2021 County Championship: County-by-county commentators guide

0
10


Essex Bob Willis Trophy champions
Can anyone dethrone domestic kings Essex this season?

Once again this season BBC local radio will be providing ball-by-ball commentary of every County Championship game.

Here’s how the commentators think the season will pan out for their sides.

Derbyshire

Dave Fletcher, BBC Radio Derby

By common consent, Derbyshire performed above expectation in the 2020 Bob Willis Trophy, maintaining their hopes of reaching the final until the last round of the competition.

They did it with a relatively inexperienced bowling line-up as well and there is no doubt that the likes of Sam Conners, Ben Aitchinson, Fynn Hudson-Prentice and Mikey Cohen will have benefited.

Throw into the mix giant Australian Billy Stanlake, who is coming to England in a bid to force his way into the Test side, and the bowling unit will be looking to kick on in 2021.

Batting-wise, once again much will fall at the feet of the impressive and settled top four, along with leg-spinning all-rounder Matt Critchley, who averaged 39 with the bat and took 17 wickets at 26 last August and September.

And so much depends on the form of Luis Reece who has, on more than one occasion, opened the batting and the bowling in the same match – as he did in the most recent pre-season game at Emirates Old Trafford.

Durham

Martin Emmerson, BBC Radio Newcastle

It will be interesting to see how Durham get on this season under their new skipper Scott Borthwick and with the return of Australian opener Cameron Bancroft.

Borthwick was among a number of homegrown players who left the club following their financial demise in 2016, but returns with a five-year deal in his back pocket after four seasons with Surrey. It’s the biggest contract the club has given anyone.

With Alex Lees and David Bedingham also in the side, the top order should have a stronger look to it now.

The bowling attack would get into any county side in my opinion. And Chris Rushworth looks set to become the club’s record wicket taker this summer, overtaking Graham Onions.

Perhaps the fly in the ointment is the departure of Gareth Harte. The South African all-rounder was a decent batsman and a nifty little partnership breaker with the ball. But he has decided to pursue business interests back home and will be a miss.

I don’t believe this new format gives every side the chance of winning. That wasn’t borne out by what happened on the pitch in last summer’s truncated season. I think with more games this year, the weaker sides will find themselves in a familiar position of struggle. Once the action gets going the cream tends to rise to the top.

But in this conference format, Durham can’t afford another sluggish start to a first-class campaign, like they have in recent seasons. If that happens they will be cut adrift again. It’s time to stand up and be counted.

Essex

Victoria Polley, BBC Essex

Essex will be relishing the opportunity to retain both the County Championship title and Bob Willis Trophy this season. There’s a real desire within the club to create a culture of winning and this group of players want to leave their mark, just as the club did in the eras of Keith Fletcher and Graham Gooch.

Expect the bowling attack to be just as formidable as it has been in recent years with Simon Harmer back, this time as an overseas player rather than Kolpak, and the likes of Jamie Porter, Sam Cook, Peter Siddle and Aaron Beard looking to be amongst the wickets again, which has made Essex so successful in recent seasons.

There’s a chance for the batsmen to really stake their claim this season. It’s the last year of Alastair Cook’s contract – although he is as hungry as ever having taken last season’s Bob Willis Trophy player of the year award – plus there could be long spells away for Dan Lawrence if he gets the opportunity with England this summer.

Essex gave the likes of youngster Feroze Khushi and all-rounder Paul Walter game time last season as they looked to fill that Ravi Bopara-shaped hole in the middle order and it will be good to watch them develop more over the summer.

Glamorgan

Nick Webb, BBC Radio Wales

If Glamorgan can recapture their 2019 Championship form and add their performances in the closing stages of the T20 Blast last year, they’ll be in business.

If it’s last summer’s four-day form and the previous year’s T20, then it’ll be a long campaign.

Welsh supporters will be keen to see (hopefully in the flesh) the return of world-class Australia batsman Marnus Labuschagne and short-form specialist Colin Ingram, while Labuschagne will have seamer Michael Neser, a Queensland team-mate, with him when they arrive in May.

