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Feature

Yorkshire in the spotlight again on return to second tier

We take a look at the teams vying for promotion in our Division Two preview

Only promotion from Division Two will put smiles back on Yorkshire faces  •  Getty Images

Only promotion from Division Two will put smiles back on Yorkshire faces  •  Getty Images

Are Yorkshire capable of bouncing straight back up? Will Durham or Sussex finally get their act together? Ahead of the start of the LV= Insurance County Championship, we assess the chances of the eight teams in Division Two. You can read our Division One preview here.

Derbyshire

Last season: 5th in Division Two
Head of cricket: Mickey Arthur
Captain: Leus du Plooy
Overseas: Suranga Lakmal, Haider Ali
Ins: Matt Lamb (Warwickshire), Zak Chappell (Nottinghamshire), Mark Watt
Outs: Alex Hughes (retired), Dustin Melton (released)
Are there stirrings of a revival in the Peaks? Mickey Arthur is among the more ebullient characters on the county circuit - so full of enthusiasm for the game that this season he will combine coaching Derbyshire with acting as a consultant for the PCB - and his determination to deliver on the "four-year project" that he signed up for shows no sign of abating. Last season was, in Arthur's words, about changing perceptions - both inside the dressing room and out - and Derbyshire made clear strides, keeping promotion hopes alive into the final month of the season (as well as reaching a T20 Blast quarter-final).
While Derbyshire were much harder to beat, their clear shortcoming in Championship cricket was a cutting edge to finish games off. Wayne Madsen was the leading run-scorer in either division, Shan Masood romped past 1000 runs in just eight appearances, and Anuj Dal added 957 at 73.61 - but Derbyshire drew all six of their fixtures at the County Ground, and won only three out of 14 all told. Sam Conners enjoyed a banner campaign, reaching the 50-wicket mark for the first time - but the fact they cost 35.80 told of the hard yakka experienced by Derbyshire's attack.
One to watch: Getting promoted will require taking 20 wickets more often - and the arrival of Zak Chappell could be vital in realising Arthur's ambition. Chappell fits the template for this Derbyshire side of coming in with a point to prove, having trod water during an unfulfilling three-season stint with Nottinghamshire. Chappell, now 26, was seen as one of the brightest talents on the circuit when he emerged at Leicestershire and has already featured for the Lions. Alongside a fit-again Suranga Lakmal, he could provide the extra firepower Derbyshire need. Alan Gardner
Bet365: 12/1

Durham

Last season: 6th in Division Two
Director of cricket: Marcus North
Head coach: Ryan Campbell
Captain: Scott Borthwick
Overseas: David Bedingham, Matthew Kuhnemann
Ins: Ollie Robinson (Kent), Nathan Sowter (Middlesex), Brandon Glover (Northamptonshire), Bas de Leede
Outs: Chris Rushworth (Warwickshire), Sean Dickson (Somerset), Matt Salisbury (Leicestershire), Ned Eckersley (released)
Durham were fancied to be Nottinghamshire's closest challengers for promotion last season but their push never materialised and, despite stabilising the club through a "period of transition", James Franklin was let go after three years as head coach. His replacement, Ryan Campbell, won plaudits for his work with Netherlands and has not chosen the easy life for his next assignment, a year on from suffering a life-threatening heart attack.
The transitional feeling has been hard to escape at Chester-le-Street ever since Durham's abrupt demotion to the second tier in 2016. That will be heightened as they begin a Championship campaign without the services of their leading first-class wicket-taker, Chris Rushworth, for the first time since 2009. Rushworth is 37 this summer but, having asked to be released for "personal reasons", will move up to Division One with Warwickshire. The emergence of Matthew Potts - 58 wickets 17.87 in 2022 - might help ease the disquiet, though his availability is likely to be impacted by England demands.
Durham have also lost the services of their second-leading run-scorer, Sean Dickson, who opted to move back to the south of the country with Somerset, but Alex Lees will have increased availability after being discarded by England and Dutch allrounder Bas de Leede could prove a shrewd signing.
One to watch: Talented wicketkeeper-batter Ollie Robinson arrives looking to burnish his reputation in all formats after being pigeonholed as a red-ball player at Kent. Robinson pinned down a spot in the Championship side as a 20-year-old and has four first-class centuries to his name, but found his path blocked in limited-overs cricket by the presence of Sam Billings and Jordan Cox. A loan spell at Durham for the Blast was followed a permanent move over the winter - in between which Robinson smoked 206 not out - Kent's highest List A score - in the Royal London Cup. AG
Bet365: 9/1

