Lancashire, Yorkshire go head-to-head in pursuit of glory

We assess the chances of the teams in Group Three in our County Championship preview

Dane Vilas celebrates with the Division Two trophy, Lancashire v Middlesex, County Championship Division Two, Old Trafford, September 19, 2019

Dane Vilas will again lead Lancashire, Division Two champions in 2019  •  Getty Images

Who will prevail in the Roses contests? Can Kent continue their upward trajectory? We look at the chances of the teams in Group Three of the County Championship. You can also read our previews of Group One and Group Two.


Last season: 6th in Central Group
Director of cricket: Mark Wallace
Coach: Matt Maynard
Captain: Chris Cooke
Overseas players: Andy Balbirnie, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser
Ins: James Weighell (Durham)
Outs: Marchant de Lange (Somerset), Craig Meschede (retired), Connor Brown, Kieran Bull, Charlie Hemphrey, Owen Morgan, Graham Wagg (all released)
After narrowly missing out on promotion in 2019, Glamorgan struggled in the Bob Willis Trophy, finishing bottom of the pile without a win. Their chances of success this season will rely heavily on their two Queensland imports, Marnus Labuschagne and Michael Neser, who will arrive three or four games into the season following the conclusion of the Sheffield Shield: Labuschagne's 1114-run season in 2019 was the start of his rise to stardom, while the bustling Neser should be a perfect fit for early season conditions.
Andy Balbirnie will fill in for Labuschagne in the early rounds and looked in good touch against Somerset in pre-season, but Billy Root, captain Chris Cooke and the fit-again David Lloyd will have to do heavy lifting with the bat if they are to compete. Marchant de Lange's departure to Somerset is a significant blow, while Graham Wagg has also left the club: Timm van der Gugten and Michael Hogan remain potent forces, but Lukas Carey and Dan Douthwaite will have important roles with the ball. The promising left-arm spinner Prem Sisodiya should have a chance to impress at some stage.
One to watch: Callum Taylor, 22, is the son of a former Pontypool rugby union player - who gave him the middle name "Zinzan" - and made quite an impression in the BWT. In his first-ever first-class innings, he was on 27 off 46 balls when Glamorgan slipped to 135 for 9 against Northants, and proceeded to hammer 79 from his next 48 in a rollicking stand. He bowls serviceable offspin on top of his punchy middle-order batting, and should play a major role. Matt Roller
Bet365: 66-1


Last season: 2nd in South Group
Director of cricket: Paul Downton
Coach: Matt Walker
Captain: Sam Billings
Overseas players: Miguel Cummins (April-June), Heino Kuhn
Ins: Nathan Gilchrist (Somerset), Tawanda Muyeye
Outs: Sean Dickson (Durham), Calum Hagget, Ivan Thomas (both released), Adam Rouse (retired)
There's a feeling among the Kent hierarchy that they have built good depth in their squad and now is the time to start seeing the knock-on effects of competition from within for places. "It's exciting," says Matt Walker. "Of course it's what happens over the next six months that will really tell the whole story. It's very important that we have that challenge amongst the group. In my experienced that always produces the best cricket."
The additions of Harry Podmore and Matt Milnes in 2018 and 2019 respectively have bolstered the club's seam stocks alongside an evergreen and ever-reliable Darren Stevens, who is about to turn 45. But it is the recruitment of West Indies fast bowler Miguel Cummins that could prove a masterstroke and Kent will be keen to make best use of the man who took a five-for against them for Middlesex in the Bob Willis Trophy last year for the first eight Championship games they have him for.
Zak Crawley and Sam Billings will surely miss chunks of the season on England and IPL duty. Their absence should, in theory, be covered by the likes of new vice-captain Daniel Bell Drummond, who enjoyed a strong pre-season and will be captain when Billings is at the IPL, and Joe Denly, whose time with England last summer proved fruitless. Jack Leaning, who joined from Yorkshire last year, and youngster Jordan Cox have also proven themselves more than handy with the bat.
One to watch: Jordan Cox's 238 not out in an unbroken stand worth 423 with Leaning handed Kent an innings victory over Sussex last August and announced the then 19-year-old Cox as an exciting prospect. If he can kick on this season, it can only mean good things for Kent's quest for silverware. Valkerie Baynes
Bet365: 10-1


