Sub-plots aplenty on County scene

  • By: Rory Dollard
  • Last Updated: April 5 2013, 14:55 BST

With the bumper programme of cricket on offer this summer, the average fan will not have to look hard for a fix.

Warwickshire will hope for a more successful title defence than Lancashire's

The international calendar is full to bursting, with the iconic Ashes series the centrepiece in a selection that also includes a return visit by the reinvigorated New Zealand in May and the last ever Champions Trophy, which England harbour serious hopes of winning.

The question for the 18 first-class counties is clear: will the increased profile created by the national side filter down to the domestic game or create a saturation point that leaves it in the cold?

The answer is hard to predict but, in all likelihood, will rely largely on the quality of the county product.

The LV= County Championship gets under way on April 10 and initial signs from the shires are good.

All of England's senior and centrally contracted players have been made available to their clubs for at least two championship fixtures at the start of the season.

If you are hoping to cash in on the success and the celebrity of Team England, there's nothing quite like having some of the leading men on hand to help.

That means Alastair Cook will be on duty for Essex as they take on Hampshire and Lancashire, James Anderson will be part of the Red Rose side that faces Kent and Glamorgan and Matt Prior will be honing his game with early-season workouts against Surrey and Warwickshire.

Indeed, at the start of the season it will be something of a rarity to find a game without a sprinkling of England's finest.

But that initial burst will soon fade and as Andy Flower gets his hands back on his contracted men, counties will have to fend for themselves at the turnstiles.

By then, though, plenty of other sub-plots should have emerged.

As usual, all eyes will be trained on the champion county, Warwickshire.

Their defence is an intriguing one, not least because the side who carried that title into the 2012 season - Lancashire - found themselves relegated.

The Bears have the added difficulty of a change at the very top.

Director of Cricket and club stalwart Ashley Giles masterminded Warwickshire's first title success in eight years but was promptly head-hunted by the ECB, who installed him as the one-day side's new head coach.

Giles is a man with presence and stature in the game and will doubtless leave a hole at Edgbaston, but in promoting his old assistant Dougie Brown, the club will be hoping for a measure of continuity.

Pretenders to their throne are not in short supply either, with Nottinghamshire particularly keen to press their claims.

In the likes of James Taylor, Samit Patel, Alex Hales and new signing Ajmal Shahzad they have a strong core of internationally-capped players who are likely to pose a formidable unit while also being left alone by the England selectors for the majority of the summer.

Somerset, meanwhile, will forge on again in the hunt for that elusive first county championship.

Pound-for-pound and across all formats, Marcus Trescothick's side have been the best in the country for at least three years but their uncanny knack of finishing runner-up is beginning to grate.

Last season's unstoppable run-machine Nick Compton may be away on Test duty for long spells, but their famed production line has churned out a crowd of talented of twenty-somethings that offer perhaps the best depth in the division.

Division Two will necessarily command fewer headlines, though the presence of demoted Lancashire - and their chastened coach Peter Moores - will be of continuing interest.

After the glory of 2011 and the subsequent relegation, a return to the top flight will be the minimum requirement. Life is never dull at Old Trafford.

Kent missed out on promotion last season by one place and have handed the captaincy to the redoubtable figure of James Tredwell, who can be expected to bring a relentlessly businesslike approach to the job of going up.

Elsewhere, the usual throng of overseas stars will come in and out of both divisions - from Shivnarine Chanderpaul at Derbyshire to the headline-grabbing signing of South Africa skipper Graeme Smith at Surrey.

For those ready to scratch beneath the surface of England's schedule, there will be no shortage of entertainment.

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