Having David Lloyd fit should bring extra balance and competitiveness to the team after breaking his foot, as well as taking some of the run-scoring load off captain Chris Cooke.

Graham Wagg and Marchant de Lange are the main departures as Glamorgan choose from a smaller squad, so they will also hope that younger players like Callum Taylor, Dan Douthwaite and Lukas Carey become consistent first-team performers.

But Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie, standing in for Labuschagne, will be a key performer in the first month of the season, with a testing trip to Yorkshire first up.

Gloucestershire

Ed Hadwin, BBC Radio Bristol

2021 will be the start of a new era for Gloucestershire after Richard Dawson’s departure to the ECB. Having been involved with the club as player and coach since 2008, it’s going to be a bit strange not seeing him around the Bristol County Ground.

The club have gone for continuity though, at least in the short term, with Ian Harvey stepping up to lead the team as interim head coach and he’ll be looking to continue what’s become their tried and trusted mix of astute recruitment mixed with developing youngsters from their academy.

Australian fast bowler Dan Worrall and West Indies Test captain Kraigg Brathwaite are the club’s overseas signings for the Championship, although Covid-19 restrictions mean their arrival in Bristol is delayed.

They’ve signed batsman Tom Lace on a permanent deal and bowler Jared Warner from Yorkshire to bolster a youthful squad that will need to continue narrowing the gap between themselves and the very best four-day teams in the revamped Championship.

But in the T20 and One-Day Cup they should still be very much a force to be reckoned with, despite often seeming to be underestimated by fans if not opposition players.

Hampshire

Kevan James, BBC Radio Solent

There are a couple of important issues for Hampshire to resolve quickly before they can confidently believe they can enter the top division of the Championship in the second half of the season.

The first is who will open the batting alongside Joe Weatherley?

Ian Holland did a magnificent job in the second half of 2019 when Weatherley was injured. But ‘Dutchy’s’ bowling was considered too important last season to place the extra burden on him.

Felix Organ also did a good job alongside Holland in that same period, but it didn’t quite work out for him in the Bob Willis Trophy.

If they want a left-handed option then Tom Alsop could be the outside choice, he’s used to batting high up the order even when keeping wicket.

The other issue is the form of seam bowler Kyle Abbott.

The 33-year-old, who had a stonking 2019 season including 71 Championship wickets, has played little cricket of note since then. Travel restrictions stopped him coming over last season.

If he drops straight into his groove, then he and fellow overseas signing Mohammed Abbas could run riot in early season conditions.

Kent

Matt Cole, BBC Radio Kent

There’s a quiet confidence around Canterbury these days, and with it an expectation of this year’s squad that they’ll challenge for all three domestic competitions.

With Zak Crawley back from international duty early season, Joe Denly available for most of the summer and the addition of West Indies’ quick Miguel Cummins to an ever-improving seam attack, this could just be their year for the four-day title.

The Spitfires have put in some sublime performances in white-ball competitions in recent years, but fallen short in crucial games. I’d still expect them to be among the front runners in the T20 Blast, but losing their top five batsmen to The Hundred might be a test too far in the One-Day Cup.

After announcing himself with a double century in a record-breaking stand in the Bob Willis Trophy, 20-year-old Jordan Cox is definitely one to watch this season, but if you’re looking for Kent’s key man, why not Darren Stevens?

They said he was too old, they said he was too slow, they said he’d never take wickets in the top division or score another double-ton as he moved into his fifth decade. Who are we to doubt that ‘Stevo’ will be a county champion at 45?

Lancashire

Scott Read, BBC Radio Lancashire & BBC Radio Manchester

Lancashire handed first-class debuts to six players last season, including George Balderson and Tom Hartley who were perhaps the pick of the bunch.

Balderson, who captained England Under-19s at the 2019 World Cup, appeared to settle into county cricket with relative ease. A calm composure at the crease, a solid defence and the ability to play late, he seemed to revel when exposed to the new ball.