Last season (BWT): 3rd in South Group
Director of cricket: Paul Allott
Coach: Glen Chapple
Captain: Dane Vilas
Overseas: Dane Vilas, Jackson Bird
Ins: Luke Wells (Sussex), Jack Blatherwick (Nottinghamshire)
Outs: Brooke Guest (Derbyshire), Toby Lester, Stephen Parry (both released), Graham Onions (retired)
A decade has passed since Lancashire enjoyed Championship catharsis under the captain-coach combination of Glen Chapple and Peter Moores. Since that much-feted title, the club has arguably been better run off the field than on it: three times they have had to bounce back from Division One relegation - most recently, in 2019, when Dane Vilas led the team through an unbeaten promotion campaign in his first season in charge.
Chapple is now head coach, and in 2020 the BWT was all about blooding local talent. Teenage allrounder George Balderson played all five games, while five other players between 19 and 22 made promising debuts; Josh Bohannon and Danny Lamb, in the side for a few years, continued to make strides. And although Jos Buttler and Liam Livingstone will miss the first chunk of the season at the IPL, there is core group of established pedigree at Old Trafford - including Vilas, sometime England opener Keaton Jennings, wicketkeeper Alex Davies, former captain Steven Croft, workhorse seamer Tom Bailey and Australia international Jackson Bird (from round three) - to propel a strong Championship challenge. Not to mention Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood, young men champing at the bit after winters spent mulling non-selection by England.
James Anderson is set to miss the opening two rounds as England manage his workload and his availability could make the difference when it comes to pushing for top two - Anderson took 30 wickets at 9.36 in 2019, setting the club up for runaway success. Group Three contains four teams who competed in Division Two two years ago, and Lancashire play six of their first eight games against such opposition.
One to watch: After the departure of the long-serving Stephen Parry, Lancashire have not one but two greenhorn slow left-arm spinners coming through to replace him in Tom Hartley and Jack Morley. Hartley, 22, is the senior man, tall and slender and a feature of both the BWT and Blast sides last year; the pair memorably bowled Lancashire to victory on the final day against Derbyshire at Aigburth.Alan Gardner
Bet365: 9-1


Last season (BWT): 4th in Central Group
Coach: David Ripley
Captain: Adam Rossington
Overseas: Wayne Parnell
Ins: Tom Taylor (Leicestershire)
Outs: Brett Hutton (Nottinghamshire), Rob Newton, Blessing Muzarabani, Tom Sole (all released)
Whether Northants, likes Gloucestershire, will ever get to enjoy the fruits of their promotion to Division One in 2019, after long years stuck in the second tier, remains up for debate. But in what looks a relatively open group, they will once again be aiming to perform above expectations. The departure of Brett Hutton, who re-joined Nottinghamshire after three impressive seasons at Wantage Road, could weaken the attack at Adam Rossington's disposal, but Ben Sanderson remains a formidable force with the red ball in hand and Wayne Parnell may prove a shrewd overseas recruit - albeit he will miss the start of the season while in quarantine.
The Bob Willis Trophy allowed the introduction of some younger faces, with Charlie Thurston taking his chance to finish as Northants' leading run-scorer - 357 at 44.62 - and 20-year-old Emilio Gay emerging as a promising top-order option. Ben Curran and Ricardo Vasconcelos look set to start as the opening pair, with Alex Wakely, in his first full campaign since stepping down as captain during 2019, the senior man in a young batting line-up. Tom Taylor, an allrounder with England Lions potential, looks a good signing from Leicestershire, and Gareth Berg is still going strong at 40. The BWT also saw Simon Kerrigan make his comeback after a three-year career hiatus, and the one-cap England spinner could be another feel-good Northants story in the offing.
One to watch: Jack White, a 29-year-old seamer from Cumbria, made his first-class debut last summer and claimed an impressive 13 wickets at 20.00 from four games. Plucked from the club scene in the North West, he is looking to follow in the footsteps of Sanderson and Richard Gleeson as late-blooming talents who proved their worth at first-class level with Northamptonshire. AG
Bet365: 33-1


