County Championship Division One preview

By Dave BracegirdleBBC Radio Nottingham cricket reporter
Chris Read with the County Championship trophy
Chris Read led Nottinghamshire to the 2010 County Championship title

County champions Nottinghamshire won the 2010 title in thrilling style on the final day of the first-class season - and I think they will go very close once again.

They certainly have history on their side as the previous two county champions, Sussex and Durham, both won it in successive seasons - Sussex in 2006 and 2007, Durham in 2008 and 2009.

And make no mistake, Nottinghamshire are desperate to win it again in 2011.

Do not be fooled by their defeat by the MCC in the Champion County match, because in many ways Notts were penalised for their own good form on day one.

Batting-wise, Alex Hales has another year's experience under his belt and Samit Patel is as fit as I have ever seen him and is desperate for a big year.

With the ball, Luke Fletcher is a giant of a guy. He has worked really hard in Melbourne over the winter and was the pick of the seamers in Abu Dhabi.

Despite losing Ryan Sidebottom to Yorkshire, the seam bowling department is really strong. Andre Adams, last season's leading wicket-taker is back, Darren Pattinson flies in this week, Andy Carter, who was called up by England Lions, is a bright prospect, and Stuart Broad will be available for some of the early games.

Then there's Ben Phillips, who has come in from Somerset. He has impressed over the winter and I think he will do really well at Trent Bridge.

Somerset are going to be in contention again. To come second in all three competitions last summer was particularly unfortunate.

They might have lost Phillips, but the way they have bolstered their pace attack with Steve Kirby and Gemaal Hussain, from Gloucestershire, and young Ireland left-arm spinner George Dockrell, has been impressive.

Indian left-arm spinner Murali Kartik will go through sides in the second half of the season and Sri Lankan spinner Ajantha Mendis will be a threat early on.

It was a surprise to see all-rounder Zander de Bruyn leave but they must feel their batting line-up is strong enough. James Hildreth and Jos Buttler are massive talents, and then there's Marcus Trescothick. They will go close.

Yorkshire came third last season, but I think two other counties - Durham and Hampshire - will finish above them.

The reason? Well, I think the Tykes will miss Jacques Rudolph a lot. The way he batted around Adam Lyth, Andrew Gale and Anthony McGrath helped hold them together and they will miss his weight of runs and his experience.

A lot will then depend on England calls because if Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad and Adil Rashid play a lot of Division One cricket then they have a good chance.

I like the way Hampshire have gone about their business over the winter. South African fast bowler Friedel de Wet arrives and slow left-armer Danny Briggs has advanced, but the loss of leg-spinner Imran Tahir until late May at the earliest because of a broken thumb is a blow.

With the experience of Dominic Cork as captain, and the quality of the batting they have at the top of the order in Michael Carberry, Jimmy Adams and Michael Lumb, I fancy their chances.

I like the look of Durham as well. Graham Onions is back fit after missing the whole of last season and by all accounts bowled well in their warm-up games against Sussex.

With Steve Harmison fit as well, if those two stay fit and fire then they could really rip through sides.

Graham Onions
Onions last played on England's tour of South Africa in the winter of 2009/10

At the other end of the table, it could be a real scrap to stay up.

Newly-promoted Worcestershire are probably the bookies' favourites to finish in the bottom two and go down because their budget is so much smaller than those of their rivals.

How Lancashire fare will depend a lot on how they start the season. If they start badly, they might struggle all season.

They will be playing their home games away from Old Trafford this season, and how they cope with playing at Liverpool could be interesting - it could prove to be a massive advantage or a disadvantage.

It is good to see Stephen Moore back fit after missing the second half of last season with a dislocated shoulder. His runs will be key for them.

Gary Keedy also bowled well for the MCC against Notts, but I consider them to be one of the weaker Division One sides.

Warwickshire should have England pair Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell available for a few of their early games and, after struggling last season, I think the Bears need to make the most of the times they are available.

If they can resolve their overseas situation - they could turn to Mohammad Yousuf as their scheduled overseas signing Younus Khan is set to tour the West Indies with Pakistan - then they could get enough runs to stay up.

I will also be interested to see how William Porterfield does. He has done OK for Ireland and Gloucestershire, but now he has got to show he can score runs at Division One level.

That leaves Division Two champions Sussex, who are likely to be without England wicketkeeper Matt Prior for most of he summer.

It will be interesting to see how much involvement Michael Yardy and Luke Wright have with England too, because they will be key figures for Sussex.

They have re-signed Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and brought in South African left-arm quickie Wayne Parnell as their overseas players, and although I think they will finish in the bottom half, they should have enough to stay up.

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