County cricket club-by-club guide 2012
The 2012 county cricket season gets under way on Thursday with Lancashire looking to defend their first outright Championship title win in 77 years.
Yorkshire will be hoping for an immediate return to the top flight having been relegated last season.
County champions Lancashire begin their defence against Sussex at Aigburth on 12 April, a week after the season starts, while their northern rivals from the other side of the Pennines resume life in Division Two against Kent at Headingley.
The CB40 gets underway on 4 May, with the FL t20 starting on 12 June.
Here is BBC Sport's club-by-club guide:
DERBYSHIRE by BBC Radio Derby's Charles Collins
Captain: Wayne Madsen.
Overseas players: Martin Guptill (New Zealand, start of season until 12 June); Usman Khawaja (Australia, 14 June until end of season); Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (Pakistan, for Twenty20).
How they did last season: Fifth in County Championship Division Two, third in CB40 Pool A and seventh in FL t20 North Group.
Season prospects: The club will be hoping for an improvement on another disappointing season in 2011 when they changed head coaches and lost experienced skipper Luke Sutton. They will hope to challenge for promotion in the County Championship or do well in the CB40. They've also only once reached the T20 quarter-finals, so a big step forward there is a target. Realistically, however, there hasn't been a lot of squad strengthening, so expect Derbyshire to be pretty much 'as you were'.
One to watch: All-rounder Chesney Hughes continues to improve as he matures, and is now 21 years old. This could be a breakout season for big Chesney (cue a line of bigger clubs looking to take him off Derbyshire's hands).
DURHAM by BBC North East and Cumbria's Matt Newsum
Captain: Phil Mustard (four day), Dale Benkenstein (one day).
Overseas players: Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa, for Twenty20); Mitchell Johnson (Australia, for Twenty20).
How they did last season: Third in County Championship Division One, CB40 semi-finalists and FL t20 quarter-finalists.
Season prospects: With depth to their bowling attack and a string of big hitters in the batting order, Durham ought to be among the front runners in the County Championship. Herschelle Gibbs will offer excitement and a bit of big-name glamour to the county's T20 campaign - much needed given the lack of success in the short-form game.
One to watch: Ben Stokes's emergence as a genuine big-hitting all-rounder was a boost for Durham last season and, had he not struggled with a niggly finger injury throughout the campaign, the county might have finished higher than third.
ESSEX by BBC Essex's Glenn Speller
Captain: James Foster.
Overseas players: Alviro Petersen (South Africa, start of season until mid-June); Peter Siddle (Australia, for Twenty20).
How they did last season: Seventh in County Championship Division Two, third in CB40 Pool C and sixth in FL t20 South Group.
Season prospects: Last year was seen as one of rebuilding for Essex after relegation from Division One of the County Championship. They'll hope youngsters including Jaik Mickleburgh, Tom Westley and Reece Topley can continue their progress. Overseas signings have been an issue in the last couple of years so it is hoped Alviro Petersen can come up with the goods.
One to watch: Left-armer Reece Topley made an explosive start to his county career last year while still studying at school. He took a wicket with his third ball and played more games than expected as he settled into the Essex bowling attack. A member of the England Under-19 side, he has a good future if he continues his progress.
GLAMORGAN by BBC Radio Wales' Richard Thomas
Captain: Mark Wallace.
Overseas players: Moises Henriques (Australia, early part of season); Marcus North (Australia, from late April/early May).
How they did last season: Sixth in County Championship Division Two, fifth in CB40 Pool C and seventh in FL t20 South Group.
Season prospects: It was another difficult winter with Glamorgan losing last year's captain Alviro Petersen, but new skipper Mark Wallace is hoping added fitness levels and a better focus among the squad will make them more of a contender for silverware, which has proved elusive since 2004. They could be a force in at least two of the three competitions.
One to watch: England Lions bowler James Harris is recovering from a winter hernia operation and, still 21, is ready to lead Glamorgan's seam attack in a bid to prove he is cable of cutting it on the Test arena.
GLOUCESTERSHIRE by BBC Radio Gloucestershire's Paul Furley
Captain: Alex Gidman.
Overseas players: Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka, for Twenty20); Kane Williamson (New Zealand, first half of season).
How they did last season: Fourth in County Championship Division Two, sixth in CB40 Pool C and eighth in FL t20 South Group.
Season prospects: There is even more pressure on Gloucestershire's young players this season after the departures of long-serving stalwarts Jon Lewis and Chris Taylor. Batsmen Chris Dent and Ian Cockbain, plus bowlers Ian Saxelby and David Payne need to continue to step up to the mark and perform with the consistency of senior pros. Another challenge for promotion from Division Two of the Championship and a better showing in the Twenty20 would represent a continued development amidst tightening budgets.
