Dave Fulton and Dominic Cork make predictions for county cricket season
By Sky Sports Cricket
Last Updated: 13/04/18 8:33am
The weather outside is rather grotty - so the new county cricket season must be upon us!
Let's hope the rain disappears and that the country is bathed in blue sky when the Specsavers County Championship gets underway on Friday, with defending champions Essex visiting Yorkshire for their opening fixture.
Will Essex retain their crown and, if not, who will triumph? We asked Sky Sports Cricket experts Dave Fulton and Dominic Cork for their predictions.
Read on below as Fults and Corky reveal their tips for the drop, promotion and the white-ball-trophies, as well as name some players to watch over the next six months...
COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS
DAVE FULTON: Hampshire. Sam Northeast, who has been a fine player for Kent over the years, and Hashim Amla are good additions in the batting and Liam Dawson remains a solid player. James Vince may also be around depending on England commitments. It's whether they can bowl people out but if Kyle Abbott stays fit he is arguably the best seamer in the country.
DOMINIC CORK: Surrey, particularly with Morne Morkel joining them. I like the Curran brothers and they have a good mix of experience and youth in the squad as well as a good coach in Michael di Venuto. Morkel is the icing on the cake, as we have seen what he can do in the Test arena. If he stays fit, he will be integral.
DAVE: I hate doing this! Somerset and Worcestershire. I don't think Somerset are going to go to the turning pitches that have proved successful - they got a warning for a pitch they played Middlesex on - meaning Jack Leach and Dom Bess might be less effective.
I also worry about their batting, Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth can't go on forever. Not everyone can do an Essex, either, and move seamlessly into the top flight, which is why I have gone for Worcestershire. Moeen Ali won't play much and do they have the bowling?
DOMINIC: I agree with Fults on this one. Worcestershire have done so well with the budget they are on but they are a yo-yo side and I think they will struggle. Somerset's pitches won't be as spin friendly and Leach may be away with England for a lot of the time.
DAVE: Middlesex and Warwickshire are the outstanding candidates - they play at Test grounds and have experience of winning Championships. Warwickshire have freshened up their squad - I like Dom Sibley and Adam Hose and Will Rhodes is handy - while you would imagine Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott will score runs. Making Jeetan Patel captain is a good move, too, he perhaps needed added responsibility.
Middlesex should never really have gone down. They can play a negative brand of cricket - they got a lot of draws when they won the title in 2016 - so if they play more adventurously they should win the division. Sussex are a shout but seem more white-ball focused. I am not expecting Leicestershire to get promoted but I sense that where they have been a little rudderless, they are now switched on with Wasim Khan as chief executive and Paul Nixon as coach. I expect an improvement.
DOMINIC: Middlesex were far too good to go down, while Warwickshire have revamped an ageing team and have a new bowling coach in Graeme Welch. There are reports that Ashley Giles turned down the opportunity to become England's national selector, which I think shows how keen he is to get Warwickshire back into Division One. I think he will.
DAVE: Notts will go close again - just look at that batting line-up of Alex Hales, Steven Mullaney, Samit Patel, Riki Wessels, they keep coming at you. But I am going to go for Sussex. With Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills, they have the bowling attack to be very dangerous.
DOMINIC: Hampshire. With their Kolpak players - Abbott, Rilee Rossouw - as well as Vince, Dawson etc they have a lot of international players, guys who know how to perform in T20 competitions around the globe. They got to Finals Day last year and would have beaten Notts in the semi-final had anyone put in a performance.
DAVE: Surrey, purely because they have to go one better than they have the last three years! They have got so close so often and know it's a strong format for them and they are a good all-round team, albeit now without Kumar Sangakkara. I would back them to score more than the opposition. Who knows whether Virat Kohli will be knocking around as well? Even if he and Morkel are not involved in that format, they can lift the dressing room.
DOMINIC: Notts to retain. They just know how to win big games and have such powerful batsmen. Hales, Patel, the list just goes on.
ROB KEY'S COUNTY PICKS
- Division One: Hampshire
- Division Two: Kent
- Vitality Blast/Royal London One-Day Cup: Notts
- Batsmen to watch: Sam Northeast/Dan Lawrence
- Bowler to watch: Olly Stone (Warks)
- The next big thing: Zak Crawley (Kent)
BATSMAN TO WATCH
DAVE: Liam Livingstone, of Lancashire, is a class player and can be devastating. He's not everyone's cup of tea. Some people think he can be a bit cocky but I think he just has a lot of self-belief and confidence in his ability. He played some white-ball stuff for England and didn't do great but his red-ball stats are much better.
DOMINIC: Dan Lawrence - I know Rob Key is a big fan. He looks like he has the technique to step up into international cricket but that will come down to weight of runs. Essex were the surprise package last year but all eyes will be on them this time, so how will Lawrence cope with the spotlight?
BOWLER TO WATCH
DAVE: I like Matt Parkinson, an exciting young leg-spinner at Lancashire, but I will be interested to see if Worcester's Josh Tongue can back up his 47 wickets last year in Division Two with a 50-wicket season in Division One. He could be a quicker Jamie Porter and if he is, and doesn't suffer second-season syndrome, he will be on England's radar even more.
DOMINIC: Jofra Archer. He is in the IPL for Rajasthan Royals and in all forms of the game he is a star. He was brilliant out in the Big Bash for Hobart Hurricanes - he has pace, ability and will only get better and better.
BEST OVERSEAS SIGNING
DAVE: Ross Taylor is a shrewd acquisition - he has a Test average of 47 and 17 hundreds. Proven. Notts need his runs with Hales playing only white-ball cricket and Michael Lumb retiring and they don't get overseas players wrong - James Pattinson was effective last year.
Peter Siddle and Neil Wagner, at Essex, also seem like really solid blokes. Wagner has a lot of ticker and thumps the middle of the pitch and Siddle seems as whole-hearted. We had a guy at Kent like that, Zimbabwe spinner Paul Strang, back in the day - those guys are so important.
DMMINIC: I know he is a Kolpak player but Surrey getting Morkel is a serious acquisition. I thought that whoever signed him would win a tournament this season. He is a handful in all forms and in county cricket he could run through people at times.
THE NEXT BIG THING?
DAVE: Yorkshire's Harry Brook, as a batsman, is worth keeping an eye on, while Leicestershire seamer Zak Chappell is someone I have heard has genuine pace. I know Leicestershire coach Nixon quite well having played with him at Kent and he is the sort of character who can inspire and unite. He has an x-factor about him and can make people believe in themselves.
DOMINIC: Derbyshire's Hamidullah Qadri. The story of him being a refugee from Afghanistan and going on to play for England Under-19s is heartwarming. He is a confident lad, eager to learn and may eventually have to move on to a bigger county, no disrespect to Derbyshire. He bats, bowls, fields and is an aggressive off-spinner, which is important in any format, while he is also decent, down-to-earth and listens.
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