County Cricket Season Preview: Somerset - Yorkshire
One. Day. To. Go.
Are you excited? I'm excited.
It feels like Christmas Eve. We're now just one day away from the start of the county cricket season, with the first balls scheduled to be bowled at 11am tomorrow morning. With that in mind, let us run through the final six counties and preview their seasons. Which two of these remaining sides have I predicted as county champions and as T20 Blast champions?
For the final time this week, read on, and find out...
Somerset will head into 2021 as one of the country’s premier red-ball sides, but they have repeatedly in recent years lost out to the juggernaut of Essex. They finished behind the Chelmsford side in 2019 and were then runners-up to them in the Bob Willis Trophy last time out. They are also a more-than-competent white-ball outfit, and they will defend the One-Day Cup they won in 2019.
The county have not been active in the transfer market, adding just one player in overseas seamer Marchant de Lange, but they have such a talented group of English players, they really don’t need to go overboard on arrivals. That said, de Lange will still add quality, bringing with him a wealth of experience of county cricket having spent four years over the Bristol Channel with Glamorgan.
Youngster Tom Lammonby, who has a notably aggressive style even in the red-ball game, will be relied upon for runs if they are to achieve what I’m backing them to. On the spin-friendly Taunton square, Jack Leach has a golden opportunity to post numbers that will be enough to wrestle back the England starting job from his former domestic teammate Dom Bess, who has headed north to join Yorkshire. The evergreen James Hildreth, one of the greatest to never play internationally, can profit once more, as can Scottish all-rounder Josh Davey.
I am well and truly backing Somerset to banish their demons this year. I can see them taking both the County Championship trophy with a top-placed finish in Division One and then sealing the Bob Willis Trophy in the Lord’s final, finally washing away those years of hurt. I also think that their feted academy should be able to produce a side that can make it to the semi-finals of the One-Day Cup while many senior players are away on Hundred duty. I’m not confident they can make it out of their T20 group, but the pain of that will be removed by their performances in the other two competitions.
Providing another example of how hard it is in modern cricket to be competitive in both red- and white-ball games, Surrey had a season of contrasting fortunes in 2020. A hugely successful T20 campaign, in which they made it all the way to the final, was undone by a miserable time in the Bob Willis Trophy, where they finished second bottom after recording just one sole win.
They really should do much better this time around. Wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, on the fringes of the England squad for a while now, has an opportunity to put up impressive red-ball numbers, especially with his main competition of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow playing in the IPL. Spin twins Dan Moriarty and Amar Virdi will also be looking to build on flashes of talent they have shown thus far, with Surrey needing both to step up after Scott Borthwick’s move back to Durham. Batsman Will Jacks can also force himself into consideration for the World T20 if he enjoys a fruitful Blast.
Legendary South African batsman Hashim Amla is the marquee overseas player at the Oval, and is another who moves from Kolpak status to full overseas. He will be joined for the early part of the season by West Indies bowler Kemar Roach, and after that by Australian Sean Abbott. Both are a sure sign of Surrey’s intent to be more competitive in red-ball cricket this year.
I think they will manage it, but they won’t fix all their problems overnight. I foresee a spot in Division Two for them, which would be an improvement after their wretched 2020. They will lose the most players of any county - 12 - to the Hundred, so the One-Day Cup is a write-off, but they should definitely have the ability to make it to the T20 quarter-finals once more.
Sussex’s 2020 ended on a sour note when they were docked 24 Bob Willis Trophy points for ball-tampering, a decision that left them with the lowest points total of any county in the entire competition. It came off the back of a campaign that saw them win just once and lose their other four games. However, like so many other sides, their season was one of contrast, as despite failing in the red-ball game, they did manage to reach the knockout stages of the T20 Blast.
They appear to be once again targeting success in white-ball cricket this term. There have been no real moves to address the first-class batting woes that saw them dismissed for fewer than 200 in six of their ten innings last time out, but the return of Afghanistan’s world-renowned spinner Rashid Khan and delayed arrival of Australian batsman Travis Head for the T20 Blast marks out a clear target for the south-coast side.
They maintain a fearsome pace battery in the T20, with Chris Jordan, Jofra Archer, George Garton, and Tymal Mills all calling Sussex home, but their issue is whether all of them, and in particular the former two, will be available, given England’s glut of T20s this year. Spin bowler Danny Briggs, who has signed for Warwickshire, is a loss, and batting woes may also continue to plague the side. Phil Salt might win them a few games if he can find some limited overs form, but I struggle to see where the runs are coming from in the Championship.
I foresee a tough season for good old Sussex by the sea. I like their setup, and my visit to Hove a few years ago was entirely pleasant, but I fear they are firmly destined for Division Three and group-stage exits in the two white-ball competitions. Sign a batsman, or two, and then I’ll negotiate, but for now, it looks tough.
