Reality check for Yorkshire
The shock waves of Yorkshire's relegation are still reverberating around the county, while Essex are also looking for a fresh start. Can Leicestershire defend their T20 title? And how difficult will life be for Jimmy Adams at Kent?
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Captain Wayne Madsen
Coach Karl Krikken
In David Wainwright (Yorks), Peter Burgoyne, Matt Lineker
Out Greg Smith (Essex), Luke Sutton (retired), Steffan Jones (retired)
Overseas players Martin Guptill (Apr-June), Usman Khawaja (June-Sep), Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (T20)
Last year 5th in CC Div 2; 7th in FLt20 North Group; 3rd in CB40 Group A
You have to hand it to Derbyshire, their stability repeatedly ridicules those who think that a pared-down county game would be better off without them. Their finances are stable, The County Ground is much improved - weddings are doing a roaring trade - and they produce England players at age-group level. But it is hard to see a squad now led by the South Africa-born opening batsman Wayne Madsen achieving much more than an occasional day to remember, especially if they overly commit to young players to bring in extra age-based incentives from the ECB. Former director of cricket David Houghton has returned to the county as a specialist batting coach.
One to watch
David Wainwright's departure from Yorkshire disappointed many White Rose supporters. He was respected as a plucky cricketer, a lower-order batsman organised enough to make championship hundreds, a left-arm spinner - Yorkshire's history makes that instantly respected - and a decent thinker on the game. But Wainwright's slow left-arm faltered and chances for betterment were rare. Derbyshire is a good move for him; it would be no surprise to find him county captain one day.
Captain James Foster
Coach Paul Grayson
In Greg Smith (Derby), Charl Willoughby (Somerset), Ben Foakes
Out Chris Wright (Warwickshire), Max Osborne (released)
Overseas Alviro Peterson (until June), Peter Siddle (T20)
Last year 7th in CC Div 2; 6th in FLt20 South Group; 3rd in CB40 Group C
Following an underwhelming 2011 on all fronts, and revelations during the trial of Mervyn Westfield that damaged the county's image off the field, Essex need to retrench. The bowling, led by the Championship's leading wicket-taker last year, David Masters, and supplemented by South African veteran Charl Willoughby, looks strong but a couple of the promising young batsmen in the squad need to fructify - nobody reached 1,000 runs in 2011 (wicketkeeper-captain Foster topped the list with 931) and Essex's haul of 29 batting points was the second worst in the country. With T20 central to their finances, winning the competition for the first time must be an ambition.
One to watch
Fast bowler Tymal Mills is raw, having only taken up the game in his mid-teens, but showed enough talent after making his senior debut last summer to be drafted on to England's Performance Programme and tour with the Lions. The 19-year-old is only likely to get quicker as he builds up his body strength and Essex fans may glimpse a potent future new-ball partnership in the making should he share the attack with fellow tyro Reece Topley.
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Captain Mark Wallace
Coach Matthew Mott
In Simon Jones (Hampshire)
Out Mike Powell (Kent), Adam Shantry (retired), David Brown (retired)
Overseas players Moises Henriques (early part of season), Marcus North (April/May onwards)
Last year 6th in CC Div 2; 7th in FLt20 South Group; 5th in CB40 Group C
Glamorgan have chopped and changed with frequency in their search to bring success back to the region and they are still in a rebuilding phase. Marcus North will provide vital stability in the middle order when he arrives and could guide other players capable of having a profitable year - Gareth Rees and Jim Allenby in particular. Their bowling attack led by James Harris, who was involved in the England Lions set-up last year, and Dean Cosker is handy but lacking in depth. But too often last season Glamorgan failed to build on good results and finding consistency is their key to being an outside bet for promotion.
One to watch
Mark Wallace was sensibly made captain over the winter. He is a Glamorgan native who is well respected and his talents with the gloves and free-flowing nature with the bat were talked of in potential England terms a few years ago. Now he has the experience and maturity required of a county captain. After the upheaval of two winters ago, Glamorgan lacked togetherness in 2011. Wallace's main task is to re-establish it.