One to watch: After returning home from beginning his career with Durham, Will Gidman marked his first season of first-class cricket with Gloucestershire by passing two key landmarks for an all-rounder, scoring over 1,000 runs and taking more than 50 wickets in the Championship. Far from being outshone by his older brother Alex - who captains Gloucestershire - Gidman topped the county's batting averages at 45.72 and was also the most economical of Gloucestershire's regular main line bowlers.
HAMPSHIRE by BBC Radio Solent's Kevan James
Captain: Jimmy Adams.
Overseas players: Simon Katich (Australia); Shahid Afridi (Pakistan, for Twenty20).
How they did last season: Ninth in County Championship Division One and relegated to the second tier, fourth in CB40 Pool B and FL t20 semi-finalists.
Season prospects: First and foremost, Hampshire will be going all out to return to Division One of the County Championship at the first attempt. But they won't feel under too much pressure if results suggest that it may take another season or two as this is a year where they will put a lot of faith in younger players following the departure of more familiar names.
One to watch: After returning to the side midway through last season after illness, Michael Carberry provided the rock in the batting order the team had been missing. Another run-filled early season and he could be pushing for the England squad once more.
KENT by BBC Radio Kent's Matt Cole
Captain: Robert Key.
Overseas players: Brendan Nash (West Indies).
How they did last season: Eighth in County Championship Division Two, fourth in CB40 Pool A and FL t20 quarter-finalists.
Season prospects: After a lacklustre campaign in 2011, the departure of two of their highest-profile players (Joe Denly and Martin van Jaarsveld) may actually have done them a favour. The wage budget has been spent on a host of new signings, giving Kent the strength in depth they badly lacked last year. They may not reach the limited overs heights of four or five years ago, but this squad should be close to returning Kent to the top division of the County Championship.
One to watch: With so many experienced new players coming into the club, Kent's season may depend on how many of them live up to their best. But my one to watch is one of the county's young guns. Seamer Matt Coles has all the attributes to play at the highest level, and provided he stays free of injury, could just bowl Kent into promotion contention.
LANCASHIRE by BBC Radio Lancashire's Scott Read
Captain: Glen Chapple.
Overseas players: Ashwell Prince (South Africa, for Championship and CB40).
How they did last season: County Championship Division One winners, CB40 and FL t20 semi-finalists.
Season prospects: How can Lancashire better last season? A year in which they ended 77 years of hurt to clinch their first outright County Championship win since 1934. I guess it would be by defending their crown. Last season showed not only do they have a team full of promise, it's also a team full of talent. The young Lancastrians are even stronger and wiser from that experience. Defending the title would perhaps be an even greater achievement than winning it.
One to watch: Simon Kerrigan may see this as his season to steal the show. Having gone back to their 'roots' in recent seasons, Lancashire have a squad full of home-grown talent. Last season captain Glen Chapple and senior spinner Gary Keedy, both the wrong side of 35, led from the front in the bowling department, while Paul Horton and Stephen Moore did so with the bat. But Kerrigan took 24 Championship wickets, including the 9-51 that beat Hampshire with minutes to spare at Aigburth and so kept his side in the title hunt. The young man from Preston has a bright future in the game.
LEICESTERSHIRE by BBC Radio Leicester's Charles Dagnall
Captain: Matthew Hoggard.
Overseas players: Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies, subject to international clearance); Abdul Razzaq (Pakistan, for Twenty20).
How they did last season: Ninth in County Championship Division Two, sixth in CB40 Pool B, FL t20 winners and third in Champions League Twenty20 Pool B.
Season prospects: The T20 champions have said goodbye to two big characters in Paul Nixon and Andrew McDonald, while James Taylor has departed to Trent Bridge, but there is still plenty of experience in the dressing room. Add to that the conveyer belt of talent that Grace Road is famed for and the outlook is positive. In the Championship, runs are key as they have the bowling attack capable of taking 20 wickets in Division Two. The return of Ben Smith as batting coach will help. Overseas player Ramnaresh Sarwan is available all season and it is hoped that he is hungry to get back into the West Indies team. In the T20, Razzaq is back, so there is no reason why they couldn't challenge.
One to watch: Big things were expectedof Josh Cobb after a century at Lord's when just 17 in 2008. However, since then, Cobb has hardly scored a Championship run but he was inspired in one-day cricket last season, and is determined to make the grade in the longer form. He must try and fill James Taylor's shoes and it is easy to forget that he is still just 21.
MIDDLESEX by BBC London 94.9's Kevin Hand
Captain: Neil Dexter.
Overseas players: Chris Rogers (Australia).
How they did last season: County Championship Division Two champions, second in CB40 Pool A and ninth in FL t20 South Group.