Glamorgan

Last season: 3rd in Division Two
Head coach: Matthew Maynard
Captain: David Lloyd
Overseas: Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser
Ins: Harry Podmore (Kent), Zain-ul-Hassan (unattached)
Outs: Michael Hogan (Kent), Lukas Carey, Joe Cooke, Tom Cullen, Tegid Phillips, Ruaidhri Smith, James Weighell (released)
Glamorgan perhaps surprised themselves in 2022. But for a 10-wicket loss to Middlesex in the third-last match of the season, it could have been them rather than the north Londoners preparing for life in Division One. The acquisition of Sam Northeast was inspired as he led the line with 1189 runs, the headline innings being a spectacular 410 not out in the victory over Leicestershire. But healthy contributions from established batters like David Lloyd (899), Chris Cooke (840) and particularly Colin Ingram, who managed 596 from just five appearances, gave the batting a more settled feel which they will look to carry forward.
The difference this time around is the overseas help. With Australia in the World Test Championship final before the Ashes, Marnus Labuschagne and Michael Neser have limited availability and will only be around from Glamorgan's second match against Durham at Sophia Gardens. With the loss of club legend Michael Hogan to Kent, Harry Podmore - who made the move the other way - needs to hit the ground running, while the experienced James Harris must shoulder more responsibility after a disappointing 2022 by his standards, with 31 wickets at 38.09. The club could also do with repeating last summer's trick of bringing in a player of Shubman Gill's quality for the second half of the season if they are to push for promotion this time around. If local lads Kiran Carlson and Andrew Salter step up, too, the club could challenge for promotion once more.
One to watch: The last time Dan Douthwaite featured in a first-class match was way back in September 2021. Now, in part because of the loss of Hogan, the allrounder will have to go into this season's County Championship from a standing start. It might help that he probably won't start the summer, but it has been an encouraging pre-season for the 26-year-old. He had a quietly impressive tour of Zimbabwe, returning home to take a five-wicket haul against alma mater Cardiff UCCE - his first in Glamorgan whites. Currently the only Glamorgan player in the men's Hundred after being picked up for £40,000 by Welsh Fire, Douthwaite could stand up for his county in more ways than one. Vithushan Ehantharajah
Bet365: 5/1

Gloucestershire

Last season: 10th in Division One
Head coach: Dale Benkenstein
Captain: Graeme van Buuren
Overseas: Zafar Gohar, Marcus Harris
Ins: Marchant de Lange (Somerset)
Outs: Ryan Higgins (Middlesex), Benny Howell (Hampshire), Ian Cockbain (released)
Gloucestershire suffered a bruising return to top-flight cricket, losing eight and drawing four of their first 12 games to be cast adrift at the bottom of Division One long before the relegation battle got interesting (although they played their part in making it so, beating Warwickshire and Yorkshire in the final two rounds as the former leapfrogged the latter on the last day of the season).
They suffered some misfortune, with overseas signing Naseem Shah picking up a shoulder injury on his Championship debut. David Payne, the attack leader who won a maiden England cap on the tour of the Netherlands in June, was limited to six first-class matches and 17 wickets, while Ryan Higgins, the talisman from their 2019 promotion campaign, averaged 36.85 with the ball. Higgins, at least, will get the chance to test himself again in Division One straight away, having opted for a move back to Middlesex at the end of the summer.
Both Marcus Harris and Zafar Gohar, who initially signed on a pay-as-you-play deal but ended up as Gloucestershire's leading wicket-taker, will be back in Bristol after successful campaigns, and with veteran quick Marchant de Lange adding some beef to the attack, the plan will be to bounce straight back up.
One to watch: Tom Price, a tousle-haired 23-year-old allrounder, had only played seven first-class matches when he came into the Gloucestershire XI midway through last season, but he quickly set about making himself undroppable. He claimed a maiden five-for in his first outing, then produced astonishing figures of 8 for 27 against Warwickshire to help set up the team's first win in the penultimate round; with 32 wickets at 20.09 from eight appearances all told, he topped the Gloucestershire averages. Has a first-class best of 71 with the bat, too. AG
Bet365: 8/1

