Overseas: Dustin Melton (Zimbabwe), Billy Stanlake (Australia)
In: Brooke Guest (Lancashire), Nick Potts (youth)
Out: Tony Palladino (retired)
Dave Houghton’s side had an impressive 2020 campaign on the four-day circuit, ending the Bob Willis Trophy in second place in the North group. They defeated Leicestershire and Notts, drew with Yorkshire and Durham, with their only defeat coming against Lancashire. In 2019, they ended in seventh place in Division Two. Have a good young crop of hungry players, with only three squad members aged 30 or over. The experienced trio are Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen and skipper Billy Godleman. Ravi Rampaul who has been a huge success for the club won’t be with them, but has been replaced by Billy Stanlake.
Key Player: Matt Critchley (24)
An underrated all-rounder who bats number five and bowls legspin, Critchley made his Derbyshire debut as an 18-year-old in 2015 and has went on to become a key member of their squad. Has three first-class tons to his name and scored 234 runs in last year’s Bob Willis Trophy at an average of 39. Was Derbyshire’s leading wicket taker last season with 17, including a best of 6/73. Will be Dave Houghton’s premier spinner, backed up by Mattie McKiernan and Lees du Plooy.
One to watch: Sam Conners (22)
A right-arm medium-fast opening bowler who has a smooth gliding run up and will aim to come to the forefront of Derby’s attack. The former England under 19 international grabbed nine wickets last campaign and now has Billy Stanlake as overseas to learn from and help with his development. Been in good form in pre-season, including taking 3/48 against Leicestershire.
Overseas: Cameron Bancroft (Australia), Will Young (New Zealand, first three games), David Bedingham (South Africa)
In: Scott Borthwick (Surrey), Alex Thomson (Warwickshire, loan)
Out: Scott Steel (Leicestershire), James Weighell, Ben Whitehead, Sol Bell, Josh Coughlin, Nathan Rimmington, Gareth Harte (released).
Had a disappointing 2020 season in the longer format, ending bottom of the North Group after failing to win any of their five matches. The three time champions have the ingredients to improve under Paul Franklin with their young squad another year wiser and have recruited astutely with the additions of Bancroft, Young and Borthwick. Their batting unit is solid, with Bancroft and Alex Lees looking to lead from the front but may need a bit more consistency within their middle order. Chris Rushworth ages like a fine wine and leads an impressive seam attack. Franklin’s side were perhaps lacking in the spin department, but Borthwick looks to be the man who has solved that issue as well as the loan addition of Alex Thomson. Could go under the radar this year.
Key Player: Matthew Potts (22)
One of the hottest prospects in the North-East at the moment, Potts excelled in last year’s Blast, but has ambitions to continue improving over the longer formats as well. Durham rotated their seamers last season and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the same was to happen again as they have a strong unit including Chris Rushworth, Brydon Carse, Paul Coughlin, Matt Salisbury, Ben Raine and of course Mark Wood when available. Likes to hit a hard length and has been opening the bowling during pre-season. The conditions at Durham will favour swing, Potts has an impressive economy of 2.97 but his average of 42.57 means he will be aiming to add more wickets to his repertoire.
One to watch: Michael Jones (23)
The young Scot got his chance in the side towards the end of last season and ended the campaign in style with a career best 82 against Notts. Has continued that form in pre-season, with 49* against Yorkshire and 78 against Warwickshire. After the departures of Scott Steel and Gareth Harte, this could open up a slot in the middle order for Jones. Has been opening in pre-season, but it is most likely going to be Lees and Bancroft who will fill that role. With Scotland potentially having more fixtures as COVID restrictions ease, he will be putting his name in the hat for Shane Burger to think about.
Overseas: Simon Harmer (South Africa), Peter Siddle (Australia)
Out: Rishi Patel (Leicestershire)
The defending champions come into the tournament with a quite remarkable record. Since their promotion from Division Two 2016, they’ve then went on to win Division One in three of the next four seasons, and the other year they came third. Have a strong consistent unit, massively boosted by the return of Simon Harmer who will operate as an overseas player following the change to the kolpak ruling. Shane Snater has impressed in pre-season and they’ll be aided by Peter Siddle coming back to Chelmsford.
Key Player: Dan Lawrence (23)
Made his England debut in the winter, scoring 73 on debut against Sri Lanka before ending his time abroad with 46 and 50 in the final test against India from number seven. With a bit of uncertainty in England’s batting order going into the summer, Lawrence has a huge opportunity to go out and score big runs and cement his place in Chris Silverwood’s side ahead of a busy period.
