Yorkshire, Sussex and Middlesex among congested promotion pack

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

Toby Roland-Jones leads his players out for the pre-season photo shoot, Lord's, April 3, 2024

Toby Roland-Jones will be looking to lead a Middlesex promotion push  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Can Yorkshire find redemption on the field? Will Sussex end their long wait for promotion or Northamptonshire bounce straight back up? Ahead of the start of the Vitality County Championship, we assess the chances of the eight teams in Division Two. You can read our Division One preview here.


Last season: 6th in Division Two
Head coach: Mickey Arthur
Captains: David Lloyd
Overseas: Blair Tickner
Ins: David Lloyd (Glamorgan), Pat Brown (Worcestershire), Aneurin Donald (Hampshire), Samit Patel (Nottinghamshire), Ross Whiteley (Hampshire), Jack Morley (Lancashire, loan)
Outs: Leus du Plooy (Middlesex), George Scrimshaw (Northamptonshire), Billy Godleman, Mark Watt, Tom Wood, Archie Harrison (all released), Mattie McKiernan (retired)
Derbyshire went winless across 14 games in Division Two last summer and were only saved the ignominy of finishing second-bottom by Yorkshire's 48-point deduction. Factor in the departures of talisman Leus Du Plooy and England-capped quick George Scrimshaw, and things look a little bleak. Du Plooy's loss will be particularly hard to overcome, having scored 3482 first-class runs for the county since joining in 2019.
And yet, the winter's acquisitions bring a freshness to the Incora County Ground. David Lloyd arrives to assume captaincy duties for the County Championship, while Samit Patel adds untold experience and class as white-ball skipper. Aneurin Donald and Pat Brown, 27 and 25 respectively, have something to prove after bright starts to their careers elsewhere were hampered by injuries. A season-long loan for left-arm twirler Jack Morley adds variety - and has Derbyshire doing their bit for the spin backlog - while the return of Ross Whiteley is a nod to former glory days. Whiteley struck the winning runs - a six - to seal the Division Two championship in 2012.
It remains to be seen how well (and quickly) they will integrate. But alongside established talents of Wayne Madsen, Anuj Dal, Luis Reece, Sam Conners, Alex Thomson and Zak Chappell, this looks a squad with far more about it. As such, the onus falls on Mickey Arthur to meld the group into the sum of its parts. Now solely focused on Derbyshire after being relieved of his duties with Pakistan, Arthur's third season will have to be his most productive yet.
One to watch: Donald is starting again after an injury-hit five years at Hampshire. A loan spell at Derbyshire comprising just two T20 Blast appearances last season was enough time for Arthur to see the drive and talents of a cricketer looking to make up for lost time. It is eight years since Donald shot to prominence at Glamorgan with a record-equalling 123-ball double-century. You'll never guess who that was against… Vithushan Ehantharajah
Bet365: 11/1


Last season: 5th in Division Two
Director of cricket: Mark Wallace
Head coach: Grant Bradburn
Captain: Sam Northeast
Overseas: Marnus Labuschagne, Colin Ingram, Mir Hamza
Ins: Mason Crane (Hampshire, loan)
Outs: David Lloyd (Derbyshire), Andrew Salter (retired), Callum Taylor (released)
Glamorgan drew 12 of their 14 Championship matches last year to finish mid-table in Division Two. They have not played in the top flight since 2005 and are conscious that merely avoiding defeats will not be sufficient if they are to avoid a two-decade absence from Division One next year.
No bowler managed 40 Championship wickets last summer and Michael Neser, the Australian allrounder, will not return this year, preferring a short stint at Hampshire after his wife gave birth to twins. "We're going to have to risk losing at times to win more games," Sam Northeast, who will captain in the Championship following Lloyd's departure to Derbyshire, told the BBC. "We're going to have to be a bit smarter with the way we want to get 20 wickets and at home, we're going to have to be more experimental in the pitches."
Grant Bradburn has replaced Matt Maynard as coach and has brought Pakistan's Mir Hamza in for the first two months of the season. Marnus Labuschagne will also return to Wales and should be available for the majority of the summer, while Colin Ingram will be on standby as the back-up overseas player in the Championship.
One to watch: Mason Crane has been a case study in English cricket's love-hate relationship with legspin: thrown in at the deep end with a Test debut in 2018, then left treading water ever since. He has only played five first-class games in the last two years but Hampshire have loaned him out to Glamorgan for the whole summer, where he should play regularly. Matt Roller
Bet365: 6/1


