Big-spending Surrey for promotion?
Division Two seems strong this year with both Surrey and Sussex on paper looking worthy favourites for a return to the top flight and a host of clubs behind them hoping that they can take advantage of any slip ups.
Surrey (15/8) have probably been the most busy in the "transfer" market this summer, taking Worcestershire pair Steven Davies and Gareth Batty plus Hampshire's enigmatic Chris Tremlett to the Oval this summer. Perhaps the most surprising and controversial move of the winter was signing former player Rory Hamilton-Brown as their new captain from Sussex. It could be a baptism of fire for the 22-year-old as he attempts to gain promotion this year. On paper they have the strongest side in the division and should be pushing for honours in both championship and one-day formats.
Sussex (5/2) were the one-day kings of 2009 after winning the Pro40 and Twenty20 Cup and falling at the final hurdle in the Friends Provident Trophy. Unfortunately their four-day cricket was poor and a side who dominated the Championship only a few years ago find themselves in Division Two. They have signed Monty Panesar for 2010, a crucial year this year for Monty who needs to show he still has what it takes at England level especially with the Ashes on the horizon. If they continue to concentrate on one-day cricket this to me leaves them vulnerable for promotion.
Glamorgan's (10/1) performances at face value didn't show much improvement last year, but 5th place did show a better return and had they got the better of two close end of season finishes they could have secured that second promotion spot in 2009. Matthew Maynard is a good coach and he will get the best out of their crop of promising youngsters. Will they be able to sustain a promotion challenge though?
Middlesex (7/1) have had a few changes over the winter, not least the signing of Adam Gilchrist which is sure to guarantee good crowds at Lords for the Twenty20 campaign, championship wise they have underachieved for a few years now and the revolving door has seen a few first team players leave in the winter. They still have Eoin Morgan and Owais Shah in the middle order though, who both should be pushing for England spots. New Zealander Iain O' Brien is a canny bowler who should relish the English conditions.
Northamptonshire (16/1) have also splashed the cash signing Virender Sehwag for their Twenty20 season. They finished third last year in this division, just pipped on the last day by Essex for the promotion spot. This year it could be tougher with the new Kolpak ruling robbing them of Johannes van der Wath and Riki Wessels. They have signed Mal Loye from Lancashire and James Middlebrook from Essex, the latter as a replacement for the departing Panesar. The Wantage Road club will be hoping that David Sales has got over his injury problems of the last year as his runs will be crucial for them to maintain last year's finish.
Worcestershire (8/1) endured a horrid 2009, ultimately resulting in relegation from the top flight and the close season has seen a host of players leave the club. They have signed Aussie Phil Jacques who has had previous good spells in county cricket and Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan. It will be interesting to see how Shakib goes with the toil of the county championship, promotion though may be beyond them with a young squad to pick from this season.
The main news coming out of Derbyshire (16/1) this winter was the turning of the square, anybody who has watched live games at Derby knows that this was a must after the sun stopped play on a number of occasions recently. I was at the ground a couple of years ago when Durham played there and it was completely impossible to see the ball. They had slightly better on field performances in 2009, but this year they will rely heavily on Aussie run machine Chris Rogers at the top of the order, promotion will be an unexpected bonus though for the Derby outfit.
Leicestershire (10/1) ended last season bottom of the pile, but they have recruited Matthew Hoggard from Yorkshire and he will captain the side. Not sure personally what to make of Hoggard's captaincy skills and I will be watching for their early results. They have recruited Brad Hodge as their overseas player and also Andrew McDonald will be coming over. He needs to fire if they are going to avoid the wooden spoon for a second year running.
Gloucestershire (16/1) have been poor in County Cricket for a few years now and I don't see that changing in 2010. They have signed wicketkeeper Jonathan Batty from Surrey and James Franklin will once again be their overseas player, the squad has a workmanlike look to them and they will be fighting out with Leicestershire for the bottom spot in my opinion.