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Feature

Nottinghamshire head the promotion-chasing pack

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

Brett Hutton is mobbed after claiming the decisive wicket of Saqib Mahmood, Nottinghamshire vs Lancashire, County Championship, Division One, Trent Bridge, September 8, 2021

Nottinghamshire came close to winning the Championship last year but will be back in Division Two in 2022  •  Getty Images

Will Nottinghamshire stroll it? Can Durham or Sussex earn a return to the top tier? Ahead of the start of the County Championship this week, we cast an eye over the chances of the eight teams in Division Two. You can read our Division One preview here.

Derbyshire

Last season: 5th in Division Three
Head of cricket: Mickey Arthur
Captain: Billy Godleman
Overseas: Suranga Lakmal, Shan Masood, Dustin Melton
Ins: Alex Thomson (Warwickshire)
Outs: Matt Critchley (Essex), Fynn Hudson-Prentice (Sussex), Harvey Hosein (retired), Nils Priestley (released)
Perennially in the doldrums, Derbyshire confront the new season with fresh impetus after the arrival of Mickey Arthur, whose unmatched pedigree as an international coach - he has overseen operations with South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to varying degrees of success - should raise the bar in the east midlands. Arthur's contacts book has already come in handy, with Pakistan opener Shan Masood signing for the summer and Suranga Lakmal, the veteran Sri Lanka seamer, opting to retire from international competition in exchange for two-year contract as Derbyshire's attack leader.
Derbyshire only won one Championship fixture in 2021, and had to wait until the final round of the season to achieve that - although a nine-wicket victory at Hove did lift them above their opponents and away from bottom of the pile. The departures of Matt Critchley (Derbyshire's leading run-scorer) and Fynn Hudson-Prentice, as well as Harvey Hosein's enforced retirement, means a significant hit to the playing squad but there is a strong core to the batting, led by Billy Godleman and Wayne Madsen, and a clutch of young seamers who could provide strong support for Lakmal.
Arthur, by his own admission, wants "to win every game we play" and suggested that Championship success would mean being in the hunt for promotion - a feat Derbyshire last achieved on Madsen's watch a decade ago.
One to watch: Ben Aitchison, a 22-year-old seamer, played all but one of Derbyshire's Championship games in 2021, finishing as their leading wicket-taker with 34 at 23.29. Tall and able to hold a disciplined line and length, his immaculate figures of 6 for 28 from 16 overs against Durham might have helped set up a rare win had the game not been ruined by rain. Regrettably, he will miss the start of the season with a "spinal bone injury".
Diversity action: Almost 40% of the non-executive directors on Derbyshire's board are now either female or from BAME backgrounds. There has been an increase in support for women's cricket. The club also provides coaching in primary schools, as well as helping to distribute meals in deprived areas. Players and off-field staff have all attended tailored EDI training sessions by the club's HR & safeguarding director. Alan Gardner
Bet365: 14/1

Durham

Last season: 3rd in Division Two
Director of cricket: Marcus North
Head coach: James Franklin
Captain: Scott Borthwick
Overseas: Keegan Petersen, David Bedingham
Ins: George Drissell
Outs: Cameron Steel (Surrey), Paul van Meekeren (Gloucestershire), Stuart Poynter (released)
Durham's head of cricket, Marcus North, has overseen an impressive stabilising of the county's fortunes, which many observers feel can be hammered home with promotion this season in what would end a six-year exile since they were relegated by edict of the ECB as part of a financial bail-out. Whether North would be around to see it is not certain because he regularly appears on shortlists as the next ECB managing director.
If Notts are understandably short-priced favorites to win Division Two, Durham appear to be the next best bet. Their ambition is illustrated by the addition of a second overseas batter in in Keegan Petersen, whose stature increased when he led the run-making charts in South Africa's three-Test series against India earlier this year. They might even have the rare pleasure of Ben Stokes playing Championship cricket, though he will not be available for the early weeks as he awaits the results of a knee scan. Stokes has shunned the IPL this year, following his release by Rajasthan Royals, to concentrate on getting his game right for England's summer Test schedule and it will be intriguing if this signals a slight shift in the priorities of some England players as they are pulled in more directions that body and mind can survive. Stokes has not played a Championship innings since 2018 so Durham supporters have good reason to consider his impending return with a sense of wonder.
Spin bowling rarely figures at Durham, so the onus is on a traditionally strong seam attack to do its stuff. But the Chris Rushworth production line is 36 years old this summer and Brydon Carsen's cartilage injury while training with England Lions means he won't return until May. Those remaining should be able to pick up the slack, although a reassertion of Paul Coughlin's talents would also would be nicely timed.
One to watch: David Bedingham has British grandparents on both sides of his family, a UK passport, and has completed three of his five years to qualify for permanent residence and, with it, England qualification. Nobody looked more assured than Bedingham in the first half of last season and a first-class average of 49.18 suggests that around the time of his 30th birthday he could join the production line of South African-born middle-order batters to bolster homegrown talent.
Diversity action: Durham, along with Somerset, are one of two counties with no homegrown minority-ethnic player or coach. They are currently advertising for two independent new Board members (unpaid) to "broaden cricket's loyal base and make the game more representative and accessible". David Hopps
Bet365: 5/1

