County Championship 2024 preview: Surrey look to continue dominance

Home » County Championship 2024 preview: Surrey look to continue dominance

There is blossom on the trees, the mowers have been dusted off and birds – and cricketers – have been migrating back to the UK from warmer climes. Oh, and it is raining. It can only mean one thing – the 2024 County Championship campaign begins on Friday.

Bazball might have lost a little of its buzz but some of its biggest names will feature in the early stages of the season.

BBC Sport takes a look at who will be involved and some other things to look out for this year.

Surrey looking for three in a row

Not accounting for the Covid-hit seasons of 2020 and 2021, last season was effectively Surrey’s third Championship title win from the last four, having also won it in 2018.

Their squad is largely the same as last season, with England batter Dan Lawrence a notable addition, arriving from Essex. Overseas stars Sean Abbott and Kemar Roach will return to the Oval though all-rounder Aaron Hardie’s planned stint has been called off by Cricket Australia.

Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart, who is leaving the role at the end of the campaign, says they are hungry for more success.

“Last March I said ‘we want to attack this year not defend it’,” he told BBC Radio London.

“My dad [Surrey great Mickey Stewart] still goes on about being part of the team that won it seven times on the trot. We have now won it back-to-back. And adding Dan Lawrence gives us another top-class player, and more appetite to win it again.”

Head coach Gareth Batty said the club’s mentality “has to be about winning things” and they do not want to stop at one trophy.

“Knowing Alec isn’t going to be around in a full-time capacity next year – for those that are driven by the emotional side it’s a lovely add-on, for those who aren’t it doesn’t matter, it’s still going to be winning – this group is driven for success,” Batty said.

Sounds ominous for the rest, so who can stop them?

The challengers

Essex hung around longer than anyone last season and took the title race to the final round, though they finished 20 points adrift in second place.

One veteran Test opener has replaced another at Chelmsford with South Africa’s Dean Elgar signed to fill the big shoes of the retiring Sir Alastair Cook. There’s also an eye on the future as all-action keeper/batter Jordan Cox has been tempted over the Thames from Kent.

The loss of Lawrence will certainly sting, but there are a host of talented young batters waiting in the wings and any side who can toss the ball to Jamie Porter, Sam Cook or Simon Harmer will fancy their chances.

Essex were only denied victory over Surrey by the weather last season and this campaign, for the first time in five years, the two will face each other home and away. The final game of the season sees them face-off at Chelmsford.

Lancashire took a step backwards in 2023 after finishing as runners-up in all three competitions the previous year.

In a winter of change behind the scenes, head coach Glen Chapple has been replaced by Dale Benkenstein.

The county have pulled off a coup with the arrival of Australia spinner Nathan Lyon for the first half of the campaign. Plenty of talk has been about how they pair him with Tom Hartley, fresh from a 22-wicket haul in England’s Test series in India.

Hampshire have quietly gone about their business after a pair of third-placed finishes. They have added promising Sussex top-order batter Ali Orr and Australia paceman Michael Neser.

Will that be enough to end a 52-year wait for the title? James Vince, Liam Dawson, Mohammad Abbas, Keith Barker and Kyle Abbott are not getting any younger, but they did beat Essex and Surrey to finish the 2023 campaign.

Durham’s last game in Division One came against Hampshire in 2016 before they were relegated by the ECB at the end of the season, giving Hampshire a reprieve. They make a triumphant return to the top flight with a game against… Hampshire.

They have plenty of quality in the pace bowling department. Australia’s Scott Boland has signed an overseas deal until the end of July and they already have Ben Raine and Matthew Potts, who bagged 50 wickets apiece last year.

South Africa batter David Bedingham returns for a full summer, while England skipper Ben Stokes also hopes to be involved at the start of the season.

Worcestershire have seen New Road flooded seven times across the winter and their two home games in their opening six fixtures will be played at Kidderminster – with talk of them potentially leaving the ground permanently.

While they have added West Indies all-rounder Jason Holder and Nathan Smith of New Zealand, in addition to Rob Jones from Lancashire and Northants duo Josh Cobb and Tom Taylor, their quest to avoid an immediate return to Division Two has not been helped by bowlers Dillon Pennington and Josh Tongue, and batter Jack Haynes, all moving to Notts.

Nottinghamshire will be skippered by Haseeb Hameed, taking over from Steven Mullaney, in what feels like a new era at Trent Bridge with Samit Patel, Jake Ball and Stuart Broad all departing.

There has been another change of captain at Somerset where Lewis Gregory succeeds Tom Abell, and though Ball arrives from Notts, one player who will not be at Taunton this summer is Aussie all-rounder Will Sutherland, who has pulled out of his stint through injury.