Likewise, Hartley, a left-arm spinner who bowls with good flight on an awkward length helped by his height. His performances forced his way into the T20 squad and secured him a deal with the Manchester Originals for The Hundred.

Both of those players were a good example of youngsters benefiting from the Covid restrictions last year, the lack of overseas players and the international bio-secure bubbles, and they fitted well into a squad full of determined young players.

It’s a decade since Lancashire won the County Championship, with a team consisting of mainly homegrown players. Whether this next generation can create their own piece of history remains to be seen.

Leicestershire

Richard Rae, BBC Radio Leicester

Beating Lancashire in the Bob Willis Trophy and coming desperately close to qualifying for finals day in the T20 Blast attested to Leicestershire’s improvement in 2020, but Paul Nixon’s young squad face a tough challenge if they are to maintain that progress in 2021, in terms of results at least.

The Foxes play heavyweights Hampshire, Surrey and Somerset in their opening Championship fixtures, and will be without captain Colin Ackermann and vice-captain Callum Parkinson (both selected for The Hundred) in the One-Day Cup.

Supporters will be hoping the signing of Australia international Marcus Harris to partner Hassan Azad at the top of the order will give the batting a solid foundation, though commitments down under mean he is likely to miss the first month of the season, that the classy Ackermann finds form early, and that this is the season when the likes of batsman Harry Dearden, all-rounder Ben Mike, wicketkeeper-batsman Harry Swindells and seamer Gavin Griffiths convert promise into consistent achievement.

Experienced opening bowler Chris Wright will look for support from Griffiths, left-arm paceman Dieter Klein and Ed Barnes, newly signed from Yorkshire, but the dual spin threat offered by Parkinson and Ackermann suggests Nixon would not be displeased to be playing on pitches that turn sooner rather than later at Grace Road.

Middlesex

Kevin Hand, BBC Radio London

Middlesex head coach Stuart Law will see this as a very big season for his development of the team. The former West Indies coach used his first year in charge in 2019 to oversee what he inherited in the squad, so 2020 was set to be a year of transition, with Peter Handscomb arriving as captain and Miguel Cummins joining an already strong seam attack.

The former will only join up with the team for the first time this year due to travel issues last season and the latter had his chances restricted as Covid-19 saw last year so heavily reduced.

Law will look though to older heads to lead by example. Sam Robson is the elder statesman of the batsmen and with Handscomb only arriving for the third round of games, much will be expected of the former England opener.

With the ball, Toby Roland-Jones is back after missing all of last year with injury and he and Tim Murtagh will be the ever-reliable opening pair, with Tom Helm looking for a season that could propel him to more than just an occasional squad call up for England.

Steven Finn didn’t feature in the first-class games in 2020, but has been injury free for some time having overcome a troublesome knee problem and he will look to be a metronome with a red ball in hand while remaining a strike bowler in white-ball cricket.

James Harris remains in a key position of all-rounder and now has healthy competition from Martin Andersson, who has also played as a batsman alone in matches.

Expectation will be high, but whether the plethora of youngsters coming through can perform to help lift the older heads back to previous heights may be the key to whether the next level can be reached after an encouragingly competitive return in all but the Essex game in 2020.

Northants

Andrew Radd, BBC Radio Northampton

They say it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

The enforced change of red-ball structure last season may have prevented Northamptonshire making their long-hoped-for return to County Championship’s Division One – secured, amidst much celebration, at the end of 2019.

But head coach David Ripley used the Bob Willis Trophy matches to give useful experience to several of his younger players – and the likes of batsman Charlie Thurston and pace bowler Jack White (the team’s leading run-scorer and wicket-taker in the competition respectively) obliged with some eye-catching performances.

Ripley will hope for more of the same from them this year, while Ben Curran and Emilio Gay should be looking to convert promising starts into major contributions at the top of the order.