Glamorgan

Last season: 6th, Division Two
Director of Cricket: Mark Wallace
Coach: Matthew Maynard
Captain:David Lloyd
Overseas players: Colin Ingram, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser
Ins: Eddie Byrom (Somerset), James Harris (Middlesex), Sam Northeast (Hampshire)
Outs: Roman Walker (Leicestershire), Nick Selman (released)
By his own voracious standards, Marnus Labuschagne let things slip in Pakistan last month, on some of the friendliest batting surfaces in the world. Perhaps a return to the green, green grass of Cardiff will help to concentrate his mind? Certainly it's debatable whether any of his No.1-ranked achievements could have happened but for stint at Glamorgan in 2019, in which he racked up 1,114 runs in ten matches ahead of his concussion-substitute recall in that summer's Ashes.
Glamorgan's batting had its moments in 2021, particularly in the early-season conference phase of the Championship, although their eventual sixth-place finish in Division Two didn't entirely reflect the team's progress - that was better expressed by their Royal London Cup victory. But the signing of Sam Northeast is quite a coup, and provides another wise old head to balance a middle-order in which Kiran Carlson, with three centuries and a lively 88 in front of Sky's cameras, produced a breakthrough season.
One to watch: It seems an eternity since James Harris burst to prominence as a bustling 16-year-old seamer at Glamorgan, with the world apparently at his feet. After an up-and-down decade at Middlesex, culminating in a loan stint last summer, he's now permanently back at the county where he cut his teeth, and at the age of 31 he's got plenty life in his game yet - and professional wisdom in abundance, as shown by his chairmanship of the PCA.
Diversity action: With Kiran Carlson and Prem Sisodiya installed as the first Welsh-born cricketers of Asian heritage to play first-team matches for Glamorgan, the club finally has visible representation for the established two-thirds British-Asians who make up the Cardiff Midweek Cricket League. After Mohsin Arif, a former player, last year accused the club of preferential treatment for white players, two British Asian directors have been appointed to the club's board. A working group has also been set up to improve the club's connections with minority ethnic communities. Andrew Miller
Bet365: 5/1

Leicestershire

Last season: 4th in Div 3
Head coach: Paul Nixon
Captain: Colin Ackermann
Overseas: Beuran Hendricks, Wiaan Mulder
Ins: Roman Walker (Glamorgan), Tom Scriven (Hampshire)
Outs: Dieter Klein (released)
There were clear signs of progress for Leicestershire in the early stages of last season, as they fought hard in a tough initial conference to finish 12 points behind Surrey, a club of incomparable wealth and resources. But despite the positivity coming from the Grace Road hierarchy for much of the summer, the bottom line was another disappointing finish, third-from-bottom in Division Three.
Several batters made strides last summer. Lewis Hill led the way, returning a career-best 944 runs, while Harry Swindells and Sam Evans kicked on and Hassan Azad showed glimpses of his best after a quiet couple of years. Marcus Harris, who hit three Championship hundreds in eight appearances last summer, turned down a contract extension to move to Gloucestershire but they have brought in two South Africans with excellent first-class records for 2022 in Beuran Hendricks and Wiaan Mulder. Both will reduce the seam-bowling attack's dependence on Chris Wright, who turns 37 this summer but was a key performer last term.
One to watch: Simon Harmer was the only spinner to take more Championship wickets than Callum Parkinson last summer, and Leicestershire's vice-captain maintained a slightly better strike rate in doing so, admittedly playing the final month of the season in a lower division. Parkinson flies under the radar compared to his twin brother Matt, bowling quick, flat left-arm darts, but is a steady performer who can hold up an end on a flat pitch and attack on a helpful one.
Diversity action: Mehmooda Duke quit as chair over the winter, alleging that she had been "rolled out as a poster girl" by the ECB as one of two non-white county chairs. The club are hiring a new community and EDI director but have been criticised for inaction in recent weeks after a club cricketer told the Observer that he was "silenced" for crticising team-mates who blacked up for a fancy-dress party. The squad has started to reflect the diversity of the city in recent seasons. Matt Roller
Bet365: 20/1

