Ahead of the start of the LV= County Championship season on Thursday, we take a deep dive into each of the five teams we’ll be up against in Group 2.
Coach: Ian Harvey (interim)
Captain: Chris Dent
Last Year’s Performance: Fifth (Central Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Graeme van Buuren (244 @ 30.5)
2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Ryan Higgins (17 @ 23)
Overseas players: Dan Worrall (Australia – full season), Kraigg Brathwaite (West Indies – April 8–June 6)
Key man: Chris Dent has scored consistent runs over the past five seasons and will need to do so again if Gloucestershire are to be competitive.
Flies under the radar: Tom Lace could be one to watch having followed Ryan Higgins and George Scott down the M4 from Middlesex. A highly-rated 22-year-old batsman.
Best Player Under 24: James Bracey’s talent has been obvious for some time and he’s been involved in senior England squads over the past 12 months. Signed a new three-year deal this winter.
The Season Ahead: Gloucestershire face a daunting start to the season, hosting Surrey before trips to Somerset and Hampshire. Their first-choice bowling attack is capable of taking 20 wickets regularly but their challenge is to find enough runs to be competitive against the stronger sides.
They have also had to battle some quite unresponsive pitches at Bristol in recent years with results hard to come by at Nevil Road. The increased reward for draws this season could help build their points tally.
Qualifying for Division Two in September would perhaps represent a good red-ball summer.
Coach: Adrian Birrell
Captain: James Vince
Last year’s performance: Fourth (South Group)
2020 Leading runscorer: Joe Weatherley (263, 43.83)
2020 Leading wicket taker: Ian Holland (17, 17.47)
Overseas players: Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan 8 April-30 May), Kyle Abbott (South Africa, full season)
Key man: Kyle Abbott – The big fast bowler is back after missing last season and looking to repeat his superb 2019 campaign where he took 72 wickets at 16.19.
Flies under the radar: Joe Weatherley – Made his breakthrough in last season’s Bob Willis Trophy, the 24-year-old is primed for a big summer after putting himself through a gruelling winter fitness programme.
Best player under 24: Felix Organ – At 21, the Sydney-born all-rounder already has a County Championship century and a five-wicket haul to his name.
The Season Ahead: After a third-place Division One finish in 2019, hopes were high for the 2020 season. However, with Covid-19 keeping overseas players away and a ruptured Achilles sustained by England allrounder Liam Dawson in the opening match of the Bob Willis Trophy against Middlesex, it proved to be disappointing finish in a truncated year. Abbott and the newly-signed Abbas will pose plenty of problems for opposing batsmen. But the pressure will be on Vince, Sam Northeast and the highly-rated Weatherley to provide the runs to steer the club to a first County Championship title since 1973.
Coach: Paul Nixon
Captain: Colin Ackermann
Last Year’s Performance: Fifth (North Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Colin Ackermann (379, 54.1)
2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Ben Mike (9, 31.0), Dieter Klein 9 (36.9)
Overseas players: Marcus Harris (Australia)
Key man: Colin Ackermann – The captain is also Leicestershire’s most valuable asset, a reliable source of middle-order runs who averaged 54 in the Bob Willis Trophy, a fine fielder and a handy off-spin bowler.
Flies under the radar: Hassan Azad – The buzz around the left-handed opener faded a little after modest returns in the Bob Willis Trophy, but if he can recapture his outstanding 2019 form he will frustrate many an opposition bowler.
Best Player Under 24: Harry Swindells – A young wicketkeeper-batsman of potential who has displaced Lewis Hill in the side and follows in a long line of home-grown talent to attract the interest of wealthier rival counties.
The Season Ahead: With Surrey, Somerset and Hampshire among their opponents, Leicestershire look to be in a tough group. After winning five matches in 2018 their form regressed in 2019 but they pulled off a morale-boosting win over Lancashire last season, albeit on the back of a century by the on-loan Nottinghamshire batsman Ben Slater. Coach Paul Nixon rarely lets his optimistic outlook desert him and he has assembled a squad who will not let him down in terms of attitude and effort. The permanent signing of Rishi Patel from Essex is a boost, as will be the arrival of Australian Test opener Marcus Harris as overseas player in a line-up that looks capable of building decent scores. They look a little thin on the ground in terms of wicket-taking bowlers, however, which is a concern.
Coach: Stuart Law
Captain: Peter Handscomb
Last Year’s Performance: Third (South Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Nick Gubbins (350, 43.75)
2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Tim Murtagh (25, 12.72)
Overseas players: Peter Handscomb (Australia – full season)
Key man: In addition to his leadership experience, Middlesex will hope Handscomb can bring some ballast to a batting order that has looked fragile at times.
Flies under the radar: Martin Andersson, who rounded off Middlesex’s Bob Willis Trophy campaign with successive four-wicket hauls last year, is continuing to mature into a genuine all-rounder.
Best Player Under 24: Left-hander Max Holden has added a gritty element to his attacking strokeplay and looks to have cemented his position as Sam Robson’s opening partner.
The Season Ahead: Even after Miguel Cummins’ departure, Middlesex still possess formidable depth to their pool of seamers, with Tim Murtagh, Toby Roland-Jones, Steven Finn, Tom Helm and James Harris all vying for places.
Throw promising youngsters such as Ethan Bamber and Blake Cullen into the mix and the Seaxes should find a way to bowl opponents out twice on a regular basis.
However, the batting line-up – which has been largely unchanged over the past four years – provides greater cause for concern, with Middlesex frequently struggling to put 300-plus totals on the board.
If new skipper Peter Handscomb can ease that headache, both through his own run-scoring contribution and by getting more out of his senior batsmen, the team look at least capable of holding their own.
Coach: Jason Kerr
Captain: Tom Abell
Last Year’s Performance: Runner-up
2020 Leading Runscorer: Tom Lammonby (459 @ 51)
2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Craig Overton (30 @ 13.43)
Overseas players: Marchant de Lange (South Africa – full season)
Key man: Tom Abell has grown into a confident leader and added an impressive haul of runs to his captaincy last season, proving leadership is not a distraction to his own development.
Flies under the radar: Despite over 13,000 first-class runs, Steven Davies doesn’t attract as many headlines as the younger talent but his experience and ability remain a keystone of the dressing room.
Best Player Under 24: Tom Lammonby made an incredible start to his career with three centuries in six innings and the 20-year-old appears to have a big future.
The Season Ahead: We ask again – “will this be Somerset’s season?” Despite coming so close to that elusive pennant in the past five years, Somerset have found other counties producing a more complete campaign.
They win a lot of tight matches – a good habit – but some that go the other way have been costly and they need to find more runs to control more matches.
That could be tricky if pitches at Taunton continue to be dominated by bowlers, either spin or, last season, seam. The emergence of Tom Lammonby, and Tom Abell’s form last year, will certainly help.
Nothing less than qualifying for Division One in September will do.