Cricket 2023

Cricket 2023

Division Two


Derbyshire did much better than most predicted last year, which was good to see. They may have lost Shan Masood, their leading run scorer in cricket last season, but they have retained Mickey Arthur and brought in an interesting young batsman from his other side (Pakistan) in Haider Ali, who averages 70 in first class cricket, to replace Masood. With Leus du Plooy replacing Godleman as captain the latter will hopefully find a few runs again and their young wicketkeeper Brooke Guest looked distinctly capable last year. Their problem may be taking wickets. They need Suranga Lakmal and Zak Chappell to stay fit and firing. If they do, they should be dangerous in all formats and second place in the Championship looks realistic.


Durham had a dismal season last year and their decision to sign a number of players in the close season shows they were not too happy. Nathan Sowter is perhaps the most interesting, an offspinner who didn’t quite seem to fit in at Middlesex, but Ollie Robinson as wicketkeeper is a shrewd pickup. They could do with a few more runs from Scott Borthwick and Alex Lees, and a few more wickets from Matt Potts if he isn’t called up by England. Realistically it’s hard to see them going up this year but winning more games rather than self-destructing would be a start.


Glamorgan were very unfortunate to miss out on promotion last year, and although Middlesex did in fairness beat them twice a case could be made they were otherwise the second best side in the division. With Labuschagne and Ingram alternating overseas duties they have plenty of runs, but whether Harry Podmore can replace the wickets of Michael Hogan is another question. They do however have a vastly experienced and successful white ball coach in ex-England all-rounder Mark Alleyne, and with their batting firepower plus the lack of Hundred callups should be a real handful in the one day cup. They will also be highly disappointed if they are not challenging for promotion in the final round of matches.


Unsettled last year by a change of coach and captain, they performed below their standards in the championship and although they were not always as bad as they looked lost several games they should have won. They have also lost Ryan Higgins, whose 950 runs and 48 wickets in 2019 propelled them to Division One, and their vital white ball players Benny Howell and Ian Cockbain. It’s difficult to see them making a challenge in the one day cup or the T20 as a result, but a side including Jack Taylor and Zafar Gohar should never be taken lightly. In the championship Graeme van Buuren needs a much better season as captain and batsman, but the firepower of Merchant de Lange and the runs of Marcus Harris mean they cannot be ruled out as promotion candidates. With such a small squad, however, and David Payne out injured for much of the season, they really need the younger players, especially James Bracey but also Tom Price, Dominic Goodman and Ajeet Singh Dale to step up if they are to do well. It can be done, and if it happens, they will be great to watch, although mid-table seems a likelier outcome.


Well – what to say really? They turn up, they play games, they sometimes win. 25 years ago they were a dominant force in English cricket but years of poor management have left them on the ropes. However, they have an interesting overseas signing in Ajinkya Rahane, arguably India’s greatest captain despite never holding the job full time, and Peter HAndscomb will be hungry for runs in England after dismal stints at Gloucestershire and Middlesex. Realistically, however, finishing anywhere other than bottom of every competition would be a great season for them.


Cheteshwar Pujara comes back for another stint, which given the quality he displayed last year is fabulous news for Hove. He must be the best overseas signing in the entire country even ahead of Gohar, Labuschagne, Harmer and Steve Smith, who also joins Sussex to warm himself up for the Ashes. Pujara’s captaincy, given his vast experience, along with the input of Smith, is also likely to be a valuable bonus to a young side – certainly his leadership in the one day cup last year was excellent. But captains are seldom more deadly than their bowling attack, and last year without Archer and Robinson they couldn’t bowl sides out twice nearly often enough. It’s very hard to see that changing. That they are 4-1 second favourites for the second division title after Yorkshire says a great deal about how many people bet with heads over hearts. One day competitions, particularly the One Day Cup, look their best bet for a good run.


The return of Azhar Ali is good news, but the loss of Ed Barnard leaves the bowling horribly dependent on Joe Leach and Josh Tongue. They have the ability, but also a rather small squad and it would seem little scope for attracting in the big names. Mitchell Santner and Michael Bracewell (T20) may help them in one day cricket, as will the use of New Road in the one-day cup where everyone else is playing at outgrounds of mixed quality, but it is some time now since they were in the First Division and with Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire fighting it out for two places it’s quite difficult to see that changing. 


Well, let’s start with the basics. Yorkshire have yet again had a disastrous winter. The management has once again descended into chaos, the ECB have screwed up the racism process, the players are mutinous and the coaching setup continues to change faster than Donald Trump’s excuses for breaking the law. So, now on to less important matters. Yorkshire won just one Championship match last season (and even in that they were fortunate in some pretty ordinary umpiring) and generally speaking looked at best a second rate outfit. Their bowling continued to rely on Steven Patterson, who was unceremoniously sacked, and David Willey, who by the end of the season had had enough and quit. Gary Ballance made no appearances, and has now emigrated to Zimbabwe, while Adam Lyth, Dawid Malan and Jonathan Tatersall did their best to hold things together with Jordan Thompson and Dom Bess providing persevering support, but usually to no avail. The fact is Yorkshire fully deserved to be relegated and could count themselves fortunate not to finish bottom. Shan Masood did well for Derbyshire last year and as the new captain will hope to bring a fresh start, but the loss of so many players and continuing unrest means it’s hard to make them favourites for anything. Bairstow will probably be playing for them more in the first few months, which should help, and if Ben Coad and Matt Fisher string together some games the bowling has firepower. But what they most need this season is not to look like an under-19 side that has failed to do its homework. Progress would be top three in Div 2 and a respectable showing in in the one dayers. Certainly I wouldn’t take them at 7-4 favourites for the title, because they’re not.

