The County Cricket Championship is rapidly approaching with the start of the county championship on Thursday 8th April. This season will see the Cricket County Championship run in two stages.

In the group stage all 18 counties have been split into three seeded groups of six. Each county will play the other counties in their group both home and away, giving a total of ten games.

At the end of the group stage, the top two counties in each group will progress to Division One for the second phase.  The other 12 counties will move into Division’s Two and Three. The third and fourth placed sides will progress to Division Two, with the fifth and sixth placed sides moving to Division Three.

New format for forthcoming county championship

Group 1 will consist of Derbyshire, Durham, Essex, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

The six counties in Group 2 will be Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Somerset and Surrey.

With Group 3 comprising Glamorgan, Kent, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Sussex and Yorkshire.

Group 1

Derbyshire will have the benefit of two overseas players for the entire season. Australian Billy Stanlake and Zimbabwean Dustin Melton have been snapped up with Billy Godleman continuing to lead the side.

The county has lost the services of experienced heads in Ravi Rampaul and Tony Palladino. Having a top order of Godleman, Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen and Leus du Plooy will need to fire in a tough division if the county are going to be competitive.

Durham

Following their relegation in the 2016 season the club are continuing to rebuild their squad. The return of Scott Borthwick is a massive coup after a season at Surrey.

Australian opener Cameron Bancroft- who will play from May 13th onwards- will return after missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic. Chris Rushworth will lead the bowling once again, supported by Ben Raine and Paul Coughlin.

The county have signed South African David Bedingham, who will play a full season with New Zealander Will Young available for a month.

Essex

Before even a ball has ben bowled it goes without saying that Essex will be the team to beat once again this season.

The county are aiming for red ball silverware for the third season running- a feat last performed by Yorkshire between 1966-68.

With Sir Alastair Cook still in his prime, he provides the basis of a strong batting line up which includes newly capped test batsman Dan Lawrence.

But it is the bowling that has been instrumental in the success of Essex. Simon Harmer, Jamie Porter and Sam Cook lead an outstanding unit. Along with Australian veteran Peter Siddle, Aaron Beard and some outstanding young players coming through, Essex ooze class.

The county haven’t lost a first class match at fortress Chelmsford since September 2018 and will have Siddle and Harmer for a full season.

Nottinghamshire looking for better luck this season

Nottinghamshire

Although they haven’t won in 27 first class matches going back to June 2018, Notts will be looking to finally grab a win.

A batting line up that includes Haseeb Hameed, Brett Hutton at the top through to Ben Duckett, Joe Clarke and Samit Patel, runs shouldn’t be an issue.

South African Dane Paterson has been added to bolster the bowling attack alongside Jake Ball. As long as they can get the monkey off their back with a championship victory, they should start improving.

Warwickshire

Warwickshire have certainly under performed in red ball cricket in the past few seasons, but this season will have a new coach in place. Mark Robinson has joined the club after legends Ian Bell, Jeetan Patel and Tim Ambrose all retired at the end of last season.

South African batsman Pieter Malan has been signed for a whole season and looks a shrewd acquisition. Former Hampshire spinner Danny Briggs has also been signed as the county looks to bring the championship title back to Edgbaston for the first time since 2012.

Worcestershire

After two seasons of doldrums in the championship, Worcestershire will be looking to improve in a tough group.

West Indian Alzarri Joseph has been added to the squad and will be available for the opening seven championship matches.

Surrey and Somerset the sides to beat in Group 2

Group 2

Gloucestershire

The county have been handed a daunting start to the start of their season. Hosting Surrey before trips to Somerset and Hampshire.

Their first-choice bowling attack is more than capable of picking up twenty wickets, but scoring runs is a big issue.

The county have added Australian Dan Worrall for the duration of the season. West Indian test captain Kraigg Braithwaite will join the county for two months from April.