Season prospects: Survival will be Middlesex's first priority in Division One this season and the batting line-up will be severely tested in the early season conditions. Corey Collymore and Tim Murtagh will lead the bowlers with support from another promising youngster, Toby Roland-Jones. The availability of Steve Finn will also play a key role in the county's fortunes this season.
One to watch: Chris Rogers will once again be crucial in leading a batting line-up that has had its struggles in the last few years. The addition of Joe Denly at the top of the order is likely to see Rogers drop to three, with the other opening spot going to promising youngster Sam Robson.
NORTHANTS by BBC Radio Northampton's Andrew Radd
Captain: Andrew Hall.
Overseas players: Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka).
How they did last season: Third in County Championship Division Two, third in CB40 Pool B and ninth in FL t20 North Group.
Season prospects: Head coach David Capel will want to erase the second half of last season from his memory banks as the CB40 and T20 campaigns imploded and his side missed Championship promotion by a couple of points. Escaping from Division Two - where Northants have been stuck since 2005 - is top priority, closely followed by a much-improved showing in the money-spinning 20-over competition.
One to watch: Former England Under-19s captain Alex Wakely has proved he can prosper in all forms of the game and his target in 2012 will be to score more consistently in the Championship and to top 1,000 runs for the first time. A talented and intelligent 23-year-old, Wakely has the potential to take his county forward and knock on the international door too.
NOTTINGHAMSHIRE by BBC Radio Nottingham's Dave Bracegirdle
Captain: Chris Read.
Overseas players: Adam Voges (Australia, 25 May until the end of the season).
How they did last season: Sixth in County Championship Division One, second in CB40 Pool C and FL t20 quarter-finalists.
Season prospects: Notts have a strong squad this season and will hope to fire on all three fronts but regular international call-ups are bound to hurt. Twenty20 success is overdue, provided they don't run into Somerset for a third straight year.
One to watch: There is no doubt that the Trent Bridge faithful are looking forward to seeing James Taylor, the new signing from Leicestershire, bat as often as they can this season before he embarks on, what many believe will be, a lengthy and successful England career. Taylor comes with fellow Fox Harry Gurney and an England T20 World Cup-winner in Michael Lumb, as Mick Newell looks for strength in depth.
SOMERSET by BBC Radio Bristol's Ed Hadwin
Captain: Marcus Trescothick.
Overseas players: Vernon Philander (South Africa, April-May); Chris Gayle (West Indies, for Twenty20); Albie Morkel (South Africa, for Twenty20).
How they did last season: Fourth in County Championship Division One, runners-up in CB40 and FL t20, Champions League Twenty20 semi-finalists.
Season prospects: The Championship remains the Holy Grail to a team that have never claimed the biggest prize in domestic cricket, but Somerset need some of their promising young bowlers - Adam Dibble, Lewis Gregory, Craig Meschede and George Dockrell - to really deliver if they're to seriously challenge. They're likely to remain one of the very best one-day teams in the country, but having lost in the last five straight domestic finals, in 20 and 40-over cricket, they need to prove it by actually winning something.
One to watch: Jos Buttler's incredible form in one-day cricket earned him a place in the England ODI squad over the winter, and there's little doubt he's already one of the most destructive batsmen in the country in the short form of the game. If he can carry that form into the Championship, surely further international recognition will follow. Honourable mentions go to overseas signings Vernon Philander and Chris Gayle , who could both make a big impact at Taunton.
SURREY by BBC London 94.9's Mark Church
Captain: Rory Hamilton-Brown.
Overseas players: Jacques Rudolph (South Africa, first part of season); Murali Kartik (India, after IPL finishes); Dirk Nannes (Australia, for Twenty20).
How they did last season: Second in County Championship Division Two and promoted to the top flight, CB40 winners and fifth in FL t20 South Group.
Season prospects: Playing in Division One again is something of a step into the unknown but Surrey will once again offer an exciting brand of cricket and can make a real impact. They have strength in depth in both the batting and bowling departments but, as with all the other counties, the start they make to the season will be critical. As holders of the CB40 title they will face a new set of pressures but again, with the style of cricket that Surrey play, they will once again be competing to be at Lord's to defend their title at the end of the season. They will be looking to be more consistent in the FL t20 but, if they do play their best cricket, they will be right in the mix and will be a better side for the experience of narrowly missing out on Finals Day last season.
One to watch: Tom Maynard had an outstanding first season at Surrey. He passed 1,000 first-class runs for the first time, was the leading run scorer in the T20 and made vital contributions throughout the title-winning CB40 campaign. He made runs at critical times throughout last summer and has the talent and adaptability to make a real impact in the Division One and the shorter formats of the game again.
SUSSEX by BBC Radio Sussex's John Barnett
Captain: Michael Yardy.
Overseas players: Scott Styris (New Zealand, for Twenty20), Steve Magoffin (Australia, first part of season).