Last season: 8th in Division Two
Head coach: Mark Alleyne
Captain: Graeme van Buuren
Overseas: Cameron Bancroft, Zafar Gohar, Beau Webster
Outs: Tom Lace, Will Naish, Paul van Meekeren, Jared Warner (all released)
The only way is up after Gloucestershire's winless Championship season culminated in the club's first wooden spoon since 2012. There has been a clearout behind the scenes, with coach Dale Benkenstein and his assistant Will Porterfield joining Lancashire and bowling coach Robbie Joseph moving to Kent. Mark Alleyne is back as Benkenstein's replacement, having previously coached the club from 2004-7.
They have strengthened their batting line-up with the addition of Cameron Bancroft, who missed Western Australia's recent Sheffield Shield victory with a concussion but is expected to be available from the start of the season. They will again rely heavily on the Price brothers, Tom and Ollie; Ollie made three hundreds last year, and batted at No. 3 for the Lions in two of their three recent unofficial Tests against India A.
The stated aim is promotion, which Alleyne has described as "a realistic goal". It is difficult to see how Gloucestershire will bowl teams out on a regular basis. Zafar Gohar, the Pakistani allrounder, is back to lead their spin attack, but Matt Taylor was their leading wicket-taker among seamers last season with just 20.
One to watch: James Bracey is the forgotten man of English cricket, drafted into the Test side in the absence of more established wicketkeepers in 2021, then unceremoniously discarded after eight runs in three innings. At 26, he is young enough to come again and despite a poor Championship season with the bat, he showed signs of a revival during an unbeaten 224 against Somerset in a 50-over game. MR
Bet365: 16/1


Last season: 4th in Division Two
Director of cricket: Claude Henderson
Head coach: Alfonso Thomas
Captain: Lewis Hill
Overseas: Wiaan Mulder, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris (April-May)
Ins: Ben Mike (Yorkshire), Liam Trevaskis (Durham), Ben Cox (Worcestershire), Scott Currie (Hampshire, loan)
Outs: Callum Parkinson (Durham) Colin Ackermann (Durham), Will Davis, Ed Barnes, Nick Welch, Arron Lilley, Scott Steel, Michael Finan (all released)
Leicestershire provided the feelgood story of the 2023 season, with a sustained and surprising promotion push that dovetailed gloriously with their first List A silverware in 38 years - and at a time when 50-over cricket has been shunted to the margins of relevance, there was arguably no team could have valued that Metro Bank Cup win more than the ECB's most maligned county, the winners of eight wooden spoons in 14 Championship campaigns. What, though, can Leicestershire make of their taste for that winning feeling? After taking over from Paul Nixon last summer, Alfonso Thomas - aided by his assistant James Taylor - has undertaken quite the clear-out over the winter, with eight players making way but Peter Handscomb, crucially, committing to a second season after his vital contributions across formats. Ben Mike is back after his abortive switch to Yorkshire, and the sense that Grace Road is suddenly in vogue was exacerbated when Chris Wright, the veteran seamer, reneged on his move to Sussex.
One to watch: A first-class record of nine wickets at 62.77 isn't much to write home about, but you need only to look at Josh Hull's physical attributes to know that Leicestershire are in possession of a potential world-beater. Aged just 19, his 6'8" left-arm seamers played a pivotal role in the Metro Bank Cup win, inswinging at pace from a steepling release point. His fellow teenager Rehan Ahmed has shown how quickly players with such unique attributes can be fast-tracked in the modern era. Andrew Miller
Bet365: 10/1


Last season: 9th in Division One
Head of performance: Alan Coleman
Head coach: Richard Johnson
Captain: Toby Roland-Jones
Overseas: Ins: Leus du Plooy (Derbyshire), Henry Brookes (Warwickshire)
Outs: Tim Murtagh (retired), John Simpson (Sussex)
It was misery for Middlesex wherever you looked in 2023. On the field, they lost each of their top four for ducks in their first innings of the season against Essex and scarcely regained their poise in slipping towards relegation. Off the field, the club's parlous finances took centre stage (heightened by an ugly stand-off with their former CEO), the upshot of which is the outsourcing of some home Blast fixtures to Chelmsford, and the notable absence of any overseas signings.
At least in Leus du Plooy they've landed themselves a proven and prolific run-scorer - his experiences at Derbyshire will have prepared him well for the challenge that awaits - while Henry Brookes' arrival from Warwickshire means that Tim Murtagh's retirement won't leave such a large a hole in the seam-bowling ranks. John Simpson's surprise departure for Sussex won't be so easily covered off, however. Jack Davies has big gloves to fill behind the stumps.
One to watch: Josh De Caires went from a solitary first-class wicket in 2022 to a prolific haul of 27 at 25.59 last summer, including two startling displays against Hampshire and Essex - 7 for 144 in the former and 8 for 106 in the latter. As the son of Mike Atherton, the fact that it was his chip-off-the-block batting that earned him initial recognition augurs well for his hopes of developing further this summer. AM
Bet365: 11/2


