in Brendan Nash.
For this campaign Kent have a new man in charge - James Tredwell takes over after a successful one-day winter with England, replacing Rob Key, who had been captain for seven years.
Key admitted no longer having the responsibility of being in charge would be a 'relief', meaning he can focus fully on his batting. Sam Northeast led the run-scoring charts in first-class cricket and will hope to continue to build on his undoubted potential.
Indeed, Tredwell has a superb mix of youth and experience in the squad, suggesting Kent should certainly be challenging on all fronts. Some dry weather would help too; they posted their lowest gate receipts since 2004 in tough financial times.
Key player: James Tredwell - Kent will hope the added burden of captaincy will not weigh too heavily on the spinner's shoulders. They will also be keeping an eye on the fitness of Graeme Swann, with any injury to England's leading off-spinner likely resulting in the reliable Tredwell being summoned away during an Ashes summer.Fults says... It will be interesting to see how James Tredwell goes as captain. Rob Key, who Tredwell replaces, looks as fit as I've ever seen him and if he can translate his batting quality into a lot of runs then handing the reins to Tredwell could be a very shrewd move. Read his full preview
Captain: Glen Chapple
Head coach: Peter Moores
Overseas: Simon Katich (Australia)
Ins: Kabir Ali (Hampshire), Simon Katich (Hampshire), Wayne White (Leicestershire, Ashwell Prince (South Africa)
Outs: Naqaash Tahir, Sajid Mahmood (Essex), Gary Keedy (Surrey)
This time last year Lancashire were about to start the defence of their Division One title. Now they find themselves in the second tier of the LV= County Championship determined to bounce back at the first attempt.
There has been no knee-jerk reaction to relegation - coach Peter Moores has even signed a contract extension and Glen Chapple remains as captain. The squad has been bolstered with some experience and the departures shouldn't leave too many glaring holes.
Ashwell Prince not only returns having hit over 1,000 first-class runs in 2012 but the left-hander also is now registered as a Kolpak player, meaning the Red Rose county were able to lure Australian Simon Katich away from Hampshire to further bolster their top order.
But the fact they recorded just one win in the Championship had much to do with the struggles of their bowlers; Simon Kerrigan was their leading wicket-taker with 44 scalps, an impressive tally in such a wet summer and one that made veteran Gary Keedy expendable.
To try and provide some new-ball punch Kabir Ali has moved up from the south coast and all-rounder Wayne White adds depth in both departments after deciding he no longer wanted to play for Leicestershire.
In one-day cricket Lancashire have fared well of late, including a semi-final appearance in the 40-over competition in the last campaign, but it is first-class cricket where they crave success in 2013.
Key player: Glen Chapple - Captain fantastic Chapple will again be asked to lead the way for Lancashire with the new ball. He took 42 wickets at a touch over 24 last year and should prosper in the second tier, even though he turned 39 in January. He does, though, need some support.
Fults says... If Glen Chapple stays fit, then Lancashire will get promoted, but it could be a difficult ball game for them if he gets injured. Read his full preview
Captain: Ramnaresh Sarwan
Head coach: Phil Whitticase
Overseas: Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies), Joe Burns (Australia)
Ins: Niall O'Brien (Northamptonshire), Anthony Ireland, Robbie Williams (both Middlesex), Tom Wells, Ollie Freckingham, Angus Robson (all academy)Outs: Wayne White (Lancashire), Will Jefferson (retired), Paul Dixey (retired), Robbie Joseph, Will Jones, Jacques du Toit, Nadeem Malik (all released)
Seventh in Division Two last season, Leicestershire look set for another season as an also-ran. The good news from last season is that they made themselves tough to beat, losing just three times and drawing 10.
They have some seriously promising youngsters in Shiv Thakor - a future England player - and Ned Eckersley, their wicketkeeper-batsman.
Ramnaresh Sarwan returns for the beginning and end of the season and whilst he is away with the West Indies, rising Australia star Joe Burns will replace him. Those two need to score a ton of runs because the rest of the batting is hugely inconsistent.
Josh Cobb has talent to burn but scored just one Championship century last season. Matthew Boyce, Greg Smith and Michael Thornely need to do much more.
The emergence of England U19 captain Thakor could help things with bat and ball, particularly as their leading all-rounder and last season's leading wicket-taker Wayne White has left for Lancashire.
