County Cricket Season Preview: Kent - Nottinghamshire
Welcome to part two of my county cricket season preview!
I hope you enjoyed yesterday's run through the first six counties alphabetically, and we're continuing in the same vein today, starting with Kent and ending with Nottinghamshire. We're gathering pace, and there are now less than 50 hours to go until the start of the season.
I made a few bold picks yesterday, including my One-Day Cup winners; if you haven't yet read that you'll find it at the bottom of this page, but my choices for T20 Blast and Bob Willis Trophy victors remain as yet unrevealed. Will you find them out here... or will you have to wait until tomorrow?
Either way, read on to find out what I'm thinking about six more counties for the upcoming season, which is now so close, you can almost smell it.
Although they went trophyless, Kent enjoyed an excellent season in 2020, reaching the T20 Blast quarter-finals and finishing second in their Bob Willis Trophy group. As we’ve long since established, it’s become harder than ever for teams to compete on all fronts, with white- and red-ball cricket further apart than they’ve ever been, making their 2020 an impressive achievement.
Much of that was down to the evergreen Darren Stevens, who took 29 wickets at a shade over 15.5, as he once again proved that age really is just a number. If the 44-year-old can pull it out of the bag once more in 2020, Kent could go far.
They will also look to England’s Zak Crawley in the early rounds of the Championship for big runs, and to right-armer Harry Podmore, who finished second to Stevens in Kent’s first-class wicket-taking charts last term, for scalps. Success in the white-ball formats will often depend on batsman Daniel Bell-Drummond, who is, in my opinion, long overdue an England shot, but I do think red-ball will be Kent’s arena this season.
That is backed up by their activity in the overseas market, with the county not yet having signed a limited-overs international, but instead investing in West Indies quick Miguel Cummins for the opening games of the Championship. He has good experience of county cricket, having spent last season with Middlesex in addition to a spell with Worcestershire five years ago, and will add another dimension to the attack.
I like where Kent are right now, and they should be strong contenders for a place in Division One of the Championship this term. However, they will lose five players to the Hundred so I can’t see them being competitive in the One-Day Cup, and given I see them going for red-ball success this time out, I do unfortunately think that while they’ll be far from uncompetitive, it might be a group stage exit in the T20 Blast.
I remember very little of Lancashire’s T20 campaign in 2020. I especially can’t remember any games against Yorkshire. I don’t think they went on to reach Finals Day after beating us twice, did they?
What’s that? They did?
Yes, unfortunately for this White Rose fan, Lancashire enjoyed a very successful season in the shortest format, making it all the way to the semi-finals at Edgbaston, in addition to a solid Bob Willis Trophy campaign, where they finished third in the North Group.
For this year, they’ve been very active in the overseas market, adding no fewer than three new players from abroad, in addition to captain Dane Vilas, who moves from being a Kolpak player to full overseas status. The standout signing of the overseas complement is, for me, India batsman Shreyas Iyer, who will play in the One-Day Cup, and with many top county players occupied with the Hundred at the same time, he could prove to be a standout.
They have also secured Australian bowler Jackson Bird and New Zealand wicketkeeper Finn Allen, but as ever, the Old Trafford outfit also retain a high-quality core of domestic players. England legend James Anderson will play red-ball cricket when he is able, while batsmen Alex Davies and Liam Livingstone make up a formidable T20 pair. The quality of spinner Matt Parkinson is also not in doubt.
Lancashire do have the quality to make it into Division One from their Championship group, but I think white-ball will continue to be their area of focus. The signing of Iyer could prove to be a brilliant bit of business, so I’m backing them to go on a run all the way to the final of the One-Day Cup, with another T20 quarter-final on the horizon. Yorkshire have their work cut out to stay ahead of their biggest rivals this year.
Leicestershire were denied a spot at T20 Finals Day in the most brutal of fashions, losing out to eventual champions Nottinghamshire by virtue of having scored fewer runs in the powerplay when their quarter-final finished in a tie. Their Bob Willis Trophy campaign ended with a fifth placed finish after just one victory.
I like the Foxes’ overseas additions for this year, with the batting boosted by the arrival of Australian opener Marcus Harris, who will play in the Championship and One-Day Cup. In addition, they will benefit from the services of another Australian, in wicketkeeper Josh Inglis, in the T20 Blast, with Afghanistan quick Naveen-ul-Haq also joining for the shortest format.
It’s exactly the kind of shrewd recruitment that a club like Leicestershire, who don’t have the money of the richer counties, must do, and I applaud them for securing what look like excellent signings. The overseas group will complement a developing young side, with 22-year-old all-rounder Ben Mike looking a cracking prospect, alongside spinner Callum Parkinson, twin brother of Lancashire’s Matt who I mentioned above, and Rishi Patel, who has arrived from Essex.