Leicestershire

Last season: 8th in Division Two
Head coach: Paul Nixon
Captain: Lewis Hill
Overseas: Ajinkya Rahane, Wiaan Mulder, Peter Handscomb
Ins: Sol Budinger (Notts), Matt Salisbury (Durham)
Outs: Ben Mike (Yorkshire), Hassan Azad, Sam Bates, Nat Bowley, Alex Evans, Gavin Griffiths, Abi Sakande (all released)
It was another rock-bottom season in 2022 for Leicestershire, their eighth wooden spoon in 14 summers and the fourth time in the last ten that they had failed to register a single victory. And though that precipitated a predictable churn of players - with seven squad members moving on, including the influential Ben Mike to Yorkshire, as well a change of captain following Callum Parkinson's contract rejection - there are just a few reasons for optimism at Grace Road this season.
The signing of Ajinkya Rahane is one. He'll join up with the squad after the IPL, and at the age of 34 with his India Test days seemingly behind him, he could be just the sort of hardened campaigner required to shore up a batting line-up that passed 300 on just six occasions in 27 attempts in 2022. James Taylor, the ex-Leicestershire and England batter who was until recently on the national selection panel, is back as batting coach to further stiffen up that department. But the biggest bonus is surely the flourishing of Rehan Ahmed after his breakthrough winter with England across formats. This time last year, he hadn't yet made the first of his three Championship appearances. Now, he's indisputably the county's biggest drawcard.
One to watch: Rehan Ahmed's most recent appearance for Leicestershire, against Derbyshire in September, produced his maiden five-wicket haul as well as a hard-hitting maiden century from No. 5, 122 from 113 balls all told. And it is this string to his bow that will guarantee Rehan's presence in Leicestershire's line-up even if the early-season conditions aren't entirely conducive to his legspin. "He's in our team, 100 percent, absolutely," Paul Nixon, the head coach, confirmed on the county's media day. "People haven't seen his real talent with the bat yet. He is going to surprise everyone. I genuinely think in three years' time he could be a number four or five for England in any format." Andrew Miller
Bet365: 20/1

Sussex

Last season: 7th in Division Two
Head coach: Paul Farbrace
Captain: Cheteshwar Pujara
Overseas: Pujara, Nathan McAndrew, Steven Smith
Ins: Tom Alsop (Hampshire)
Outs: Luke Wright (retired)
In 2021, Sussex used 26 players and finished bottom of Division Three (in the one-off conference structure). They started the following summer amid some optimism about the potential of a young squad… and arguably had it even worse. By the end of 2022, they had picked 29 different players to feature in the Championship and won just a single first-class match for the third season running - that, coupled with an off-field issue concerning young spinner Jack Carson, led to Ian Salisbury departing after two years in charge of the red-ball side and ushered in the end of twin head coaches at Hove, James Kirtley dropping back to the ranks after the arrival of Paul Farbrace.
Having spent four seasons as sport director at Warwickshire, Farbrace has decided to get his hands dirty again - and he has already signalled his expectations by challenging Sussex to push for a return to Division One for the first time since 2015. Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored runs by the ton - 1094 at 109.00, including three double-centuries - takes on the captaincy on his return, allowing Tom Haines to focus on pushing his case as England's next opener, while the availability of Ollie Robinson for the start of the season should lift an otherwise callow attack. The kids must do more than all right if promotion is to be secured - but the bookies are already on board.
One to watch: Haines won selection for England Lions over the winter but he is not the only Sussex opener receiving good notices. Ali Orr, who turns 22 on the opening day of the season, has less than two full campaigns behind him but currently averages 44.30 in first-class cricket. He was the only Sussex batter other than Pujara to pass 1000 runs in 2022, and finished by blasting 198 off 174 balls against Glamorgan - having also made Sussex's highest List A score (206 off 161) in the Royal London Cup. Look out for more "Shock and" Orr this summer. AG
Bet365: 9/2