Last season: 6th in South Group
Director of cricket: Keith Greenfield
Coach: Ian Salisbury
Captain: Ben Brown
Overseas players: Travis Head (Australia - end of April onwards), Stiaan van Zyl (South Africa - full season)
Outs: Laurie Evans (Surrey), Danny Briggs (Warwickshire), Luke Wells (Lancashire), Harry Finch, Will Sheffield (both released)
Under new management with Ian Salisbury taking over from Jason Gillespie in the first-class and one-day formats (James Kirtley will be T20 coach), Sussex will be looking to overcome a disappointing couple of years, having narrowly missed out on promotion in 2018 then dropping to sixth in Division two in 2019.
There is a sense that the club is still building towards bigger things, highlighted by the hook for their membership drive: "A New Beginning". A maiden first-class five-for to left-arm seamer George Garton against Essex last year showed off his promise and he has enjoyed a good pre-season with 3 for 35 and an unbeaten 33 in a friendly against Surrey. Jack Carson, the 20-year-old Irish offspinner and teenage paceman Henry Crocombe were also among the wickets in that drawn match.
Both pre-season friendlies - Sussex also drew at Hampshire - had to be moved after a bug infestation damaged the outfield at Hove. As a result, their opening fixture against Lancashire has also been switched, to Old Trafford. Experienced captain Ben Brown scored heavily in pre-season, as did 22-year-old Tom Haines, who notched a century at Surrey and 72 against Hampshire.
One to watch: With a Test squad place beckoning, Ollie Robinson is focused on taking that next step. With proven wicket-taking ability, amassing 137 wickets across 2018 and 2019 plus another 14 at 12.50 in the Bob Willis Trophy, he'll also benefit from having spent months training with England's squads over the past year. VB
Bet365: 12-1


Last season: 1st, North Group
Director of Cricket: Martyn Moxon
Coach:Andrew Gale
Captain:Steve Patterson
Overseas players:Duanne Olivier, Mathew Pillans
Ins:Dom Bess (Somerset)
Outs: Ed Barnes (Leicestershire), Jared Warner (Gloucestershire), James Logan (released)
Yorkshire topped their group last season, only to be the group winner that missed out to Essex and Somerset for a place in the final. Their chief executive Mark Arthur consoled members at the Zoom annual general meeting by pronouncing that Yorkshire's squad was the strongest he had known in nearly a decade in the job.
That is tantamount to predicting a Championship win and to get that they initially have to finish in the top two of the opening group without Dawid Malan, who will miss eight matches because of an IPL deal. Joe Root's presence in the early games will be cheering, but of longer-term significance will be whether Gary Ballance can score heavily after missing 2020 with a stress-related illness. If not, expectations will fall to a large degree on Harry Brook.
The two overseas players are post-Brexit oddities: Duanne Olivier, a one-time Kolpak, carries hostility, but Mathew Pillans' presence as an overseas player now his ancestral visa is disqualified is a mere convenience. Dom Bess brings spin-bowling quality assuming he puts his India ups and downs behind him and he will aim to get the weight of runs once provided by Tim Bresnan. If three bowling allrounders - Jordan Thompson, Matthew Waite and Matthew Fisher - kick on then spearheads Ben Coad and David Willey should not be short of support.
One to watch: Jordan Thompson, a seam bowling allrounder, made a strong impression in the BWT, averaging 47 with the bat and 16 with the ball, and now has to try to carry such impressive figures forward as the Championship heads back towards normality. David Hopps
Bet365: 7-1