How they did last season: Fifth in County Championship Division One, CB40 semi-finalists and FL t20 quarter-finalists.
Season prospects: Expect Sussex to have strong spells in all three forms of the game. A fourth successive T20 quarter-final is within their capabilities, while the 40-over format has been to their liking for some years. Some real highs were experienced in the Championship in 2011, but so too were some lows, mainly due to the various absences of big players at different times. If Monty Panesar can remain available all summer and Steve Magoffin adds to the pace of Jimmy Anyon and Amjad Khan, with a solid batting line-up as well, do not rule out another tilt at the big prize.
One to watch: In terms of importance, overseas seam bowler Steve Magoffin will be a key member of the squad. So too will Luke Wright once his Indian Premier League commitments are over, as his ability to bat at number six will solve a conundrum that Sussex often struggled with last season. Potential-wise, Kirk Wernars and Matt Machan will look to progress from instant impacts made in a handful of matches.
WARWICKSHIRE by BBC West Midlands' Ged Scott
Captain: Jim Troughton.
Overseas players: Jeetan Patel (New Zealand).
How they did last season: County Championship Division One runners-up, fifth in CB40 Pool B and eighth in FL t20 North Group.
Season prospects: If Lancashire's title win last summer was a shock, so was the identity of the team who took them to the final day. Since returning to the Championship top flight in 2008, the Bears had not threatened (fifth in 2009, then sixth a year later, narrowly avoiding a return to Division Two). But, while star signing Shivnarine Chanderpaul's runs played a part in the Bears' late season push, so did the captures of Chris Wright from Essex and Jeetan Patel, who is back as their overseas signing. And, with a pace attack led by Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin (111 Championship wickets between them), Ashley Giles's relatively young side offer the prospect of more to come. Their only trophy in the last seven years has been the CB40 in 2010. They will be a lot of people's outside bet to improve on that.
One to watch: Varun Chopra did not have too memorable a first season at Edgbaston, making just one half-century in nine Championship games. But he put that behind him last summer, proving to be Warwickshire's only batsman to reach 1,000 first-class runs for the season. In fact, the opener's final Championship total (1,178 at 45.30) was a major factor in the Bears challenging so strongly for the title. With a newly-signed contact tieing him to Edgbaston for three more years, even more is expected of the former England Under-19s and Essex man.
WORCESTERSHIRE by BBC West Midlands' Ged Scott
Captain: Daryl Mitchell.
Overseas players: Michael Klinger (Australia, start of season until late May); Philip Hughes (Australia, from late May); Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan, for Twenty20).
How they did last season: Seventh in County Championship Division One, seventh in CB40 Pool A and fifth in FL t20 North Group.
Season prospects: After finally avoiding immediate relegation - at the fourth time of asking - Worcestershire set about the task of trying to stay up again. Gareth Andrew's early season loss, after an autumn knee operation, is a blow, offset by the winter arrival of David Lucas from Northants. But, if Alan Richardson, taker of a staggering 73 Championship wickets last summer, remains fit, then that gives Steve Rhodes' side a strong backbone to rely on. The ageless Vikram Solanki was one of only eight Englishmen to make 1,000 Championship runs in the top flight, but the batting was otherwise too brittle. All the way down the order from skipper Daryl Mitchell, they need more runs.
One to watch: Moeen Ali will be the first to admit that, by the standards he set with the bat in 2010, last summer was a slight disappointment as he failed to get his 1,000 runs. But there is another string to his bow as an off-spinner. And working with Saeed Ajmal at New Road last summer has led to hopes that Moeen can progress this summer as a bowler. Even while taking 24 wickets in three Tests for Pakistan against England in February, Ajmal spent time in the nets with Moeen in Dubai, reportedly passing on his knowledge of how to bowl the doosra. And Worcestershire hope they may be now set to reap the benefit.
YORKSHIRE by BBC Yorkshire's Dave Callaghan
Captain: Andrew Gale.
Overseas players: TBC. Director of cricket Martyn Moxon says, if they sign an overseas player, it will be a seam bowler.
How they did last season: Eighth in County Championship Division One and relegated to the second tier, sixth in CB40 Pool A and sixth in FL t20 North Group.
Season prospects: The Tykes are in need of a big successful season, 2011 having been one to forget. A revamp was called for and the coaching staff bore the brunt of the changes. Martyn Moxon is still director of cricket but former Australian Test bowler Jason Gillespie is now first-team coach after the departures of Craig White, John Blain, Kevin Sharp and Steve Oldham.
One to watch: Jason Gillespie will be keen to restore the county's fortunes following his return to Headingley. The talent is certainly there and I think Yorkshire will win enough matches in the Championship to achieve promotion. Success in the Twenty20 is long overdue and the club will hope to reach the final stages of the 40-over competition, but they will need to perform better than in previous years.