With just a handful of weeks until the start of the 120th County Championship, all cricket fans will be raising their expectations for what should be a fantastic sporting spectacle. The upcoming season will feature a slightly different format from previous seasons. This is because it will see only one team relegated from Division One, whilst three teams will be promoted from Division Two.
The season will kick off with a hugely promising encounter between Surrey and Essex. Surrey stormed to a well-deserved County Championship win last year, whilst the visitors, Essex won the previous tournament. The last time that these two teams met saw Essex scraping a dramatic one-wicket win despite holding a massive 410-run lead in the first innings.
But with Surrey looking to start their current campaign in style with top batsmen like Rory Burns and Ollie Pope, as well as star bowlers such as Morne Morkel, there remains many questions about who could stop this seemingly unbeatable team. Here are some of the teams who could provide the toughest challenge.
Anthony McGrath’s team enjoyed a decent if unspectacular 2018 campaign. Their third-place finish in Division One could have been so much better, and expectations will be high that their captain, Ryan ten Doeschate, can lead the team to bigger things in 2019.
Hopes will be raised thanks to their star bowler, Simon Harmer, deciding to extend his contract with the side until 2021. And whilst Alastair Cook has retired from international duties, the England star has decided to remain with Essex for another three years. All of which should see Essex once again be a dominant force in the County Championship in the coming season.
It’s interesting to see how many of the bookmakers featured at betting.org seem to rate Nottinghamshire’s chances of winning the 2019 County Championship. Peter Moores’ team narrowly escaped relegation last season, and hopes will be high that top batsmen like Ben Slater and Kragg Brathwaite can boost Nottinghamshire’s chances this year.
Similarly, promising bowlers like Jake Ball should hopefully rise to the challenge after being called up to the England squad last year. Whilst we can expect to see Nottinghamshire raising their game in 2019, it remains to be seen whether they have what it takes to stop Surrey’s dominance.
Somerset clawed their way to a commendable second position in last year’s County Championship final standings. With seven wins, two losses, four draws and that bizarre tie with Lancashire, Somerset could have easily won the tournament had it not been for Surrey’s incredible form. All eyes will be on how head coach, Jason Kerr, guides his team in their opening match against Kent on 5 April.
Fiery stars like Tom Abell will be pivotal in Somerset’s upcoming campaign and hopes will be high that the player can repeat his incredible bowling hat-trick taken against Nottinghamshire last season. And obviously James Hildreth can always be relied upon to work wonders with the bat, and so we can expect to see Somerset put in plenty of great performances in 2019.
With a fairly mixed season in Division One last year, it’s easy to think that Hampshire will once again underperform in 2019. Despite this, we saw plenty of impressive performances from Adrian Birrell’s team last year, and with their captain, James Vince, always ready to pick up plenty of runs with the bat, there’s a good chance that Hampshire could have what it takes to give Surrey a run for their money.
But perhaps the most exciting reason to follow Hampshire this season is the fact that they have just signed the Sri Lanka captain, Dimuth Karunaratne, who will add plenty of experience to an already talented Hampshire side.
Could 2019 be Yorkshire’s year once more? Whilst the team still look far off their 2014-2015 best, we think that there are real signs of revival within the Yorkshire camp. Obviously, they will still be bruised by embarrassing performances such as their 50 all-out by Essex in May last year, but with Steven Patterson being appointed captain on a full-time basis, we can expect to see a rejuvenated Yorkshire side.
This is especially true, as the team have recently just signed the South Africa fast bowler Duanne Olivier, who will be sure to add something extra to the Yorkshire bowling attack. All of which should mean that 2019 will have plenty of surprises for cricket fans.