Warwickshire – still known under their guise as Birmingham Bears in the T20 – enjoyed a very respectable 2020, where they showed that, although difficult, it is possible to compete in red- and white-ball cricket simultaneously. A third-placed finish in the Central Group of the Bob Willis Trophy was complemented by the same position in the T20 Blast.
I particularly like the look of Dan Mousley as a possible replacement for the retired Ian Bell, with Sam Hain also a very capable batsman. The addition of spinner Danny Briggs will help them no end in white-ball cricket, and the experienced Tim Bresnan is also able to chip in with both bat and ball. Bowler Olly Stone will also be able to aid their cause assuming he can stay both a) fit and b) actually with Warwickshire and not England.
The Edgbaston side are clearly content in their belief that they can challenge in all formats in 2021, with their two overseas additions each focused on one format. West Indian all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite, a Big Bash winner over the winter with the Sydney Sixers, arrives to play as a Birmingham Bear, while South African batsman Pieter Malan will play in the Championship.
I forecast a quite excellent season at Edgbaston, and I am naming the Birmingham Bears as my T20 champions this year. I am a huge fan of their recruitment in Briggs and Brathwaite, and I can definitely see them winning the title. I also think they can do well in the One-Day Cup, with the younger players that they won’t be losing to the Hundred able to come into their own. I also think they'll make it into Division One of the Championship. The very balanced Bears are well and truly up for it this year.
I like Worcestershire’s ethos. They bring through good young talent, and can often do well out of it. They were T20 Blast champions in 2018, and since then have reached Finals Day again in 2019. Despite that, they didn’t enjoy a particularly fun time of it in 2020, when they finished bottom of the Blast’s Central Group. However, they fared a little better in the Bob Willis Trophy, finishing second only to Somerset.
Much of that overall positive red-ball showing was down to the previously talked-about ethos, with Brett D’Oliveira, grandson of the famed Basil, scoring highly, and Ed Barnard amongst the wickets. I particularly like Barnard, who has shown himself to be a gun T20 player in recent times. Experienced opener Daryl Mitchell will also be looking to contribute in the Championship, while another experienced player, in Ross Whiteley, will be a key part of any improvements they may wish to make on last year’s T20 campaign.
I am a big, big fan of Worcestershire’s overseas recruitment. Australian bowler Ben Dwarshuis, another player who won the Big Bash with the Sydney Sixers, joins for the T20 Blast, with Nepalese leg-spinner and T20 specialist Sandeep Lamichhane also arriving at New Road for the short format. Both should boost them hugely, as will their third international arrival, who has signed for the Championship. Towering West Indies quick Alzarri Joseph could put up some very impressive numbers in the early part of the season with the ball swinging around.
I can see something of a reversal in Worcestershire’s fortunes when it comes to red- and white-ball cricket in comparison with one another. The county are clearly gunning to improve on their Blast showing from last year, and I can definitely see them reaching their third Finals Day in four years. However, I do think that may come at a cost to their red-ball hopes, where I have a spot in Division Three reserved for them.
And finally, we reach my side. Saving the best until last, eh? Yorkshire enjoyed a very good Bob Willis Trophy campaign, finishing top of the North Group, and were simply denied a Lord’s final by matters out of their own hands, with the weather intervening on more than one occasion. However, what was not out of their own control was another disappointing season in the T20, with the knockout stages now not having been reached since 2016.
England captain Joe Root will play at least the first two Championship games this time out, which is naturally a major boost for any side, but a glimpse of JonnyBairstow will have to wait, with the wicketkeeper on IPL duty with Sunrisers Hyderabad. I am hopeful that Adam Lyth will be able to have a good season in all formats, and I’d also like to see David Willey playing far more red-ball cricket. Looking at some of the less-established names, all-rounder Jordan Thompson will hopefully be able to build on an impressive season last year, as will batsman Harry Brook.
Two bowlers will make up the overseas contingent at Headingley, with South African quick Duanne Olivier, having been a member of the side for two seasons now, becomes another example of a former Kolpak player moving to full overseas status. Meanwhile, a dose of express pace arrives for the Blast in the form of New Zealander Lockie Ferguson, and I’m particularly excited about his arrival.
However, I’d love to be proven wrong, but I do think it’s another tough season incoming in the T20 Blast. Yorkshire have never truly worked out how to handle the shortest format, with only two knockout stage appearances in the competition’s entire history. Much like many other sides, too many players are on Hundred duty to entertain success in the One-Day Cup – although the academy at Headingley is always stuffed full of excellent prospects, so again I’d love to be proven wrong. Finally, I’m saying a spot in Division Two awaits in the Championship, where Yorkshire should hopefully be quite competitive.
If you've read all 18 previews, thank you so much. I recently wrote on social media about how this blog is now coming up on seven months old, and it's had far more success than I ever could have hoped for. If you've read my posts, liked, commented, shared, contributed, or otherwise supported me in any other way, thank you so much. I truly am so very grateful.
Here's to tomorrow, and the season's beginning!
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