There is a revised County Championship structure for 2021. Il 18 first-class counties have been split into three seeded groups of six, with seedings based on performances in four-day cricket in 2019 e 2020 and accommodation also made for local derbies. Each county will play the other counties in their group home and away – a total of 10 matches.
At the end of the group stage, the top two counties in each group will move into Division One, the third and fourth-placed teams to Division Two, the fifth and sixth-placed teams to Division Three. Each county will then play four more games, with the winner of Division One crowned county champion. The Bob Willis Trophy final will take place between the county champions and the runners up in a five-day match at Lord’s starting on 27 settembre. Essex are both the Bob Willis Trophy holders and reigning county champions. A review will follow at the end of the year to decide the structure for 2022 and beyond.
Captain Billy Godleman Head of cricket Dave Houghton
Derbyshire were a surprise package in last year’s inaugural Bob Willis Trophy (BWT), coming just a couple of rainy days away from making the final at Lord’s. A team without huge sprinklings of stardust, they cooked up a tasty casserole under Godleman, with help from all-rounder Luis Reece and wicketkeeper Harvey Hosein. There is more youthful promise from Fynn Hudson-Prentice, leg-spinner Matt Critchley, fast bowler Sam Conners and leggie Mattie McKiernan. Six foot seven Australian quick bowler Billy Stanlake joins the fast-bowling ranks, determined to improve his red-ball game. Prediction: Fifth in group
Captain Scott Borthwick Head coach James Franklin Director of cricket Marcus North
Scott Borthwick returns from his Surrey sabbatical to captain his old club, who rather struggled through the North Group of the BWT last year, not winning a game. Cameron Bancroft arrives in May to bolster the batting, which has been weakened by the departures of Scott Steel and Gareth Harte in the close season. Alex Lees found his touch with the bat last year, while Chris Rushworth is close to catching Graham Onions as Durham’s most successful wicket taker. Prediction: Sixth in group
CC Captain Tom Westley Head coach Anthony McGrath
The winners of both the 2020 championship and Bob Willis Trophy are also the team to beat. Simon Harmer, who ate batsmen for breakfast, lunch and dinner last season, returns as an overseas player (rather than a Kolpak); Sir Alastair Cook, BWT player of the year and in the last year of his contract, plays on, and there is youthful promise in the soft hands of Feroze Khushi and the uber-wristy Dan Lawrence. Their bowling attack trumps their more fragile batting, few lineups can defy Harmer, Simon Cook and Jamie Porter. Prediction First in group, County Championship winner, Bob Willis Trophy runner-up.
CC Captain Steven Mullaney Head coach Peter Moores
Without a win in the championship since June 2018, Nottinghamshire will be desperate to prove that they are equal to the sum of their parts. The strong batting lineup made some progress last year but still has a propensity to collapse like a whoopee cushion under pressure. Hopes are high for Haseeb Hameed, who made such a good impression in his first season that he has been appointed vice-captain and Ben Duckett, 26, who made the England one-day bubble last summer. South African fast bowler Dane Patterson has signed for the summer. Prediction: Fourth in group
Captain Will Rhodes First-team coach Mark Robinson
Director of cricket Paul Farbrace brought in former England women’s supremo Mark Robinson as his new head coach, after Jim Troughton was sacked in the autumn following a summer of disappointing results – the team had gone without a win in the BWT. It wasn’t the only change in personnel at Edgbaston, as the club also bid farewell to faithful servants Ian Bell, Jeetan Patel and Tim Ambrose. Hopes are high that Will Rhodes, in only his second season as captain, can tickle his young team into bloom, with the help of South African batsman Pieter Malan, promising young bowler Henry Brookes and former Sussex spinner Danny Briggs. Prediction Third in group.
Captain Joe Leach Head coach Alex Gidman
Worcestershire have yo-yoed over the last three years – they finished just one away from the booby prize in 2019 but by August last year were on the brink of qualifying for the BWT in their game against Somerset – a game so exciting that John Cleese phoned New Road to ask for help with the live stream. They have a great crop of young bowlers including Josh Tongue, Dillon Pennington, Charlie Morris and Ed Barnard; and Jake Libby and Daryl Mitchell shore up the batting. Prediction Second in group.
CC Captain Chris Dent Interim head coach Ian Harvey
After the ECB poached Richard Dawson as their elite pathway coach, Gloucestershire have given Ian Harvey a chance to prove himself. The club won promotion to Division One at the end of 2019, but hiccupped in 2020, winning just one BWT match. Australian swing bowler Dan Worrall and West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite bring stardust to Bristol, while the talented James Bracey leads the way behind the stumps, Ryan Higgins provides reliability in spades and excitement builds around Tom Lace. Prediction: Fourth in group
Captain James Vince Head coach Adi Birrell
A new-ball partnership of Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas provides Hampshire with impressive firepower on early season greentops, throw in fit-again Liam Dawson, Keith Barker and Hampshire’s batsmen won’t need too many daddy hundreds to their name. Their batting is their weaker suit, with Sam Northeast in need of a good year and Nye Donald hoping to build back better after injury ruled him out last year. Keep an eye out for leggie Mason Crane, who had a promising 2020 stagione. Prediction: Third in group
Captain Colin Ackermann Head coach Paul Nixon
Leicestershire lacked bite in the four-day game last year, despite their surprise defeat of Lancashire, but the addition of Australian opener Marcus Harris gives Colin Ackermann and Hassan Azad some support with the bat. They lost late-blooming allrounder Tom Taylor to Northants but have three new young recruits: batsman Rishi Patel from Essex, Yorkshire seamer Ed Barnes and batsman Scott Steel from Durham. The club will be hoping crowds are allowed when India visit Grace Road for a warm-up game. Prediction: Sixth in group
CC Captain Peter Handscomb Head coach Stuart Law
Another big-name club that has been in the doldrums recently, Middlesex have a new Championship captain in Australian batsman Peter Handscomb, who they hope will kick start a batting lineup which promises much more than it has delivered. The bowling attack is stronger, headed by the indefatigable Tim Murtagh. Thilan Walallawita, the young left-arm spinner, is expected to get his British citizenship this month, while Toby Roland-Jones, who has had a run of injury nightmares, is reported to be “super fit”. Prediction Fourth in group.