Middlesex

Last season: 2nd, Division Three
Head of Men's Cricket: Alan Coleman
Coach: Richard Johnson
Captain: Peter Handscomb
Overseas players: Peter Handscomb, Shaheen Shah Afridi
Ins:
Mark Stoneman (Surrey)
Outs: Steven Finn (Sussex), Nick Gubbins (Hampshire), James Harris (Glamorgan)
Something had to change at Middlesex after a dire season in 2021 … and within the club's management structures, pretty much everything has. Angus Fraser departed in mid-season as the club's longstanding director of cricket, Stuart Law followed suit in October after three underwhelming years as head coach, and with Alan Coleman installed as the newly designated head of men's cricket, it's over to Richard Johnson to usher in the new regime, after a three-year sojourn south of the river.
Middlesex's most fundamental aim is promotion. The speed and trajectory of their decline after winning the County Championship in 2016 was startling, but the listlessness of their subsequent attempts to regroup have been revealing. On paper, they have long boasted a stable of fast bowlers that most squads would covet - but Steven Finn and James Harris have now moved on, and with Toby Roland-Jones forever vying with injury since his title-sealing hat-trick, it's Tim Murtagh - ever-green into his 41st year - who remains the senior statesman. However, the arrival of Shaheen Shah Afridi could be the spark to take the new generation - Ethan Bamber and Blake Cullen in particular - to the next level.
But where will Middlesex's runs come from? That has been the common refrain in recent seasons. Peter Handscomb, the captain, owes his club plenty after a fraught 2021 in which he never recovered from a horrific opening run, while Sam Robson and Mark Stoneman - now eight and four years removed from their respective Test dalliances - will be among the many England-qualified openers who believe it's all up for grabs ahead of the New Zealand series in June.
One to watch: Shaheen is pure box-office, and his availability - international commitments excepting - across formats for the 2022 season is potentially one of the most exciting county signings in recent history. He went toe-to-toe with Australia on some merciless decks in Pakistan last month, and provides a star quality that arguably will not be matched even at the Hundred this summer.
Diversity action: Mike O'Farrell, Middlesex's chairman, dropped a clanger at the DCMS hearings in January with his statement that Black people prefer football and Asians focus on education - precisely the sort of outdated tropes that proper EDI initiatives are designed to eliminate. However, the club's EDI committee, co-chaired by Ankit Shah, has been busy in the winter, including with a role in the interviewing process for the new head coach. Middlesex will also have a big part to play in embedding the newly nationwide ACE programme into its London Boroughs. AM
Bet365: 9/2

Nottinghamshire

Last season: 3rd in Division One
Director of cricket: Mick Newell
Head coach: Peter Moores
Captain: Steven Mullaney
Overseas: James Pattinson, Dane Paterson
Ins:
Outs: Ben Compton (Kent), Peter Trego (retired), Tom Barber (released)
Nottinghamshire feel justifiably aggrieved that they are starting the season in Division Two after they showed clear signs of progress last summer and will start as strong favourites to win the title. Their batting line-up includes three players who will be mentioned as contenders for Test selection - Haseeb Hameed, Ben Duckett and Joe Clarke - while Ben Slater is among the country's more consistent openers and was their leading run-scorer last summer.
Stuart Broad will miss the start of their campaign but should play at least three or four early-season games while Dane Paterson and James Pattinson will be supported by Luke Fletcher, Joey Evison, Zak Chappell and Brett Hutton, with Liam Patterson-White acting as their main spinner. They are expecting teams to prepare slow, low pitches to negate the strength of their seam attack away from home but will be tough to beat on lively surfaces at Trent Bridge.
One to watch: Lyndon James, the 23-year-old allrounder, was labelled "one of the best prospects in the country" in Broad's newspaper column last week. A tall, seam-bowling allrounder and a product of the Notts academy, he is yet to deliver the numbers to back that description up but five Championship fifties last summer hinted at his promise and he appears primed for a breakthrough season.
Diversity action: The club launched an investigation into Alex Hales' historic conduct after Azeem Rafiq alleged that he had named his dog "Kevin" because it was a derogatory term used in the England dressing room to describe non-white people. Hales denied the allegation and apologised after a photo emerged of his blackface costume at a fancy dress party. Kunwar Bansil, who was one of the members of Yorkshire's coaching staff sacked by Lord Kamlesh Patel, has joined the club as a physio. MR
Bet365: 13/10