The acquisition of much-travelled South African Wayne Parnell to play throughout the season in all formats looks a canny bit of business. Parnell and all-rounder Tom Taylor – who joined the club from Leicestershire at the tail end of 2020 – increase options in the seam department, with Ben Sanderson a key man once again.

The former Lancashire and (briefly) England left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan has an opportunity to re-launch his career after signing a two-year deal at Wantage Road.

Nottinghamshire

Dave Bracegirdle, BBC Radio Nottingham

There’s a strong belief around Trent Bridge that Nottinghamshire aren’t too far away from ending domestic cricket’s most unwanted record.

The white ball kings – they’ve won three trophies in four years, including their second T20 Blast crown last October – haven’t tasted a four-day victory since June 2018, a stretch of 27 winless matches.

Evidence suggests that they may be about to break that streak. They did, after all, accumulate more bonus points than any other side in the country last year and their haul of 20 batting points was six more than anyone else.

In 2020, Notts found a way to dominate the early stages of matches; leading after the first innings in each of their five Bob Willis Trophy fixtures.

Runs should again be plentiful from a top order comprising four players bristling with ambition; Haseeb Hameed, Ben Slater, Ben Duckett and Joe Clarke.

Finishing off opponents has been Nottinghamshire’s undoing of late but the acquisition of South African Test bowler Dane Paterson and the return of Brett Hutton, after three years away, should help rectify that and bolster an attack already brimming with potential.

Drawn alongside Derbyshire, Durham, Essex, Warwickshire and Worcestershire in their County Championship group, Steven Mullaney’s side should be able to manufacture some winning opportunities in 2021 and challenge for positions closer to the top than the bottom.

In the shorter forms, Dan Christian, one of the most inspirational leaders in the game, will return for a seventh straight season as Notts aim to defend their T20 crown. And with so many star names on duty in The Hundred, there will be an opportunity for some of the club’s talented crop of homegrown youngsters to make their mark in the One-Day Cup.

Somerset

Anthony Gibson, BBC Somerset

So, will this be the season in which the perennial bridesmaids of county cricket finally get to walk down the aisle to claim a first County Championship?

All of the ingredients for success are there: A potent seam attack, with the South African Marchant de Lange signed to replace the Surrey-bound Jamie Overton, a nice mix of youth and experience among the batsmen, and Jack Leach back from England duties, albeit probably only early in the season, when he’s unlikely to get much help from the pitches at Taunton, or indeed anywhere else for that matter.

Players to watch? Tom Lammonby, the young left-handed opener who’ll be looking to build on his stellar performance last year, Tom Banton, keen to prove that he’s as effective against a red ball as he is devastating against a white one, and there’s a young quick bowler called Kasey Aldridge of whom great things are hoped. Like several other promising youngsters, he should get his chance in the One-Day Cup, with at least six senior players involved in The Hundred.

Tom Abell will lead the team with his customary fizzing enthusiasm, first among many in what is a brilliant fielding side, and if the team perform to their potential, then even the handicap of that reduced, but still resented, eight-point penalty from 2019 can be overcome in the Championship.

And if Babar Azam comes back for the T20 Blast, they could be a force in that as well.

Surrey

Mark Church, BBC Radio London

As always Surrey will be looking to make an impact in every competition this summer.

Having Rory Burns back for the early part of the summer will set the tone in the dressing room and they will also be able to call on the services of Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes in the first couple of months of the season.

They are full of batting (keep an eye on Jamie Smith) and have some delicious bowling options to pick from.

On paper they look strong, as they do every year. But as a wise person once said, “you don’t win games on paper”.

There is lots to like about the Surrey squad this season. If they play to their undoubted potential they will be challenging on all fronts this summer.

Sussex

Adrian Harms, BBC Sussex

There’s nothing more exciting at the start of a new season than a crop of young homegrown players pushing hard for a first-team place.

That is the case at Hove, and will perhaps be the legacy of departed coach Jason Gillespie.

New Championship head coach Ian Salisbury is committed to continuing that policy, whilst ensuring a balance with older more experienced players.

Scoring enough runs has been a major problem in the last few seasons, a problem that should be helped with the signing of Travis Head.

