Captain: Head Coach: Tom Westley End of Anthony McGrath in 2022: Fourth highest run scorer in Division One in 2022: The highest wicket-taker in 2022 was Sir Alastair Cook (966): 59-year-old Simon Harmer’s key winter moves: On the eve of the season, after all-rounder Will Sutherland was ruled out of his 11-match contract due to a back injury, Essex swiftly signed Doug Bracewell. After a seven-year absence, Bracewell is back playing Test cricket for New Zealand. He is a seamer who is more than adequate with the bat. Contract extensions were made for captain Tom Westley, player of the season Shane Snater, and leading seamer Sam Cook.
The major query: From 2017 on, Essex dominated domestic red-ball cricket, winning the championship three times. However, they finished 48 points behind Surrey, the champions, in fourth place in 2022, demonstrating a slight weakness over the previous two seasons. Was that a blip or the indication of terminal downfall, and can the attempted and-tried privileged adapt to the situation once more?
What we are eagerly anticipating: At Chelmsford, Simon Harmer shuffles in from the River End, just as he has done nearly 10,000 times over six seasons, taking 234 wickets and tying down opposing batsmen, teasing, tempting, and hypnotizing them into voluntary surrender. They cover themselves in turning balls: Harmer is a further LBW. Or, nick one that first slips by lifting out of the foot-holes and arcs: Harmer b Cook is another. Set the device to repeat itself.
Player to watch: Dan Lawrence had an injury-interrupted 2022, so his red-ball average for Essex was only 22.10, which was less than half of his 2021 average and well below his career total of 36. He needs an immediate increase if he wants to play in the Ashes this summer. However, his forceful, front-footed approach will be worth watching if he rises to the occasion.
Last thought: A perennial problem, Essex had the fewest batting points in Division One last season. With the primary reward point now not kicking in until 250 runs are on the board – and having neglected to try and arrive at that figure in six first innings last year – Essex need to embrace the ethos of ‘Bazball’ and up their run-rate over the current normal of 2.9 an over.
Captain of Hampshire: James Vince
Lead trainer: End of Adi Birrell in 2022: Third highest run scorer in Division One in 2022: James Vince (839) took the most wickets in 2022: 58-year-old Kyle Abbott’s key winter moves: Zero for the red ball, none at all. For a few years, Director of Cricket Giles White has been creating the ideal Hampshire Championship team with a roster built to win trophies. Indeed, even the abroad are unaltered, with Kyle Abbott in his 6th year and Mohammad Abbas his third season. However, Benny Howells has only arrived for the T20 Blast.
The major query: Is Hampshire finally going to win a title this season? The year Hampshire last won the award, The Exorcist was the best movie. Since then, there have been many demons that need to be exorcised. They are well-positioned to challenge, as evidenced by consecutive third-place finishes, a bowling attack straight out of fantasy cricket, and an experienced middle order.
What we are eagerly anticipating: Simply put, Keith Barker, Mohammad Abbas, and Kyle Abbott are in full swing—or, to be more precise, the entire seam. Last season, they took 160 wickets together and work well together. With a less responsive ball, the two Kookaburra rounds (25-28 June and 10-13 July) will test their skill and possibly define Hampshire’s season.
Player to watch: Tom Prest. The attractive right-handed batter has been a fixture in the white-ball teams and bowls more than just good offspin. He scored the most runs for Hampshire in the One Day Cup last year and had three 50s in the Vitality Blast, but he hasn’t played much in the Championship. He got together with the Britain Lions in the colder time of year, with some achievement, having captained Britain Under 19s to the World Cup last in mid 2022.
Last thought: Although nothing has changed since the previous season, despite two close calls, there is a firm resolve underneath. No group dominated more matches than Hampshire last season in spite of no players averaging more than 40 with the bat. With this talented team, eliminating sessions that aren’t performing well and slightly increasing runs across the order should be enough to win the title; anything less will feel like a missed opportunity.
The KENT Captain: Head Coach: Sam Billings Matthew Walker
2022 completion: Fifth (Division One)
2022 most noteworthy runscorer: In 2022, Ben Compton took the most wickets (1,193): Nathan Gilchrist (33)
Key winter moves: Although Michael Hogan’s arrival at the relatively inexperienced age of 41 should shore up an attack that was weakened by the loss of Harry Podmore, Ollie Robinson’s departure to Durham arguably enraged members even more than the decision to release Darren Stevens, who was 46 years old. Arshdeep Singh is an intriguing gamble after missing out on Matt Henry. However, he is only available for five games, and the search for an overseas bowler continues.
The major query: Will the team remain fit enough to challenge for the title? Few pundits rate Kent’s chances of winning the County Championship this year, and James Callaghan was Prime Minister at the time. What Kent truly do have is a center of local players, a few skilled youths and serious battling characteristics that hauled them out of the transfer zone when everything appeared to be lost last season.
What we are eagerly anticipating: if England’s new strategy is adopted. Walker has attempted to free his players from the fear of making mistakes, a culture that his former teammate Rob Key referred to during their playing days, but there are limits. The squad has been energized by what they have seen in the test arena. Players with a focus on defense have been instructed to play to their strengths. It is unlikely that Ben Compton will reverse sweep his first ball.
Player to watch: Gilchrist, Nathan Kent’s career-best numbers of 6 for 61 against Somerset, his former county, ensured his continued promotion and earned him a spot on the Lions tour. At only 22, it’s sensible to accept he’ll just improve, in the event that he remains fit. This is admittedly a big if, but he possesses all the characteristics, given the workload he is likely to take on this summer.
Last thought: Please spare Tunbridge Wells, which appears to have fallen prey to Long Covid. Kent stated 18 months ago that they intended to return to the Nevill in 2023. Anyone who remembers the Maidstone festival’s demise in 2005 will recognize the county’s current status as merely “open to a return.”