Worcestershire

Last season: 4th in Division Two
Head coach: Alan Richardson
Captain: Brett D'Oliveira
Overseas: Azhar Ali
Ins: Adam Hose (Warwickshire), Matthew Waite (Yorkshire)
Outs: Moeen Ali, Ed Barnard (both Warwickshire), Tom Fell, Josh Dell, Jacques Banton (all released)
Worcestershire had some big run-scorers last season with two players posting double-centuries in overseas retention Azhar Ali and Jake Libby, plus five more centurions but consistency and their record of just four wins set them adrift of the top three. They have retained all bar Ed Barnard, their leading batter of 2022, but it was with Ed Pollock that they saw some encouraging signs with a match-winning knock against Middlesex as he played 13 of the 14 matches after limited opportunities at Warwickshire.
Seamers Dillon Pennington and Joe Leach led Worcestershire's efforts with the ball and may be required to do so again with the addition of allrounder Matthew Waite, who struggled for a regular place at Yorkshire but impressed on loan at New Road last season with six wickets against Leicestershire.
One to watch: Adam Hose's move form Warwickshire was motivated by the desire to breathe new life into his red-ball career after his T20 credentials went on show in the Vitality Blast and a maiden BBL gig with Adelaide Strikers. He hasn't played a first-class match in more than three years making this an intriguing phase if he can convince Worcestershire to give him a chance, as they did with Pollock last season. Valkerie Baynes
Bet365: 9/1

Yorkshire

Last season: 9th in Division One
Director of cricket: Darren Gough
Head coach: Ottis Gibson
Captain: Shan Masood
Overseas: Shan Masood, Neil Wagner, Shai Hope
Ins: Ben Mike (Leicestershire), Matt Milnes (Kent), Jafer Chohan (unattached)
Outs: Tom Kohler-Cadmore (Somerset), Tom Loten (Notts), Matthew Waite (Worcs), David Willey (Northants), Steven Patterson (retired), Gary Ballance, Harry Sullivan, Josh Sullivan (all released)
In the end, it was arguably a mercy killing. Yorkshire's last-gasp relegation in 2022 at least spared the club (and the wider game) the uncertainty that would surely have accompanied their survival, given the probability of sanctions in the wake of the racism crisis that had been such a key contributor to their downward spiral. Those could yet still come to pass after the club accepted four charges of bringing the game into disrepute, but at least they have been able to prepare for the new season from a solid bottom-tier base.
A wholesale changing of the guard has taken place over the winter, with long-term captain Steven Patterson retiring after being denied a new contract, and Gary Ballance committing his own future to Zimbabwe after his central role in the racism case. Tom Kohler-Cadmore and David Willey complete a clearing-out of disillusioned senior figures, but in real terms, the club's talent drain may not end there. Harry Brook is unlikely to play a single Championship fixture given his breakthrough winter across formats for England, while Dawid Malan is also eager to manage his availability with the carrot of the 50-over World Cup later this year. Given their ECB incremental contract status, both men remain firmly on Yorkshire's books. For a club that faced bankruptcy over the winter, it's a sub-optimal scenario.
With uncertainty around the involvement of New Zealand's Neil Wagner after he tore a hamstring on Test duty, and fellow newcomer Matt Milnes still working his way back from a stress fracture, there's likely to be a lot on the plate for Shan Masood, a potentially inspired signing as captain following his stellar showing at Derbyshire last season - that is when he arrives from Pakistan duty, with Shai Hope signed as short-term cover and Jonny Tattersall set to lead the side for the first month of the season.
One to watch: Even if all else fails for Yorkshire, there's still the prospect of Jonny Bairstow defying the doubters all over again and putting together an unanswerable run of pre-Ashes form. Bairstow has hardly held a bat in anger since his freakish golfing injury at the height of last summer's Bazball antics, and recently pulled out of his IPL deal with Punjab Kings. There's still no knowing whether he can recover sufficient fitness to challenge for his England spot, let alone find that same sweet spot of form, but he is eyeing up a comeback at the start of May, maybe even with the wicketkeeper's gloves to heighten his Test claims. And generally speaking, when anyone suggests a challenge is beyond even Bairstow's capabilities, that's when he truly steps up. AM
Bet365: 6/4