However, with Head likely to miss the first three and possibly four matches of the season, much will depend on the experience of Stiaan van Zyl to provide stability to the top order.

In the bowling department, Ollie Robinson will be chomping at the bit for the season to start. His progress over the past three seasons has taken him to the brink of selection for England, and a good start to the season will keep him firmly in the selectors’ thoughts.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the progress of off-spinner Jack Carson.

Still only 20, Carson showed maturity and a willingness to learn way beyond his years last season.

Refreshingly, he likes to attack batsman, turns the ball, and knows where he wants his field, and could prove to be a very useful weapon in the Sussex armoury.

Exciting times beckon on the south coast, the youngsters will need time to develop, and inevitably there will be bumps along the way, but led by the indomitable spirit of Ben Brown, Sussex could prove a surprise package this season.

Warwickshire

Clive Eakin, BBC CWR & BBC WM

Even allowing for the shortening of last season, it was a tough one for Warwickshire. They failed to secure a win in the Bob Willis Trophy and their inability to get past the winning post reached a head for the Bears with an astonishing defeat by Northants Steelbacks in their final T20 Blast group match, costing them a place in the quarter-finals and Jim Troughton his job as head coach.

There has been a sense of a changing of the guard with Ian Bell, Jeetan Patel and Tim Ambrose all retiring to be replaced by young players like Henry Brookes, Dan Mousley and Rob Yates, all of whom bear a burden of expectation.

That said, Warwickshire have drafted in experience with Tim Bresnan going into his second season and being joined by former England spinner Danny Briggs, along with new overseas player, South Africa batsman Pieter Malan.

And the Bears’ Blast squad is livened up by the arrival of West Indian T20 World Cup-winner Carlos Brathwaite.

The appointment of Mark Robinson as the new first-team coach reflected a view that the coaching team had become too insular, but he’ll still be supported by a number of former Bears players with Graeme Welch, Ian Westwood and Tony Frost still on the staff.

Warwickshire will expect to be more competitive in all forms of cricket this summer and a place at Edgbaston’s T20 Blast Finals Day party for the Bears will be regarded as a must.

Worcestershire

Dave Bradley, BBC Hereford & Worcester

Worcestershire will hope to build on some decent red ball cricket in the truncated 2020 season, and make considerable improvement in their white ball form.

Head coach Alex Gidman admitted the halting of practice in the previous winter had a major effect on their form in the shorter form of the game, but having reached the T20 final for the previous two seasons their form last summer was poor.

Gareth Roderick has joined what looks a formidable batting line-up, with Jake Libby aiming to continue his excellent form since the move from Nottinghamshire.

For Jack Haynes, it’s a big season where he needs to lose the ‘promising’ tag and grind out some big scores.

They appear to have a formidable pace attack, boosted by the early season addition of West Indies paceman Alzarri Joseph, and again it’s time for the likes of Dillon Pennington and Adam Finch to come to the fore.

Yorkshire

Jonathan Doidge, BBC Radio Leeds

After a period of transition, there’s a real sense of optimism about life at Emerald Headingley again and Yorkshire enter 2021 with serious Championship ambitions.

The weight of matches crammed into the early part of the season may actually prove beneficial, with Joe Root’s availability during that period a potentially huge boost, while the return of heavy scorer Gary Ballance, who missed the shortened 2020 season, is also a big plus.

Keeping him on the park, along with classy seamers Ben Coad and Matthew Fisher, will be major factors in any challenge for red ball silverware.

Young all-rounder Jordan Thompson took his chance last season and it will be an interesting scrap for that role now that Matthew Waite is fit again, while with England spinner Dom Bess and the genuine pace of Duanne Olivier, there’s no wonder that director of cricket Martyn Moxon recently said he felt that they have all bases covered.

There is also still the possibility of some red ball cricket later in the season for the likes of IPL-bound Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow, so don’t be surprised if everything begins to look white rosy for the Tykes as the season unfolds.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here