County Championship Division One preview
Last season Warwickshire batted their way to the title, but were worthy champions, and can't be blamed for taking advantage of a system that rewards draws with significant points. On the eve of the new Championship season Andrew McGlashan runs the rule over the teams competing for the 2005 title. Will Warwickshire retain their crown, and how will the newly promoted sides fare?
Title Odds 10/1
Overseas Players Simon Katich, Shane Warne
In Richard Logan, Sean Ervine, David Griffiths, Jono McLean, Kevin Pietersen
Out Will Kendall, James Hamblin
All the talk during the winter has been about the strength of the squad assembled at the Rose Bowl, but slowly that is being eroded through international call-ups. Simon Katich and Shane Warne will be around until June and July respectively, and after pinning so much on Kevin Pietersen he may only have a fleeting role before being included in the England set-up. But Warne has instilled a fighting spirit, his influence can be felt even when he is not on the field, and some of the youngsters are starting to show a hardened edge. Sean Ervine will hope for more success than he found during his time at Western Australia.
One to watch Chris Tremlett - time to push hard for an England place
Title Odds 25/1
Overseas Players Matthew Elliott, Michael Kasprowicz
In None Out Adrian Dale, Michael Lewis
Robert Croft is flourishing with his cricketing life after England and has instilled a great team spirit at Sophia Gardens. The county have resisted the temptation to buy in extra foreign players and, instead, have put their efforts into bringing through their young cricketers. This worthy policy worked for their promotion last season but they may prove short on experience in the top flight. Matthew Maynard's runs will be missed when he is away with England but Michael Powell continues to impress and Elliott should again fill his boots. They will struggle to bowl sides out, however, when Kasprowicz and Simon Jones leave for the Ashes.
One to watch Ian Thomas - fierce striker of a ball and may get an extended run when Maynard departs to coach England.
Title Odds 18/1
Overseas Player Upul Chandana
In Kadeer Ali, Steve Kirby, Carl Greenidge
Out Mike Hussey, Alastair Bressington, Jack Russell, Mike Smith
It is difficult to see beyond a similar struggle to 2004, when Gloucestershire only secured their survival in the last round of championship matches. Despite the arrival of Steve Kirby and the presence of Jon Lewis, the bowling is thin, and Bristol pitches are flat, so expect plenty of toil. Apart from Craig Spearman, it is also hard to see where the big hundreds will come from. But with their never-say-die approach they will keep fighting and won't roll over easily.
One to watch Stephen Adshead - is making a good first of filling the void left by Jack Russell
Title Odds 11/2
Overseas Player Andrew Hall
In Simon Cook, Darren Stevens, Martin van Jaarsveld
Out Ed Smith, Alex Loudon, Ben Trott
The arrival of Darren Stevens and Martin van Jaarsveld should compensate for the loss of Ed Smith, and for Stevens, especially, it is a chance to start afresh and score the runs that his talent suggests he should. A fully-fit Martin Saggers is vital if they are to maintain a challenge for the title and Andrew Hall will help with the bowling burden, but they need some of the youngsters to stand up and take some of the pressure. If Patel can stay fit he is still a highly effective spinner, and don't rule out a similar run-filled championship charge as patented by Warwickshire in 2004.
One to watch David Stiff - has good pace, if he can harness some control, he will be a handful
Title Odds 9/1
Overseas Players Scott Styris, Nantie Hayward
In Ed Smith, Alan Richardson
Out Simon Cook, Tim Bloomfield, Ben Duncan, Sven Koenig, Mali Richards, Tom Savill
Gone are the days when Middlesex would spin their way to the championship with Tufnell, Edmonds and Emburey, but a tilt may not be far away this year, as this young squad are developing into a side that is ready to challenge for honours again. Ben Hutton has an excellent cricket brain, and is emerging from the shadows of his more famous namesakes, to make a mark for himself. It is time Ed Joyce filled his boots, and a limited bowling attack will need runs to play with. But Nantie Hayward can be explosive and Chad Keegan can assume the Angus Fraser role.
One to watch James Dalrymple - has the potential to turn a game with bat and ball.
Title Odds 7/1
Overseas Players Stephen Fleming, David Hussey
In Graeme Swann
Out Bilal Shafayat, Kevin Pietersen, Richard Logan, David Lucas
The ultimate yo-yo team in recent seasons, Nottinghamshire have made some astute signings over the winter. Stephen Fleming will bring some innovative captaincy, if he is not too mentally scarred from his Australian mauling, and Graeme Swann will add depth to the batting and bowling. The seam bowling is a concern, and a replacement for the injured Charlie Shreck is still being sought, but a better team spirit should ensue now that Pietersen has moved to pastures new. If Chris Read can pass 1000 runs, he will keep his name in with the selectors and Nottinghamshire could be the promoted side to make a challenge in 2005.
One to watch Paul McMahon - promising offspinner who could form a partnership with Swann once his university commitments are complete
Overseas Players Azhar Mahmood, Harbhajan Singh
In Mohammad Akram, Jade Dernbach
Out Saqlain Mushtaq, Alex Tudor, Nadeem Shahid, Adam Hollioake
There has been rebuilding on and off the pitch at The Oval and after struggling in 2004, Surrey will be keen to re-establish themselves as the powerhouse of county cricket. They have finally lost patience with Alex Tudor, but the signing of the Pakistani paceman, Mohammed Akram, could prove astute, as he has plenty of stamina for those long spells. Harbhajan Singh, doosra and all, will fill the void left by Saqlain so expect some turners at The Oval as the season progress. There should be plenty of runs to play with and the availability of Mark Butcher (possibly for the entire summer) and Graham Thorpe (until the Test matches start) will be a bonus.
One to watch Mohammed Akram - will enjoy the extra bounce at The Oval.
Title Odds 6/1
Overseas Players Mushtaq Ahmed, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan
In Chris Nash, Neil Turk
Out Mohammad Akram, Tony Cottey, Kevin Innes, Jason Voros
The 2003 champions have a well-balanced squad and should do better than last season's fifth-place finish - which was the result of a slow start. Mushtaq Ahmed is still a handful, and Naved-ul-Hasan could prove a clever addition to the squad. Matt Prior has suddenly rocketed into the England reckoning, and could be lost for the NatWest Series, but Tim Ambrose is another exciting, young, wicketkeeper/batsman. Expect Chris Adams' side to be one of the front-runners for the pennant.
One to watch Luke Wright - will have benefited from time at the National Academy and a permanent first-team spot is up for grabs
Title Odds 11/4
Overseas Player Heath Streak
In Adam Shantry, Alex Loudon, Dewald Pretorius, James Anyon
Out Dominic Ostler, Alan Richardson, Sandy Allen, Ian Clifford, Jamie Spires, Huw Jones, Graham Wagg, Stephen Taylor
Batting strength won the title for Warwickshire last season, and they have strengthened that department further with the signing of Alex Loudon, whose offspin will also prove useful when Ashley Giles departs with England. But the gamble of signing only one overseas player may backfire as the season progresses. Dewald Pretorius will have to find some consistency - and stay injury free - if they are to have the firepower to dismiss teams twice. However, they know how to win the title and won't be afraid to take the same route again.
One to watch Jonathon Trott - powerful, aggressive batsman who is aiming to qualify for England