Specsavers County Championship preview, including Middlesex, Warwickshire, Sussex and Durham

Dawid Malan of Middlesex
Dawid Malan of Middlesex

With the start of the English cricket season looming, our cricket expert Richard Mann has been assessing the chances of the 10 counties in Division Two.

Recommended bets: County Championship Division Two - outright

4pts Middlesex to win the County Championship Division Two at 2/1

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Middlesex are short-priced favourites to make an immediate return to the top tier of county cricket by winning Division Two of the County Championship.

The Saxons lifted the Division One title as recently as 2016, Toby Roland-Jones bowling his side to victory at Lords in a dramatic conclusion to an excellent domestic season.

However, 2017 saw Middlesex produce a limp defence of their trophy with injury to the excellent Nick Gubbins and international call-ups for Roland-Jones and Dawid Malan proving too much for them to overcome.

Malan and Sam Robson will take over the reigns from Adam Voges this year and with highly-rated Australian Hilton Cartwright joining up for the early part of the campaign, the batting has a formidable look to it, further boosted by news that Eoin Morgan will play a good chunk of championship cricket when returning to full fitness along with Gubbins.

Stephen Finn and the fit-again Roland-Jones will lead a strong bowling attack that also features Tim Murtagh, a magician on seaming wickets and someone who should prosper on the juicy pitches he is likely to encounter early in the season.

Finn and Roland-Jones will both be eager to impress England selectors and I expect the pair to start strongly.

Assuming Middlesex can avoid considerable injuries, they really should make a swift return to Division One with 2/1 about them lifting the Division Two title appearing very fair.

Stephen Finn will be a key weapon for Middlesex this summer

Warwickshire are the other county to have been relegated from Division One last summer and they taken have noticeable steps to leave behind last year’s dreadful campaign.

As highlighted in our five to follow preview here, the Bears have drafted in promising all-rounder Will Rhodes from Yorkshire and could be further boosted by the possibility of having Chris Woakes available on a more regular basis than in recent campaigns.

Woakes lost his place in England’s Test side at the end of the winter and will be keen to reastablish his credentials when returning to Edgbaston following the conclusion of the IPL.

The liklehood of having all-rounders Woakes and Rhodes in the same side will strengthen the Bears middle order as well as provide new skipper Jeetan Patel with plenty of options with the ball as he seeks support for himself and Keith Barker.

Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott will once again prove the main focus of the batting line up while big things are expected from the exciting Sam Hain.

Bell has spoken recently of his desire to have a strong season following a quiet campaign in 2017 and told the Warwickshire CC website: “Last season was tough. Personally, I have always set such high standards and to not hit those standards was disappointing.

“There were many reasons for what happened last season, but now I feel in a good place in terms of controlling what I can control.

I'm going into the season knowing I have done absolutely everything I can.

“I have given myself the best chance to have a great season.”

Ian Bell will be keen to get back in the runs this season

Jason Gillespie has taken over as coach of Sussex and given the success he enjoyed at Yorkshire, a revival on the south coast would not surprise.

This year might come a year too soon, though, with Chris Jordan and Jofra Archer both on IPL duty for the early part of the campaign and Chris Nash having departed for Nottinghamshire.

It will be fascinating how Gillespie handles exciting paceman George Garton and their relationship has the potential to reap great rewards for England further down the line.

Kent have been rocked by the defection of Sam Northeast to Hampshire and his replacement as captain, Sam Billings, will also begin his season playing in the IPL.

Nevertheless, Matt Henry is an excellent addition to the bowling ranks while Joe Denly remains a big talent who is capable of scoring the runs Kent will require of him if they are to mount a promotion push.

The bad news just keeps on coming for Durham who lost Keaton Jennings, Graham Onions and Paul Coughlin at the end of the last season.

They continue to punch above their weight, though, an excellent academy system producing young players of the class of Cameron Steel, highlighted in our five to follow preview here, and Graham Clark.

We saw enough from Aidan Markram for South Africa this winter to realise he is an opening batsman of real class and he should score big in the first month of cricket.

His replacement, Tom Latham, is expected pay his way and the evergreen Paul Collingwood will continue to lead from the front with the bat and in the field.

Paul Collingwood is set to play in Pakistan
Paul Collingwood will again captain Durham

Northamptonshire enjoyed another thoroughly decent campaign in 2017, eventually finishing third, and Rory Kleinveldt’s return (from mid-May) will provide them with a high-quality wicket-taking weapon.

Brett Hutton has the potential to prove a shrewd winter signing while Ben Duckett will know that big runs are the only headlines he can afford to make this summer if he is to force his way back into the England fold.

Derbyshire only managed three wins last year and while their T20 form improved dramatically, their four-day game remains a work in progress.

Luis Reece is a batsman of potential while Hardus Viljoen is capable of bowling with genuine pace, but even with the addition of the experienced Ravi Rampaul, it is hard to see the Falcons challenging for promotion.

Paul Carberry takes over as captain at Leicestershire but they could struggle to match last season’s fourth-placed finish while Glamorgan will be heavily reliant on overseas recruit Shaun Marsh.

Marsh impressed in his short spell at Yorkshire last year and will be keen to acclimatise himself with English conditions given he could well find himself playing here in next summer’s Ashes.

Predictions for the wooden spoon are never nice but Gloucestershire fit the bill.

Richard Dawson's outfit performed admirably for sixth last year but with no major signings to note, things might get tough this year.

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