Sussex

Last season: 6th in Division Three
Championship coach: Ian Salisbury
Captain: Tom Haines
Overseas: Cheteshwar Pujara, Mohammad Rizwan (April-June)
Ins: Steven Finn (Middlesex), Fynn Hudson-Prentice (Derbyshire), Tom Alsop (loan), George Burrows (Lancashire)
Outs: Phil Salt (Lancashire), Chris Jordan (Surrey), Ben Brown (Hampshire), Mitch Claydon, Stuart Meaker (both retired), Stiaan van Zyl, Aaron Thomason (both released)
One win in 14 matches pretty much summed up Sussex's Championship season, albeit there were mitigating factors in their first wooden spoon since 1997. Ollie Robinson, whose 13-wicket match haul sealed victory over Glamorgan during the conference stage, only played six times as England came calling, while Jofra Archer was barely seen due to ongoing elbow problems. Travis Head made 183 runs in 11 innings during a miserable overseas stint that was curtailed by Australia's quarantine rules, and the club ended up fielding 26 players - including nine first-class debutants and as many teenagers - during a summer of hard knocks down at Hove.
Amidst it all, Ben Brown was stood down as captain, and subsequently asked to be released from a contract that had two years left to run. As well as being Sussex's first-choice wicketkeeper Brown also topped the club averages in 2021, with 976 runs at 51.36. The rebuilding work had already begun, though, with allrounder Fynn Hudson-Prentice brought back from Derbyshire, and Steven Finn switching Lord's for the south coast. Cheteshwar Pujara (when his visa comes through) and Mohammad Rizwan will bring further international class to a young dressing room, while the loan signing of Tom Alsop should increase competition for top-order spots. Tom Haines, meanwhile, takes on the captaincy at 23, looking to back up a breakthrough summer in which he finished as the most-prolific run-scorer in the country.
One to watch: Two 16-year-olds caught the eye last summer, as part of Sussex's influx of academy products. Archie Lenham's legspin will likely come to the fore once again in the Blast, so it's over to his St Bede's schoolmate Dan Ibrahim in the longer format. On debut at Headingley in June, Ibrahim became the youngest player to score a half-century in the history of the Championship, and he fell six runs short of setting the three-figure record later in the season. Also bowls handy seam-up.
Diversity action: More than 100 staff, players and coaches have so far taken part in EDI educational workshops delivered by Sussex this year. An equality subcommittee has been established on the board, and the club has also arranged for external speakers to come in and address the players on "racial bias and issues in sport".AG
Bet365: 20/1

Worcestershire

Last season: 3rd in Division Three
Head coach: Alex Gidman
Captain: Brett D'Oliveira
Overseas: Azhar Ali
Ins: Ed Pollock (Warwickshire), Ben Gibbon, Taylor Cornall (Lancashire)
Outs: Ross Whiteley (Hampshire), Daryl Mitchell (retired), Alex Milton (released)
Brett D'Oliveira becomes the first member of the D'Oliveira dynasty to be officially appointed as county captain after Joe Leach stepped down from the role at the end of last season following five years in charge. His father, Damian, and grandfather, Basil, amassed more than 30 seasons between them at New Road, and Brett first ran around the outfield as a child, but his coach, Alex Gidman, has been quick to point out that it was his tactical acumen that stood out when he deputised for Leach for part of last season.
If Leach epitomised perseverance, D'Oliveira might need to add a spot of magic to protect Worcestershire from a difficult season. So often a yo-yo side, their 2021 performance (only Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Sussex below them) suggests another difficult season, especially since Daryl Mitchell, a batting mainstay, has retired. Leach, now 31, needs to focus on his own game. So much rests again with Jake Libby, maker of 1000 runs last season. Azhar Ali, the overseas pro, is 37 and did not shine at Somerset. Ed Pollock, formerly a top-order gambler at Warwickshire, briefly the fastest global batter in T20, has apparently been brought in to play in all three formats, which should challenge the mettle of the coaches and perhaps his own mindset. Will Josh Tongue or Pat Brown be fit enough to bolster the seam attack? Will Moeen Ali ever play red ball? Unless an excellent academy is about to deliver another gem or two, the yo-yo could need some restringing before another promotion challenge is feasible.
One to watch: Which brings us to Jack Haynes. At 21, he possesses a first-class average of 32 and has hit two hundreds in pre-season as an opening batter, including one against a decent Warwickshire attack, a match in which he skippered. He could be about to be presented with the biggest challenge of his career.
Diversity action: Four of Worcestershire's 10 board members are women, but in a predominantly white catchment area, minority-ethnic progress is harder to find. The chair, Fanos Hira, asserted earlier this year that the days of "cognac-swigging, cigar-smoking Hufty-Dufties are long gone" and has called for a coordinated response from ECB and the counties. DH
Bet365: 8/1