County previews April 6, 2016

Championship Bell could ring for Warwickshire

Ian Bell's appetite has been sharpened by the Warwickshire captaincy © Getty Images

Director of cricket Dougie Brown

Captain Ian Bell

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 5th Div 1; NatWest Blast: Semi-finals; Royal London Cup: 6th Group B

In: Alex Mellor (Staffordshire)

Out: Tom Milnes (Derbyshire), Tom Lewis, Pete McKay (both released)

Overseas: Jeetan Patel (all formats).

2015 in a nutshell

Disappointing by their standards. Entering August with hopes just about alive in all formats, they fell away sharply in the closing weeks looking tired, dispirited and grumpy by the season's end. They failed to recover from the disappointment of a poor showing on T20 Finals Day and, with dressing room unrest simmering, Ian Bell replaced Varun Chopra as captain.

2016 prospects

Good. With none of their top players currently required by England, Warwickshire go into the season with a strong-looking squad that should be able to sustain their recent T20 form - they have made Finals Day for the last two years - and challenge for the Championship title. The presence of several allrounders - Chris Woakes, Rikki Clarke, Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel - gives the batting line-up daunting depth and, with a variety of seam options, the likes of Boyd Rankin and Chris Wright can be rotated to ensure they remain fresh and effective. Expectation is always an issue at Edgbaston and the dressing room wasn't especially happy in 2015. But, with Ian Bell very much the man in charge now, confidence appears justified.

Key player

Ian Bell has embraced the captaincy with the energy and enthusiasm of a man who has waited a lifetime for the opportunity. Whatever his perceived diffidence at England level, his status at Edgbaston is gargantuan and may well be demonstrated by some bold, instinctive leadership. Refreshed from a first winter at home in many years, he is hungry for runs not only to drive Warwickshire forward but win back a Test place.

Bright young thing

Sam Hain has already broken Ian Bell's Warwickshire records to become the youngest man to score a first-class century and double-century for the club. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jonathan Trott at the crease - including several of the mannerisms - he is already established in the Championship side and likely to win more white-ball opportunities this year. Aged 20, he qualifies for England in September.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

Contenders in all formats, but especially the Championship. A strong, well-balanced seam attack, excellent overseas spinner and long batting line-up bolstered by several allrounders, should consider anything outside the top three a disappointment. Their challenge appears less likely to be compromised by England calls than their rivals though keeping a dressing room full of strong characters happy may prove key.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 6/1; NatWest Blast 10/1; Royal London Cup 11/1

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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