CC Captain Tom Abell Head coach Jason Kerr
Runners-up four times in the last five years, they took Essex to the final afternoon of the BWT Final in October. Hopes are high under Abell’s leadership, with a bowling attack spearheaded by Craig Overton, and Lewis Gregory, lethal on English pitches, but the departures of Jamie Overton and Dom Bess limits options. They start the season with an eight-point deduction for a substandard pitch in 2019 – though Ciderabad’s spinning pitches may find more favour after England’s winter. The batting has been fragile, though Tom Lammonby’s two brilliant hundreds under pressure last season proved his talent. Prediction First in group, County Championship runners-up but Bob Willis Trophy champions.
CC Captain Rory Burns Head coach Vikram Solanki
Another Test match club who’ve had a raw run of form in four-day cricket, but you feel it can’t last, nor can the appalling run of injuries that at one point left Surrey with 14 players unavailable last season. The cupboard is full with lots of spin potential from Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty, while Kemar Roach and Jamie Overton make up a potent opening bowling attack and Hashim Amla fortifies the batting. Prediction Second in group.
Captain Chris Cooke Head coach Matthew Maynard
A tricky BWT campaign in 2020 – they didn’t win a game – has left Glamorgan with only one way to go. They are boosted by the return of Australian Marnus Labuschagne, who scored over a thousand runs in 2019, and all-rounder David Lloyd, who missed last season with injury. A playing staff of only 17 should ensure everyone gets a good run in the side, with Billy Root and Chris Cooke foot-soldiers to Labuschagne’s heavy bat. Prediction Sixth in group.
Captain Sam Billings Head coach Matt Walker
No one can write about Kent without mentioning Darren Stevens, about to start his 25th stagione, and his 17th with Kent, dopo 29 wickets at 15 forced the county’s hand into a(nother) contract extension for the all-rounder who turns 45 later this month. His medium-paced, exploding, swinging scotch eggs are complemented by Harry Podmore, Matt Milnes and West Indian Miguel Cummings. The batting is stuffed with talent from captain Sam Billings to wicketkeeper Jordan Cox, Joe Denly and Zak Crawley, and young spinners Hamidullah Qadri and Marcus O’Riordan. Prediction Third in group
Captain Dane Vilas Head coach Glen Chapple
After winning promotion in 2019, the BWT was something of a disappointment results-wise. tuttavia, a good handful of young players grabbed their chance to impress, especially young allrounders George Balderson and Tom Hartley. The squad is boosted by Sussex’s Luke Wells and seamer Jack Blatherwick, with 6ft 5in Jackson Bird flying in from Australia. Lancashire bid fond farewells to Graham Onions, who stays on at the club as bowling coach, and faithful servant Stephen Parry. Prediction First in group.
CC Captain Adam Rossington Head coach David Ripley
Minnows who won promotion at the end of 2019 but haven’t yet been able to take that place at the top table – however there will be plenty of opportunity to test their mettle, especially against the big two Roses counties. Money is still tight and Northants have plumped for one overseas player – the multi-functional Wayne Parnell. Tom Taylor boosts the seam bowling squad while ex England and Lancashire spinner Simon Kerrigan has a full season to show what he can do after playing two BWT games last year. Prediction Fourth in group.
Captain Ben Brown Head coach Ian Salisbury
Jason Gillespie’s return to Australia has meant a shuffle of the coaching pack and Ian Salisbury takes over as four-day supremo, while ceiling-smasher Sarah Taylor becomes wicketkeeping coach. Travis Head and Stiaan van Zyl fly in to strengthen a batting lineup that has struggled for consistency, while Ollie Robinson, on the fringe of the England side last season, spearheads the attack, with buckets of promise from young off-spinner Jack Carson. After a sparse run over the last few years, Sussex will be looking for solidity, once they’ve got rid of the plague of daddy longlegs currently nesting on the outfield at Hove. Prediction Fifth in group.
CC Captain Steven Patterson Head coach Andrew Gale
After a promising 2020, just missing qualification for the BWT final by the vagaries of the weather, Yorkshire have been embroiled in a tumultuous off-season dominated by Azeem Rafiq’s accusations of racism. The investigation is due to report back by early May, and much depends on how current players are able to cope with the subsequent ructions. A strong squad is buttressed by the arrival of Dom Bess and the return of Gary Ballance, who missed last season because of illness. Joe Root is expected to play for the first two games. Prediction Second in group.