2009 County Championship Division Two preview
Next week sees the start of the 2009 English Domestic cricket season, as a prelude to a big summer for English cricket our cricket trader Rob Dixon looks at the County Championship Division Two teams to see who could be challenging for domestic honours come September time.
Years ago southern based teams used to dominate the County Championship but Surrey, Middlesex, Essex and Kent will face the reality of playing second division cricket this summer. However, I do expect them to dominate this season.
Kent (15/8 favourites) had a shocking end to last season culminating in relegation to Division Two. However if they had won their penultimate game against Lancashire last year, a game they dominated before being bowled out for 92 chasing 160 for victory, they would have gone top of the league. Such was the closeness of the division that defeat in that game was followed by a big loss against champions-elect Durham which saw them relegated. They are currently looking for an overseas replacement for seamer Stuart Clark who has been called up by Australia.
Twenty20 Cup champions Middlesex (4/1) have enough quality to gain promotion this year. A lot of attention will be on Dawid Malan to see if he can continue his development. They also have some good young bowlers including Steven Finn as well as Murali Kartik to provide a quality spin option. They are my tip for the title.
If the weather stays fine this summer and that's what we are all hoping for, then Essex (7/2) will certainly come into consideration with Pakistani leg spinner Danish Kaneria back at the club. Captain Mark Pettini has a good nucleus of a squad to build a promotion push.
Surrey (4/1) have been busy off-field this winter with Chris Adams' arrival as coach and former fast bowler Martin Bicknell back at the club. On the field Mark Ramprakash will hold the key to the club scoring big runs, they also have made a shrewd overseas acquisition in New Zealander Grant Elliott who was one of the best ODI players in the recent tour of Australia as well as signing Andre Nel as a Kolpak player.
So the division title looks like going to one of those four counties, of the rest maybe Glamorgan (16/1) and Northamptonshire (12/1) could have the best chance of success. Glamorgan have spent a few years languishing towards the bottom of Division Two, their home grown policy is starting to bear fruit with promising youngsters such as Gareth Rees and James Harris coming through. Herschelle Gibbs has been signed to add some quality to the squad as well. Northamptonshire will be hoping that Monty Panesar is available to them for long periods of the summer but the squad does look thin should injuries hit.
Leicestershire (25/1) and Gloucestershire (33/1) continue to struggle in the longer form of the game, Leicestershire struggle to score enough runs to be competitive in games and with no players coming into the side this winter that is likely to continue. Gloucestershire welcome back coach John Bracewell and the West Country side will be hoping he has the same success as first time round when they were kings of one day cricket. However success in the four-day format has eluded them for a long time and that doesn't look likely to change soon.
Mark Ramprakash is a short priced favourite at 2/1 for Division Two top batsman and I wouldn't put you off backing him however the value selection has to be Joe Denly at 12/1. He showed last year that he is a young batsman with potential and hopefully on the batsman friendly tracks at Canterbury he can prosper.
Middlesex - County Championship Division Two - 4/1
Joe Denly - Top Division Two Runscorer - 12/1