Last season: 10th in Division One
Head coach: John Sadler
Captain: Luke Procter
Overseas: Karun Nair, Prithvi Shaw, Chris Tremain
Ins: George Bartlett (Somerset), George Scrimshaw (Derbyshire)
Outs: Tom Taylor, Josh Cobb (both Worcestershire), Gareth Berg, Simon Kerrigan, Graeme White (all retired), Hasan Azad, Harry Gouldstone (both released)
Northamptonshire's shoestring operation defied gravity to survive a season in the top flight for the first time in 2022 but they could not repeat the trick. A brittle batting order managed just one bonus point from their first nine games, and saw Northants bowled out for scores of 63, 72 and 56 - although they did manage to win a dogfight against fellow strugglers Kent in the second round, the writing was on the wall by the halfway point of the campaign, when they had lost five times, four of them by an innings.
Their season was lifted by the arrivals of two India batters, both of whom will return this summer. Prithvi Shaw lit up the Metro Bank Cup in August with 244 off 153 balls; he could play a pivotal part in Northants' promotion push when he returns for the second half of the 2024. And Karun Nair's 150 at The Oval threatened to derail Surrey's title push in the penultimate round. Nair, unwanted at the IPL, will add fibre to the batting for the first block of seven games, while the signings of Georges Bartlett and Scrimshaw demonstrate ambition. An attack featuring Chris Tremain, Ben Sanderson and Jack White is one to be reckoned with, too.
One to watch: Alex Russell, a 21-year-old legspinner, broke into the Championship team last year, taking 6 for 175 against Kent in his second appearance. Those were his only wickets in three outings - but, remarkably, he went to Zimbabwe over the winter and finished as the Logan Cup's leading wicket-taker. Could be a real find. Alan Gardner
Bet365: 5/1


Last season: 3rd in Division Two
Director of cricket: Keith Greenfield
Head coach: Paul Farbrace
Captain: John Simpson
Overseas: Cheteshwar Pujara, Jayden Seales, Daniel Hughes, Nathan McAndrew, Jaydev Unadkat
Ins: Danny Lamb (Lancashire), John Simpson (Middlesex)
Outs: George Garton (Warwickshire), Ali Orr (Hampshire), Steven Finn, Jamie Atkins (both retired)
Any sense that things had got too cosy down at Hove was banished by Paul Farbrace's first year in charge. For the first time since 2019, Sussex won more than a single game - and they were still in the hunt for promotion until mid-September, when a fractious encounter with Leicestershire led to the club being docked points. They ultimately finished third, with Farbrace suggesting that another season in Division Two might not do them any harm as he attempted to build a squad equipped for the step up.
Letting homegrown talents Ali Orr and George Garton go was not the obvious next step, and certainly did not please the members. Ian Gould and Chris Adams resigned from the cricket committee, reportedly in protest. The departure of Rob Andrew after seven years as chief executive to take up a new role at the ECB added to the upheaval.
The playing squad at least looks settled for the new season. Experienced wicketkeeper John Simpson will take charge of the Championship side after joining from Middlesex, and Cheteshwar Pujara returns for a third stint - although a back complaint will keep him out of Friday's opener. With West Indies seamer Jayden Seales sharing the new ball alongside Ollie Robinson in the first block of games, Sussex will be looking to get an early jump on their rivals.
One to watch: James Coles became Sussex's youngest first-class debutant in 2020 and last season nailed down a spot in the first XI with 849 runs at 42.45, including three first-class hundreds. England Lions recognition followed and, while his bowling remains a work in progress, his presence in the top six allows Sussex to always play two spinners. AG
Bet365: 6/1


Last season: 7th in Division Two
Head coach: Ottis Gibson
Captain: Shan Masood
Overseas: Shan Masood
Ins: Dan Moriarty (Surrey)
Outs: Ben Mike (Leicestershire), Will Fraine, Jack Shutt (both released)
Will this be the season that Yorkshire finally emerge from the shadow cast by the racism scandal that engulfed the club in 2021? Relegated on the final day the following summer, their chances of an immediate promotion in 2023 were torpedoed by the 48-point penalty handed down by the ECB over their handling of revelations by Azeem Rafiq. It remains to be seen whether the return of Colin Graves as chair during the offseason - essentially to repeat the financial bailout he provided back 2002 - further hampers attempts to move on.
That doesn't mean expectations in the Broad Acres will be set any lower. Even before their sanction, Yorkshire's expected charge failed to materialise last year. Losing at home to Leicestershire in the opening round set the tone and it was not until June, and their sixth game, that they managed to record a win. Results did improve during the second half of the season, enabling them to avoid the ignominy of the wooden spoon, and head coach Ottis Gibson will demand continued improvement. The opening partnership of Adam Lyth and Finlay Bean was a rare bright spot while Ben Coad and Matt Fisher are bowlers with Division One pedigree.
The expected availability of Harry Brook and Joe Root in early season will help. And in Shan Masood, who also leads Pakistan's Test team, Yorkshire have a captain who knows a bit about impossible jobs.
One to watch: Powerfully built allrounder Matthew Revis first played for Yorkshire as a 17-year-old in 2019 but last year put together a complete season, missing only five games across formats. In red-ball cricket, he scored his first two hundreds while averaging 44.27 and also claiming a maiden five-for. AG
Bet365: 2/1