NEWS

LV= County Championship season promises more thrills

April 6, 2017

Last season saw one of the most exciting finishes to the English domestic cricket season ever. Three sides went into the final round of the LV=County Championship with a chance of winning. Two of them - Middlesex and reigning champions Yorkshire - met at Lord's, while elsewhere, Somerset were in with a chance of their first ever title.

In the event, Somerset won early and were left waiting as the match at Lord's went to the wire. Chasing a steep target in a game they had to win, Yorkshire started to run out of overs and batsmen. A draw would win it for Somerset, but in the end it was Middlesex who managed to bowl out the White Rose county and win their first title in 23 years. Toby Roland-Jones took a hat-trick to set up the win and has just been named one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year for 2016.

Could this season be half as exciting? There is every chance it will, with all kinds of talking points and many players to watch, not least as those on the fringes of England selection have the ultimate incentive of an Ashes tour next winter.

Keen followers of the national side should still see at least some of the team in action for their county side, with Alastair Cook available for Essex's games as he starts life as a former England captain. No longer a part of the national white ball set-up, he will be hoping to find his best form ahead of the Test series against South Africa and the West Indies.

Surrey fans will be keen to see how their team performs at the Kia Oval, with the Twenty20 Blast sure to be enlivened by the return of Kevin Pietersen. Warwickshire supporters can also enjoy some great nights out at Edgbaston as Birmingham Bears seek to enjoy a great season. With New Zealanders Grant Elliott and Colin de Grandhomme, a big season is in prospect, while county captain Ian Bell's decision to sign a new contract up to 2020 shows he is going nowhere yet. He may even force his way back into the England Test reckoning.

This is also the time of year when the pundits start making their predictions. Most would suggest Yorkshire - even without the departed coach Jason Gillespie - or one out of Middlesex or Surrey. However, other counties may cause some surprises. He may not be bowling at Cook in the opening match, but James Anderson is starting the season for Lancashire and if the ball swings in early season, they may get off to a flier. Fans will also want to see how England's teenage opener Haseeb Hameed gets on once he is fully recovered from a sinus operation.

In Division Two, Durham face the stiffest task after a 48-point penalty - the equivalent of two victories with maximum bonus points - following their financial troubles last year, although the club's new chairman Sir Ian Botham, who finished his county career with Durham, believes that will not prevent them being favourites for the division.

He noted: "It's two wins. The team are more than good enough to get those two early wins and then in Division Two they'll be the best side by a distance."

It all promises to be a great summer of cricket.

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