Somerset have famously never won the title and went five without a win to start last season. They will hope the return of Matt Renshaw early in the season gives them more momentum.

Will Rhodes has also stepped down as Warwickshire captain, though George Garton has joined the Bears from Sussex.

The Bears, champions in 2021, start against rivals Worcestershire at Edgbaston and will hope to improve on a fourth-placed finish last year.

Daniel Bell-Drummond is the new Kent skipper. He will be hoping the addition of Matt Parkinson from Lancashire, and overseas players Wes Agar and Beyers Swanepoel, will help them take 20 wickets and avoid another brush with relegation.

Brook to star in Division Two

Yorkshire start against Leicestershire at Headingley and could select Harry Brook, who missed England’s Test tour to India and pulled out of the IPL for personal reasons, but will be available for the first five games of the Championship season.

Joe Root is set to start a six-game domestic stint later this month too.

The man who brought Ottis Gibson in as coach, Darren Gough, has left his role as managing director of cricket while Colin Graves is back as chair for a season where the White Rose look poised for a promotion push.

Elsewhere Middlesex hope the signing of Derbyshire talisman Leus du Plooy will spearhead an immediate return to the top flight, though seamer Tim Murtagh will be watching from the sidelines after retirement.

Northants, who finished bottom of Division One last season, have Australian Chris Tremain and India’s Karun Nair for the start of the season, while Nair’s countryman Prithvi Shaw returns from June.

Sussex saw Ali Orr depart for Hampshire this winter but have added the experience of John Simpson from Middlesex and Lancashire’s Danny Lamb, while West Indies bowler Jayden Seales and India batter Cheteshwar Pujara are around early in the campaign.

A deal for Leicestershire seamer Chris Wright was cancelled for personal reasons but they do have England paceman Ollie Robinson available for the start of the season.

Leicestershire have lost Colin Ackermann and Calum Parkinson to Durham, but Liam Trevaskis is coming the other way, while Ben Mike and Ben Cox have arrived from Yorkshire and Worcestershire respectively, and Scott Currie joins on loan from Hampshire.

Glamorgan have appointed Grant Bradburn as head coach and installed Sam Northeast as Championship skipper, after David Lloyd’s move to Derbyshire, while Mason Crane will spend a season on loan at Sophia Gardens from Hampshire. Neser’s move in the opposite direction will not help Glamorgan’s top-two hopes.

Lloyd, who takes over the captaincy from Du Plooy, is followed to Derbyshire by veteran Patel, and Aneurin Donald and Ross Whiteley from Hampshire.

Mark Alleyne is back in charge at Gloucestershire – who were winless last season – after Benkenstein’s move to Old Trafford, while Cameron Bancroft and Beau Webster have signed overseas deals after spells with Somerset and Essex respectively.

2023 at a glance

County champions: Surrey

Relegated from Div One: Middlesex and Northamptonshire

Promoted from Div Two: Durham and Worcestershire

Leading run-scorer Div One: Josh Bohannon, Lancashire – 1,257 runs

Leading wicket-taker Div One: Brett Hutton, Nottinghamshire – 62 wickets

Leading run-scorer Div Two: Alex Lees, Durham – 1,347 runs

Leading wicket-taker Div Two: Ben Raine, Durham – 60 wickets

How will 2024 work?

Many of the changes in 2024 will be the undoing of alterations introduced for the 2023 season.

The five points for a draw experiment was short-lived, reverting back to eight, though batting and bowling bonus points stay the same as last year.

Traditionalists will probably welcome the fact that, by popular demand, County Championship matches will be played in every month of the season.

The campaign begins with eight consecutive rounds, played from Friday to Monday each week across April and May.

Following a break for T20 cricket, and before England men’s Test summer, the season returns with back-to-back rounds in late June and early July.

After no Championship cricket in August last summer, two rounds take place towards the end of the month this year.

The first half of the month will again be reserved for The Hundred and One-Day Cup.

The final round of the Championship campaign starts on Thursday, 26 September.

While it is unlikely to be widespread, for the first time hybrid pitches will be permitted in a one-year ECB trial.

Hybrid tracks, which remain predominantly grass – but contain a small amount of synthetic fibres to help prevent deterioration and allow more cricket to be played on them – have previously only been used in white-ball cricket.

Another thing to look out for is the return of the Kookaburra ball in place of the Dukes ball, with the number of rounds in which it will be used doubling from two to four.

The ECB wants English players to be more experienced facing or bowling with it, with half an eye on the overseas Ashes series in 2025.

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