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Captain Alex Gidman
Coach John Bracewell
In Dan Housego (Middlesex), Paul Muchall
Out Jon Lewis (Surrey), Chris Taylor (released), Vikram Banerjee (released)
Overseas players Kane Williamson (April-June) Muttiah Muralitharan (T20)
Last year 4th in CC Div 2; 8th in FLt20 South Group; 6th in CB40 Group C
Gloucestershire may have punched above their weight in the Championship over the past three seasons, with their one-day form - which is miserable - perhaps a truer reflection of their squad. Doomsayers will also point to the loss of stalwart seamer Jon Lewis to Surrey and the release of batsman Chris Taylor as evidence that the wooden spoon is back on the radar. But they have a young batting line up - led by the very capable Chris Dent - who now have a couple of seasons under their belts. If they can find runs, there is still plenty of bowling to win enough matches and mount another promotion challenge.
One to watch
The county's batting has struggled for some years and the departure of Taylor makes their line-up look even more fragile. Housego is a promising player who actually began his career at the academy in Bristol. At 23 he could be ready to come of age as a consistent run-getter after a prolific 2nd XI season last year for Middlesex where he was the topscorer. His new employers will certainly need runs from him for the club to find success.
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Captain Jimmy Adams
Coach Giles White
Overseas players Simon Katich, Shahid Afridi (T20)
Out Dominic Cork (retired), Nic Pothas (released), Johan Myburgh (released), Friedel de Wet (released), Michael Lumb (Nottinghamshire), Simon Jones (Glamorgan), Jamie Miller (released), Benny Howell (retired)
Last year: 9th in CC Div 1 (relegated); FLt20 semi-finalists; 4th in CB40 Group B
One to watch
Michael Carberry missed half of last season due to a series illness which, for a time, threatened his career but returned to play eight Championship matches and averaged 56.64, including an unbeaten triple hundred. Carberry had a brief taste of Test cricket in Bangladesh and was in the Lions squad when illness struck. Opener is one area where England do not have a clearly defined reserve and though not part of the current set-up Carberry can put his name back in contention.
They paid the price for a horrid start to last year's Championship campaign, which left them too much ground to make up. And they may not be able to bounce straight back. The bowling looks a little thin, a fit Kabir Ali is vital and Danny Briggs needs to bring his 2011 average of 36 down into the high 20s. The batting has plenty to offer, though, and should be able to post decent totals particularly now the Tiflex ball has been ditched. They should be a force in T20 with Shahid Afridi in the line up and it's a format where Briggs excels.
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Captain Rob Key
Coach Jimmy Adams
In Charlie Shreck (Nottinghamshire), Michael Powell (Glamorgan), Ben Harmison (Durham), Scott Newman (Middlesex, loan), Mark Davies (Durham), Ivan Thomas, Fabian Cowdrey, Benedict Kemp
Out Joe Denly (Middlesex), Martin van Jaarsveld (retired), James Goodman (released), Robbie Joseph (Leicestershire)
Overseas Brendan Nash
Last year 8th in CC Div 2; FLt20 quarter-finalists; 4th in CB40 Group A
There have been significant changes to the squad which finished second-bottom in 2011, with leading runscorer Joe Denly departing for Middlesex and Martin van Jaarsveld's retirement. Rob Key remains, though, and Kent have replenished the squad with several financially shrewd signings; Charlie Shreck and Mark Davies could well have fun after dropping down a division, provided they stay fit. Daniel Bell-Drummond, who topped the batting averages in England Under-19s' winter tour of Bangladesh, is Denly's likely successor at the top of the order and, in a dogfight division, they could cause a surprise. Any team that can call on Azhar Mahmood is likely to be competitive in one-day cricket.
One to watch
Adams, the first West Indian to coach in county cricket, replaces Paul Farbrace with a remit to get Canterbury tails wagging once again. The former West Indies batsman knows he must make changes to turn around the fortunes of one England's grand old counties and his fresh perspective may be just what Kent need. After working with West Indies Under-19s and a spell as Jamaica's Technical Director, this is Adams first major coaching role - he won't be short of challenges.