I do think that Leicestershire will, unfortunately, be far from winning anything this season, with a spot in Division Three and group-stage exits in white-ball cricket beckoning in my mind, but I’d love them to prove me wrong. Given they’re losing only two players to the Hundred, the One-Day Cup might be their best bet when it comes to doing that.
In 2020, Middlesex were… well, middling! A third-placed finish in the Bob Willis Trophy was in addition to a fourth-placed finish in the T20 Blast, as the side largely flew below the radar. It wasn’t a disappointing campaign, but I do look at the squad and wonder if they’re capable of more.
Young batsman Max Holden enjoyed a standout red-ball campaign, as did Nick Gubbins, with Irish stalwart Tim Murtagh once again among the wickets. All three have the ability to do it again this summer, and I also like the look of 24-year-old all-rounder Martin Andersson, who had an excellent season. In white-ball cricket, giant fast bowler Steven Finn remains their greatest threat, with Stevie Eskinazi’s combative batting style sure to bring results too.
Middlesex have often underachieved in T20, failing to reach Finals Day since their title win in 2008. Young Afghanistan spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman returns alongside the arrival of Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh as they bid to end that barren run. Marsh will be accompanied by countryman Peter Handscomb, who will become the side’s new captain in the Championship and the One-Day Cup.
I view 2021 as being a ‘more of the same’ type season for Middlesex. I can’t see them making it out of their T20 Blast group because there are better teams in what is always an exceptionally competitive tournament, nor can I see them progressing in the One-Day Cup when the Hundred comes in for five of their best players. However, what I can see is some impressive victories in the Championship, and one of the higher-placed spots in Division Two come the season’s end.
I really have to take my hat off to the efforts put in at Wantage Road. On a shoestring budget when compared to the richer counties, they consistently remain competitive. They once again qualified for the T20 Blast quarter-finals in 2020, with a perfectly respectable finish of fourth in their Bob Willis Trophy group.
The addition of Afghanistan all-rounder Mohammad Nabi is a boost for their T20 hopes, but he can be rather hit-and-miss with the bat, so it remains to be seen if he can find a run of consistent form. Nabi will be joined by South African seamer Wayne Parnell, who, having been a Kolpak player at Worcestershire, signs for Northamptonshire as a full overseas to play all formats.
Batsman Ben Curran, brother of England and Surrey pair Sam and Tom, will be looking for further big runs in the Championship, as will Alex Wakely, an experienced top-order player who played just one red-ball game in 2020. Bowling-wise, they will hope for further white-ball wickets from spinner Graeme White, with youngsters Ricardo Vasconcelos and Saif Zaib keen to show what they can do in all formats.
I think Northamptonshire will enter Division Two of the Championship, but that their biggest success will come in the One-Day Cup, where I can see them making it out of the group. Their T20 campaign is altogether harder to call, and I can’t rule out seeing them once again power through to the knockout stages, but looking at the other teams in the North Group, I’ll err on the side of caution and predict that they’ll narrowly miss out.
Now, I’ve got a small confession to make. I am actually working with the media team at Trent Bridge at the moment, so I’ve had a closer look at Nottinghamshire this season than any other county. Perhaps I’ll finally be able to figure out what makes them such a force in white-ball cricket, where they’ll be defending their T20 Blast trophy, while simultaneously being recently rather bad in the red-ball arena, where they’ll be hoping to finally record their first win since June 2018.
Even if I can’t answer that, I genuinely think they can break that first-class duck at least. I covered their most-recent pre-season friendly, and they have a brilliant core of academy graduates looking to break into the first team. All-rounder Lyndon James leads that pack for me, with spinner Liam Patterson-White not far behind. The re-signing of Brett Hutton also looks inspired, with the seamer in sparkling pre-season form, and I’d very much like to see opener Haseeb Hameed have a good season… even if he is from Lancashire.
There have not been that many arrivals from overseas at Trent Bridge, with just two signings. One is very familiar with the team; fresh from winning the Big Bash with the Sydney Sixers, Australian Dan Christian again joins for his seventh consecutive season as an Outlaw as one of the world’s most specialised and experienced T20 players. South African seamer Dane Paterson also joins to play all formats.
Nottinghamshire should not let up in the T20 Blast, and I can easily see another Finals Day appearance beckoning. It would not be a surprise at all to see them win the competition again, but just for the sake of variety, I’m backing someone else. However, unfortunately I think that the One-Day Cup is too much of a stretch, given they’ll be losing no fewer than nine players to the Hundred, the joint-second-most of any side. A couple of at-long-last red-ball victories, driven by that academy group, should see them into Division Two.
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Look out for part three, dropping tomorrow!