County Championship Preview : Essex and Middlesex favourites for a reason
Event Venue: UK, Starts 14 16 April. Sky Sports.See Stats
After the drama going on in the Australian cricket team and the fireworks of the IPL, the meat and drink of the County Championship might seem like a welcome return to normality.
There are going to be some players missing and the weather is bound to be a pain the collective backside, but the First Class action is set to be, well, first class. This is especially the case in Division One where one team absolutely dominated last season.
Eagles to fly high again in Division One
Not often does a team dominate a division as clearly as Essex did in Division One last year. Especially not a team that had only been promoted the season before and hadn’t won the County Championship for 25 years.
The team, skippered by Ryan ten Doeschate, won 10 of their 14 matches in the County Championship, drawing four and losing none at all. No other team won more than five games last season and every team lost at least two. Essex ended the campaign with a whopping 248 points, that was 74 points more than their closest rivals Lancashire.
A lot of this was down to their superb bowling attack which saw them notch up 40 bowling points as Jamie Porter (75) and Simon Harmer (72) finished as the top two wicket-takers in the division.
Lancashire will be a threat again, as will the likes of Hampshire and Surrey, but none have made enough of an improvement to bridge the vast gap to the champions. Essex have lost coach Chris Silverwood, but again, you would think this wouldn’t make enough of a difference to concern them.
Middlesex are not long for Division Two
It was a big surprise to cricket fans to see Middlesex drop out of Division One last season, they have so much quality throughout their team and they were unlucky to eventually be relegated by just one point after a two-point deduction. Yorkshire and Hampshire also finished just two points ahead of Middlesex, which is further illustration of the narrow margin they faced the drop by.
With the likes of Sam Robson, Nick Compton and Dawid Malan creating the spine of their batting line-up and Steven Finn, Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh in the bowling attack, they have such reliable performers throughout the XI.
There are other good teams in Division Two, Sussex will challenge, as will Warwickshire, but there is no way that Middlesex won’t be right up there come the end of the campaign.
Double up on the two division winners and back Essex and Middlesex to triumph
Essex won 10 County Championship matches last season, no other side won more than 5
Essex did not lose a single County Championship match in 2017
Essex last lost a first class game in September 2016
Jamie Porter, of Essex, was the top wicket-taker in the County Championship in 2017 (75)
Simon Harmer, also of Essex, was the only other man to take over 70 wickets (72)
There has been a different County Championship winning team in seven of the last eight years
Kumar Sangakkara was last season’s top run-scorer (1,491) but is no longer playing for Surrey
It is now 11 years since anyone hit 2,000 runs in the County Championship, Mark Ramprakash the last to do so (2,026)
It is 12 years since anyone took 100 wickets – Mushtaq Ahmed doing so in 2006 (102)
4 of the 8 Division One coaches have played for Yorkshire (Anthony McGrath, Craig White, Kevin Sharp, Andrew Gale)
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