Championship Division Two – Glamorgan (6-1) Possible value – Gloucestershire (6-1) Dark horses – Derbyshire (12-1)

Division One 


Essex have been the mightiest force in English cricket ever since Simon Harmer joined them, and they will regard anything less than the Championship and a strong performance in the one-day stuff as a disappointment. They should get a full season out of England players Alistair Cook (who is rumoured to be planning retirement at the end of the season) and Dan Lawrence, while Tom Westley will plod methodically along at three. Cook, Snater and Porter make an excellent seam attack, while Ben Allison looked a fine prospect in the matches he played. And of course, Simon Harmer may not quite have made it in Tests for the Proteas but he’s still the best offspinner in England. They may have been off the pace last year but it would be a brave punter who suggests they have no chance of putting that right this year.


Hampshire were, in two respects, the best side in England last year. They won the T20 Blast, and won more championship games (nine) than anyone else. Alas, as Gloucestershire can testify, that doesn’t mean a lot if you also lose too many, and their four defeats ruled them out of the Championship dogfight. They have surely the best seam bowling attack in the country, with Kyle Abbott and Mohammed Abbas a new ball pairing almost any Test side would be very glad of, and with the runs of James Vince, who will hope that Nick Gubbins and Felix Organ improve further on promising season last year and that Ben Brown continues his excellence behind (and in front of) the stumps, they should be challenging in all competitions again. What they need is for the whole side to deliver consistently, which is where, for four seasons now, this on paper outstanding unit has not quite done so. If they can, they will surely be the four day champions. And even if they aren’t, they remain the most formidable of one day sides and strong contenders to defend the Blast.


There will be plenty of heads being scratched if Joey Evison’s promise from last season is not being built on – not least, the bald pate of Darren Stevens, who was fired despite being Kent’s most consistent bat and bowler over many previous seasons. The loss of Ollie Robinson to Durham is mitigated by the likelihood Sam Billings will be available for most of the season apart from the Hundred window, while Michael Hogan has been signed at 41 to provide cover on the bowling (remind me again about Darren Stevens being sacked for being too old?) following the departures of Matt Milnes and Harry Podmore. Arshdeep Singh is also quick and keen to impress and may add an extra dimension to the attack with his left arm angle. But the batting still looks light, and Ben Compton’s heroics last season need not only repeating but to be better supported if Kent are to do well. Realistically, any scenario that doesn’t involve relegation for Kent with decent showings – knock out stage – in the Blast is one that’s seen them have a successful season. Their key target will be to defend the One Day Cup.


Lancashire have been there or thereabouts for the last few years, and were a deserved second in the Championship after a fine season with bat and ball that saw them win seven matches and lose just one, to Essex. Tom Bailey was superb, taking 52 wickets at a distinctly miserly 22 each, well supported by Matt Parkinson and New Zealander Will Williams. But it was the batting that was a class apart. Josh Bohannon caught many headlines with 805 runs, three centuries and a high of 231, but Keaton Jennings, the new captain, was even better, scoring a staggering 1233 runs at 72 including a 318, well supported by Luke Wells and Steven Croft. If the batting is as solid again this year  – and with Colin de Grandhomme and Daryl Mitchell joining, why would it not be? – it is very hard indeed to not see Lancashire at the sharp end of the Championship. As for the T20 Blast, they should also be as dangerous as usual, which is pretty dangerous, although the Hundred losses make them vulnerable in the One Day Cup.


Returning to Division One after a long absence, Middlesex finally looked to be getting their act together after several dismal years last season. Eskinazi started scoring runs, Roland-Jones bounced back to form in spectacular fashion with 67 wickets at under 19 each, Tom Helm looked good with ball and to a lesser extent bat in the seven games he played, and they got rid of Peter HAndsomb. That said, their success last year was largely built on the sensational form of John Simpson, with 1039 runs at 65, and Marcus Stoneman, with 1025 runs at 48.80, who propelled them to the stratosphere. Their one major domestic signing, Ryan Higgins, will need to provide support for the superstars Roland Jones (now also captain) Stoneman and Simpson, while Pieter Malan needs to score often and Eskinazi needs to be as consistent as he can be, if Middlesex are to stay up. However, they should be capable of doing so. Higgins’ firepower should also make them a real threat in the T20 Blast and after he was overlooked for the Hundred he will be anxious to stamp himself on the One Day Cup as well.