Niall O'Brien, the combative Ireland wicketkeeper-batsman, joins from Northamptonshire and he should add some grit. Fast bowler Andrew Ireland arrives from Middlesex and Leicestershire need him to rediscover the form that made him a real handful at Gloucestershire. Matthew Hoggard, Nathan Buck, Alex Wyatt and the reliable Claude Henderson make up a capable but hardly frightening attack. Expect improvement, but no promotion challenge at Grace Road.
Key player: Shiv Thakor - Not just 'one to watch', Thakor looks like being Leicestershire's key man this season too. He is their most talented batsman and a more than useful bowler too. If the Foxes can keep hold of him, he is likely to be their lynchpin for years to come.
Fults says... Leicestershire's bowling could be an issue - Nathan Buck needs to have a good season after a poor one last year - and they've lost their leading wicket-taker, Wayne White. Read his full preview
Captain: Stephen Peters
Head coach: David Ripley
Overseas: Trent Copeland (Australia, start of season until 8 June), Cameron White (Australia, for Twenty20)
Ins: Matt Spriegel (Surrey), Steven Crook (Middlesex), Ben Duckett (YTH), Muhammad Azharullah (UKP)
Outs: Ben Howegego, Rob White, Dave Burton, Jack Brooks (Yorkshire), Chaminda Vaas, Niall O'Brien (Leicestershire)
The 2012 summer was a disastrous one for Northamptonshire, who parted company with head coach David Capel and fared little better under the guidance of another ex-player, David Ripley.
The Steelbacks mustered just four wins in all competitions last term and narrowly avoided the wooden spoon in Division Two. A dramatic fall from grace for a side who'd come within one point of promotion in 2009 and 2011.
Chief executive Brian Smith has made no secret of his desire to challenge for the Twenty20 title, but that remains an unlikely feat based on last season's showings.
No player topped 800 runs in first-class cricket, while injury to overseas recruit Chaminda Vaas seriously weakened the bowling department in all forms of the game. South African all-rounder Andrew Hall has stepped down as captain to concentrate on his own game, with Stephen Peters leading the side in first-class cricket.
It is hard to find a case for the Steelbacks' fortunes to improve this summer, either, with pace pair Jack Brooks and Vaas, Ireland wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien and veteran batsman Rob White all leaving the club.
Highly-rated Australian pace bowler Trent Copeland will be hoping to make an impression during his brief stay, while all-rounders Matt Spriegel and Steven Crook are both consistent white-ball performers.
Key player: Oliver Stone - The England under-19 pace bowler may have to shoulder plenty of the burden at Wantage Road this summer following the departures of Brooks and Vaas. He enjoyed an eye-catching winter against South Africa U19s, taking 17 wickets in the two-Test youth series.
Fults says... Stephen Peters has been around the block a little bit; he's much more experienced in terms of captaincy and coach-captain relationships. Read his full preview
Captain: Daryl Mitchell
Head coach: Steven Rhodes
Overseas: Thilan Samaraweera (Sri Lanka); Jacob Oram (New Zealand, for Twenty20)
Ins: Graeme Cessford (Royal Air Force), Michael Johnson (UKP, Western Australia)
Outs: James Cameron (retired), Vikram Solanki (Surrey), Jack Manuel (release), Ben Scott (retired)
Worcestershire were sent crashing back down to Division Two of the County Championship after losing more first-class matches than any other team last season.
The Pears won their solitary match on July 20 - beating Lancashire in a result which went a long way to ensuring the Red Rose county would join them in the second tier this summer.
While Division Two cricket is by no means a disaster for a club of Worcestershire's size, they will harbour hopes of bouncing straight back after a brief taste of mixing it with the big boys.
They will start a domestic summer without club stalwart Vikram Solanki for the first time in 20 years after the 36-year-old, who scored almost 27,000 runs in all competitions, swapped New Road for Surrey.
Worcestershire fans will be hoping another 36-year-old can fill Solanki's shoes. Thilan Samaraweera, who made 81 Test appearances for Sri Lanka, has joined for the summer and should fill his boots in the second tier.
Twenty20 Finals Day was in Worcestershire's sights last summer and going one better also looks a realistic aim.
Key player: Moeen Ali -Despite not posting a century in first-class cricket last season for Worcestershire, all-rounder Ali looks capable of playing in the top-flight. A more than useful off-spin bowler, and dangerous T20 player, Ali has the potential for a breakthrough season.
Fults says... The players will play for each other but I don't think that will be good enough on its own for them to go back up. They might have a chance in Twenty20 but I don't see them being a force in the Championship. Read his full preview