Hampshire

Hampshire welcome back fast bowler Kyle Abbott after missing all of last season with with an injury. If back to full fitness, then the South African should be in the wickets once again.

The county have also signed the services of Pakistan quick bowler Mohammad Abbas from 8th April until 30th May.

The pressure will be on Sam Northeast, James Vince and Joe Weatherley to provide big runs for the county, who are after their first championship title since 1973.

Leicestershire

Leicestershire look to be in a very tough group. After winning five matches in 2018, they disappointed last season.

The county have signed Rishi Patel from Essex on a permanent basis. The arrival of Australian test opener Marcus Harris as an overseas player for a full season is a big boost.

Middlesex

The county have a new skipper at the helm with Australian Peter Handscomb available all season.

The county once again will be heavily reliant on their seam attack which is very potent. Tim Murtagh, Toby Roland-Jones, Steve Finn, Tom Helm and James Harris all vying for places. With youngsters Blake Cullen and Etham Bamber also pushing for selection coach Stuart Law will have sleepless nights picking a seam attack.

The main problem for Middlesex looks once again how many times can they put scores of 300 plus on the board.

Somerset

The annual question on everybody’s list is surely this must be Somerset’s year. The county have a record that nobody wants, constantly finishing second. Always the bridesmaid never the bride as the saying goes.

The emergence of Tom Lammonby and Tom Abell will help the side with runs, and with Taunton naturally favouring spin the side will bowl other sides out on a regular basis.

The county have signed South African Marchant de lange for the forthcoming campaign and will be available for the whole season.

Surrey

As always Surrey seem to have all bases covered and look strong in every department. The early season signing of West Indian quickie Kemar Roach to back up the brilliant South African Hashim Amla for a full season is key for Surrey.

With a guarantee of runs from the likes of Amla, Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Ben Foakes and Mark Stoneman, Surrey will be big contenders.

Battle of the Red Rose counties in Group 3

Group 3

Glamorgan

To get the prolific Marnus Labuschagne back from May until the end of the season is a massive boost for the Welsh county.

The county have added Ireland’s Andy Balbirne to their squad for the first month of the season. Another Australian Michael Neser will link up from May until September.

Despite turning 40 seamer Michael Hogan will always remain a threat for a side desperate to win the championship. Their last success was 15 years ago and in a tough group will struggle to finish top.

Kent

The ever-reliable Darren Stevens- who will be 45 in April- will once again be a threat to batsman around the country.

Aside from Stevens the squad looks thin on the ground in the bowling department. However, they have added the services of West Indian quick bowler Miguel Cummins, who will be available from April until June.

Popular South African Heino Kuhn returns for a full season with plenty of runs expected from him.

Lancashire

Will start the season as favourites to win Group 3 alongside their fierce rivals Yorkshire.

Lancashire have signed experienced batsman Luke Wells from Sussex. With a good all round bowling attack led by Saqib Mahmood, Tom Bailey and for a part Jimmy Anderson, a strong showing from Lancashire is inevitable.

Jackson Bird will join the red rose county from April and will feature in six championship matches. Dane Vilas will play for the whole season which will come a s a welcome sight for Lancashire fans.

Northants

Northants look well placed to bowl sides out this campaign. With Ben Sanderson around and the signing of experienced all rounder Wayne Parnell they look a side on the up.

The downside for Northants will be scoring enough runs to put them in with a chance of winning games.

Sussex

New head coach Ian Salisbury will look to a fine blend of youngsters coming through the ranks to spearhead Sussex’s chances this season.

Off spinner Jack Carson will be looking to kick on from an excellent 2020 season. Sussex will have Australian Travis Head available from the end of April to play for them.

Yorkshire

Having gone close to three successive four-day titles, this may just be the Tykes year.

Batsman Gary Balance who missed all of last year through injury returns. The county signed spinner Dom Bess from Somerset which looks a shrewd bit of business.

The county will also have the services of South African pair Duanne Olivier and Mathew Pillans available for the season.