Northamptonshire confounded many expectations last year by finishing a comfortable sixth in Division One. This was the more impressive due to the turmoil at the club, which saw their captain sacked at the start of the season apparently for not showing slavish respect to the new coach, and his luckless last minute replacement proving totally unequal to the task of leading the side, resigning mid season to see if he could score a run. Will Young, emerging as captain from the wreckage, held everything together admirably, while Luke Procter’s runs and Ben Sanderson’s wickets were sufficient to keep relegation at bay with excellent support from Emilio Gay and Rob Keogh (the latter with ball as well, to everyone’s surprise including his own). How Procter adjusts to captaining the side will go a long way towards determining their fate. Few would be surprised if they were among the relegation candidates in what looks a very strong division, but only a fool would confidently say they are incapable of staying up.


Nottinghamshire, like Middlesex, had been dismally underachieving for years until in 2021 something finally clicked and they put together a run of victories. Last year, they delivered on that promise in style. A rock solid batting unit led by Ben Duckett, the welcome return to form of Haseeb Hameed and excellent support from Lyndon James and captain Steven Mullaney plus Dane Paterson’s 56 wickets backed by 41 from Liam Patterson White saw them steamroller pretty much every side in division two to win eight matches and go up as champions. With the arrival of Olly Stone they look to have a very good seam attack, depending on how much they see of Stuart Broad (not much, is my guess) and Ben Duckett (probably a bit more). However, if they win the championship it would be an impressive achievement. They could do it, but maybe next season after Duckett is finally discarded by England is a little more likely. In the one day game however they should be very competitive for the T20 Blast, boasting in addition to their formidable regular squad explosive New Zealander Colin Munro and pace prodigy Shaheen Shah Afridi. 


An exasperating side, Somerset are frequently tipped for the top and then implode. Alternatively, they are frequently tipped for relegation and come second. For this season, mid table seems likelier on the whole than either. While Peter Siddle may not be the force he was he’s still a fine bowler and loves English conditions, while Tom Abell and Lewis Gregory remain extremely capable senior players. The loss of James Hildreth is mitigated by his decline in recent seasons, but if they are to do better this season they need much more from Tom Lammonby, who had a dismal season last year, and Lewis Goldsworthy, who has talent but is still very young. Similarly, they will be hoping for big runs from Tom Kohler-Cadmore, one of the many players who had had enough of Yorkshire, and Sean Dickson, who has an excellent pedigree he never quite showed at Durham. Craig Overton, Josh Davey and Peter Siddle are a good seam bowling attack, but in Jack Leach’s absence you wonder how much spin they will be able to command at a ground once called Ciderabad. Roelof van de Merwe isn’t really a spinner to bowl sides out. Realistically, if they finish mid-table in the Championship and reach the Blast knockouts they will be pretty pleased with their season.


Surrey confounded many predictions, including mine, by winning the championship last season. Exactly how they did it remains something of a mystery, except to say that while no one player had a standout season, at no point did the team have a disastrous collective failure apart from one late game against Lancashire. So no batsman scored 900 runs, but five scored over 500. No bowler took over 40 wickets, but three took over 30 and several more playing walk on roles took around 20. This team will allowed them to win several close matches and fight for draws in others. If there was one player who made a difference it was Dan Worrall, who in the nine games he played (as a cheeky non-overseas player) took 39 wickets at 24, adding an edge to the attack that in Kemar Roach’s frequent absences had previously been lacking. Whether Surrey can repeat that in 2023 is doubtful. The stars aligning in such a way tend not to do so in consecutive seasons, so stronger individual performances may be needed. With Hashim Amla’s retirement they need to find more than 700 runs from somewhere, and the jury is out on whether the returning Dom Sibley is that man. Jamie Overton was impressive last season, but will need to do at least as well to keep them in contention. Equally, it would be a foolish pundit that would write them off entirely in any competition. It’s a deep squad of high quality players, and such squads are usually dangerous.  


Champions and Bob Willis Trophy Winners in 2021, they served up an even more exhilarating finale in 2022 as 13,000 people watched Liam Norwell put in an extraordinary spell of 9/62 to bowl Yorkshire out and save Warwickshire from relegation. In his injury enforced absence they had not had a good year. Sam Hain completed 1000 runs at 63, Mike Burgess and Dom Sibley were also solid with the bat, Oliver Hannon-Dalby carried the seam attack more or less single handed in the absences of Norwell, Woakes and Stone to take 53 wickets at 23, while Danny Briggs twirled away to 31 wickets at 42. But otherwise the performance was dismal. Just two wins and six defeats tells its own unglamorous story. Chris Rushworth brings experience and Ed Barnard pace, but it’d hard to see Moeen Ali playing enough matches to make up for the loss of Sibley’s runs. The key player this year may well be the physio. The more games Liam Norwell features in the better their chances. If he doesn’t…well, you only get one day like that to salvage yourselves. 

So – who to pick? Well, here are my predictions so Northern Al knows who not to bet on.

Championship Division One – Lancashire (11-2). Possible value – Essex (4-1) Dark horses – Hampshire (6-1)

T20 Blast – Hampshire (8-1). Possible Value – Nottinghamshire (9-1) Dark Horses – Middlesex (20-1). 

One Day Cup – Sussex. Possible value – Kent. Dark Horses – Glamorgan. No market on betting yet.


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