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Coach Phil Whitticase
Captain Matthew Hoggard
In Robbie Joseph (Kent), Rob Taylor
Out Paul Nixon (retired), James Taylor (Nottinghamshire), Harry Gurney (Nottinghamshire), Tom New (released)
Overseas Ramnaresh Sarwan, Abdul Razzaq (T20)
Last year 9th in CC Div 2; FLt20 winners; 6th in CB40 Group B
It was all or nothing for Leicestershire last year and this season could be more of the same. Improving on 18th in the country in the Championship might seem a modest target but without James Taylor's runs, much will be required of Ramnaresh Sarwan, who averaged just 31.57 during his previous spell in county cricket with Gloucestershire. The club's financial position has improved significantly, though chief executive Mike Siddall has warned they can't expect the windfall that came from winning the FLt20 again. No county has won England's domestic T20 competition two years running but Abdul Razzaq's return will boost Leicestershire's chances of a defence.
One to watch
Nathan Buck suffered a difficult season in 2011 - after bursting on to the circuit with 49 Championship wickets the year before - but he was quietly effective for the Lions over the winter, taking 10 wickets at less than 20 apiece in 50-over cricket on slow, subcontinental pitches. With Matthew Hoggard to tutor him in the subtleties of right-arm swing, the 20-year-old could soon swell England's plentiful pace bowling options even further.
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Captain Andrew Hall
Coach David Capel
Overseas players Chaminda Vaas, Cameron White (T20)
In Kyle Coetzer (Durham), Con de Lange
Out David Lucas (Worcestershire), Mal Loye (released), Tom Brett (released), Gavin Baker (released)
Last year 3rd in CC Div 2; 9th in FPt20 North Group; 3rd in CB40 Group B
Bearing in mind how dramatically Northants snatched failure from the jaws of success last season, it would be a brave or foolish fellow who made too bold a prediction regarding their fortunes this year. Going into the T20 campaign, they stood top of the Division Two table and were unbeaten in the CB40. Indeed, in mid-June, they had won their first five CB40 games and five of their eight Championship matches. For some reason - maybe weariness, maybe a lack of unity, maybe injury - they won only one of their next seven Championship matches and one of their final seven CB40 games. They eventually missed out on promotion by a couple of points. Anything can happen this year, but achieving promotion will not be any easier. They may have blown their best chance.
One to watch
Jack Brooks had his pick of counties towards the end of last season. On the way to claiming 43 first-class wickets at 21.90, the 27-year-old seamer attracted the attention of several Test-hosting clubs, including Yorkshire and Warwickshire, but chose to remain with the club that gave him his opportunity having plucked him from minor counties cricket. He made a fine impression over the winter as part of the England Performance Programme and could, given some luck and another fine season, start to challenge for an international place.
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Captain Andrew Gale
Coach Jason Gillespie
In Alex Lees, James Wainman, Callum Geldart, Alex Lilley, Dan Hodgson
Out David Wainwright (Derbyshire), Ben Sanderson (released), Lee Hodgson (released)
Overseas players Phil Jacques (applying for UK status)
Last year 8th in CC Div 1 (relegated); 6th in FLt20 North Group; 6th in CB40 Group A
Jason Gillespie has already brought a new sense of optimism and purpose to a young Yorkshire squad still stung by an unexpected relegation from Division One of the Championship. A coaching clear-out was long overdue and with Martyn Moxon, the director of cricket, shifting his emphasis to a broader role, Gillespie will be left to plot the immediate promotion that is expected. Yorkshire have already won a pre-season tournament in Barbados, collecting an unusual trophy, depicting a fish out of water, that might have been designed to encapsulate their troubles last summer. Improvement in one-day cricket is overdue.
One to watch
Ajmal Shahzad had a dispiriting 2011. He was troubled for much of the season with a damaged ankle that required surgery in October and lost much of his bowling threat as a result. He is one of county cricket's biggest triers so to be regarded one of those condemned for "unacceptable" performances by his chairman, Colin Graves, as Yorkshire were relegated, cut deep. A fit and firing Shahzad would go a long way to strengthening Yorkshire's seam-bowling resources.
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