One to watch: Feroze Khushi (21)
If Lawrence is to receive another England call-up, the man that could replace him in Essex’ middle order is 21-year-old Khushi. He made his debut last season, making a crucial 45 against Kent as Essex chased 202 eight wickets down. He went on to then make 66 versus Surrey from the number five position. Impressed for the Second XI in 2019, scoring Essex most runs, with 567 at 47.25 with a top score of 156.
In: Brett Hutton (Northamptonshire), Toby Pettman, Dane Schadendorf
Out: Jack Blatherwick (Lancashire), Chris Nash (released)
A team looking to end a dismal run of 27 first-class matches without victory. A run that includes 10 draws and 17 defeats. Have all the makings of a top side on paper but have failed to deliver in the last three years. Expect them to show glimpses of being back to their best but could be a stretch to see them do it on a consistent basis and glide up the table. If they start poorly, it could get messy again, so need to get that first win under their belts and try to build momentum.
Key Player: Haseeb Hameed (24)
With that potential England batting spot coming up again, it was a toss-up between Hameed and Joe Clarke for who to write about. It’s been well documented how Hameed slid down the pecking order almost as quickly as he burst onto the scene and into the England side. Last year gave him a fresh start at Notts and he scored three half centuries in seven innings with a top score of 87. Peter Moores has shown his trust in him by giving him the Royal London One-Day Cup captaincy and he looks to be on the right path to getting back to his best.
One to watch: Joey Evison (19)
A young all-rounder who looked set to have his breakthrough season last year before suffering injury. Will likely bat around number eight and bowl some more than handy right arm medium-fast. Has been involved with Notts in pre-season and looks like he could be an important part of Peter Moores plans. Could be competing for that number eight spot with fellow young all-rounder Liam Patterson-White (22), who is a left arm spinner. So conditions may dictate which of the two play.
Check out our full scout report, on Evison here, including his profile, technique and style, and future forecast: Scouted: Joey Evison (scoutingcricket.com)
Overseas: Pieter Malan (South Africa)
In: Danny Briggs (Sussex), Manraj Johal (youth), Jacob Bethell
Out: Tim Ambrose, Ian Bell, Jeetan Patel (retired), Liam Banks (released)
Had an indifferent summer in the Bob Willis Trophy. Drew four of their five games, with one loss but have the ingredients to be challenging up the top of the table. Led by Will Rhodes, have a good blend of youth and experience including Tim Bresnan, Chris Woakes, the Brookes brothers and the firepower of Olly Stone to name a few. New coach Mark Robinson looking to kick-start his tenure in positive fashion after being appointed in January.
Key Player: Dan Mousley (19)
Middle-order batsman who has been developed by one of his heroes Ian Bell. In Bell’s last match, he scored 90 and Mousley made 71, his best first-class score so far. Was England’s top run scorer at the under 19 World Cup and likes to reverse sweep. Has a solid batting unit around him to aid his development. Looked in decent nick in pre-season, making 49 against Notts, 28* and 2/7 with his off-spin against Durham.
One to watch: Jacob Bethell (17)
Perhaps one for the future and may not play straight away, but has a lot of potential after the Barbados born all-rounder signed a three year contract in the winter. Featured for Warwickshire 2nd XI in 2019 as a 15-year-old, taking 5/42 against Yorkshire. Will be behind Danny Briggs and Jake Lintott in the pecking order, but Alex Thomson’s loan move to Durham may present Bethell with a chance, and his batting may play a factor in breaking into the team.
Overseas: Alzarri Joseph (West Indies)
In: Gareth Roderick (Gloucestershire)
Out: Olly Westbury, Ben Twohig, Wayne Parnell (released)
The last full season of 2019 saw the Pears finish second bottom of Division Two so could face an uphill battle to bounce back. Keeping a hold of Ben Cox could be their best bit of business after he was rumoured to be leaving and that addition of Gareth Roderick is an astute signing from Gloucestershire. They did end 2020 second in their group and are capable of punching above their weight.
Key Player: Alzarri Joseph (24)
Burst onto the scene as a massively exciting bowler aged 17 for Leeward Islands. However, despite gaining West Indies recognition from a young age, he hasn’t quite managed to kick on and clearly define his role in the Test team, leading to his development starting to stagnate. After impressing in spells of West Indies tour of England last summer, he has a great opportunity to firmly put his name back on the map. Has been a part of West Indies recent series with Sri Lanka, taking ??? wickets.
One to watch: Jack Haynes (20)
The Pears will rely heavily on Daryl Mitchell to score big runs, although he’ll be supported by former Notts duo Jake Libby and Riki Wessels. Haynes has performed well in pre-season, making 57 against Somerset. The former England under 19 international has two first class 50’s to his name and batted at number four last season.