Group 2 of this year’s reformatted County Championship sees an exciting combination of previous years champions-elect compete against teams that they may not have played against in the first-class arena for an extended period.
Last season’s Bob Willis Trophy finalists, Somerset, will be coming up against Surrey, Middlesex, Leicestershire, Hampshire and Gloucestershire, with each team scheduled to play five home and away matches. After a shortened red-ball competition last year, each game will be an opportunity for the players to showcase their talent; however, as with every year, several exciting young talents will be looking to make their mark on the season.
Outs: Jamie Overton (Surrey); Dom Bess (Yorkshire); Nathan Gilchrist (Kent)
Overseas players: Marchant de Lange (South Africa)
The past three red-ball campaigns have been successful for Somerset; however, a championship title has always just illuded them. After being runners up during 2018, 2019 and 2020, the only new face in the squad is Marchant de Lange, the club’s overseas playing following a spell as a Kolpak player for Glamorgan.
Having remained undefeated last season, Somerset is set for another successful red ball competition, with youth forming a vital part of the team’s plans. In a current playing squad of 22 players, ten players are under 24. Due to the squad’s youth, it is hard to choose just two U24 players who could make their mark this season, but Tom Lammonby and Will Smeed have the potential to be future stars. Young bowler Sonny Baker also caught the eye in their pre-season matches.
Key Player – Tom Lammonby (20)
Former England Under-19 all-rounder Tom Lammonby, who has also played for Devon County Cricket Club, made his first-class debut for Somerset last season and immediately made an impact on the side. After opening the batting, Lammonby finished as the third-highest run-scorer during the Bob Willis Trophy, after scoring 459 runs at an average of 51.00 and a high score of 116. Along with his batting exploits, Lammonby bowls Left-arm medium-fast, providing club captain Tom Abell with another option with the ball. Scored an unbeaten 102 against Glamorgan today (Sunday).
One to watch – Will Smeed (19)
In the form of Will Smeed, Somerset could have another star batsman on their hands. Smeed has performed consistently during his second team outings and showed his potential during an innings against Gloucestershire during last year’s Vitality Blast. After coming into bat at number three, Smeed scored 82 from 49 balls against an attack that included Benny Howell and Ryan Higgins. This season could see Smeed make his first-class debut with the increased number of games expanding squad rotation potential. Smeed has already proven that he is adept at longer format cricket after scoring 243 off 260 balls against Gloucestershire under-17s while he was part of Somerset’s Under-17 setup. Given the opportunity, he could make a significant impact on the season.
In: Jamie Overton (Somerset)
Out: Scott Borthwick (Durham), Morne Morkel (Released)
Overseas: Hashim Amla (South Africa), Kemar Roach (West Indies, for April and May)
With a team with the likes of Oli Pope, Sam Curran, Will Jacks and Amar Virdi, it is safe to say that Surrey could have one of the most star-studded line-ups in this year’s county championship. However, having as many international stars as they do is not always an advantage considering that they may be missing many of their star players for large periods of the season. This does mean that there is the potential for several young talents to gain first-team experience.
Key Player – Amar Virdi (22)
Despite the England capped players, it is arguably the uncapped off-spinner Amar Virdi that has had the most significant impact for Surrey on the first-class scene. Last season, Virdi finished as the team’s top wicket-taker, finishing with 22 wickets at an average of 25.90. However, the previous season forms part of a highly successful first-class career where after 28 games, he has taken 91 wickets. There is no reason why Virdi would not be able to replicate his form during 2021 and will be one to watch this season.
One to watch – Nico Reifer (20)
Nico Reifer is a promising batting all-rounder who has a bright future ahead of him. Having played for the county throughout age-group cricket and recently making his mark in second-team cricket, there is no doubt that Reifer has a big future ahead of him. It will be exciting to see if Reifer can make his mark this season with his capabilities as a three-dimensional player being an attractive concept for captains.
Outs: Dan Lincoln (released) Miguel Cummins (Kent)
Overseas: Peter Handscomb (Australia)
Following their County Championship title win during 2016, it has been a transition period for Middlesex in red-ball cricket. Last season, Middlesex looked to start a new chapter in their red-ball history and played well. The club finished with two wins, two losses, and one draw, meaning they finished third in their respective group. While the team may not have the youngest squad in this years competition, there are still some young players who will be looking to have an impact on the season.
Key Player – Max Holden (23)
At the age of 23, Max Holden has already scored a century in each format of the game and has had his name linked to England selection. Last season Holden scored 299 red-ball runs, at an average of 29.90 and whilst a century eluded Holden last season, he remains an essential part of the Middlesex plans. There are various layers to the intrigue surrounding Holden this season, including how he performs at the domestic level, whether he can continue to build his career average and whether his name is in contention for international selection. Scored a fine 79 opening the batting against Surrey in pre-season.
One to watch – Thilan Walallawita (22)
After making his debut last year, people may recognize the name Thilan Walallawita. Walallawita has plenty of talent, and 2021 could be his breakout season. After playing five first-class matches last season, the slow left-arm orthodox bowler finished with six wickets and bowled tightly, finishing the season with an economy of 2.77. In a squad that appears to have limited spin bowling options, Middlesex fans could look to Walallawita to lead their spin bowling attack this year.
Ins: Scott Steel (Durham), Rishi Patel (Essex), Ed Barnes (Yorkshire)
Outs: Tom Taylor (Northamptonshire), Mark Cosgrove (released), Paul Horton (retired)
Overseas players: Marcus Harris (Australia)
First-class cricket has proven to be a challenging format for Leicestershire over recent years. However, after finishing the Bob Willis Trophy with a win, two draws and two losses, there were positives for the team to take and build upon. There is no doubt of the impact that new captain Collin Ackermann had on the team, and the club will be looking to build more momentum during 2021. When focusing on the club’s current roster, the county probably has one of the youngest sides in this year’s county championship with a plethora of U24 talent in their ranks. The team’s youth provides fans with an opportunity to gain an insight into the project being undertaken by the Midlands county. During the offseason, the club has continued to build with Scott Steel, Rishi Patel, and Ed Barnes being brought in. All three players are young talents under the age of 24, with each player forming what could be an essential part of the puzzle.
Key Player – Ben Mike (22)
The rounded capabilities of Ben Mike means that the player can establish himself as one of the county’s key players this year, having already has impressed in the first-class arena. After 17 first-class matches, Mike has taken 40 wickets and scored 392 runs leading him to gain praises from many county cricket fans. After finishing as the club’s joint-top wicket-taker last season, there is no reason why Mike cannot continue to impress.
One to watch – Ed Barnes (23)
Following his switch to Leicestershire, after being sent on-loan to Derbyshire from Yorkshire during the 2020 season, the 2021 season could prove to be a defining season for Ed Barnes. Barnes could not break into the Yorkshire red-ball team; however, he developed a reputation for himself as an exciting young talent. Now that he has moved counties, Barnes will hopefully have an increased platform to showcase his talent.
Outs: Harry Came, Oli Soames (both released)
Overseas players: Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan – first two months of County Championship), Kyle Abbott (South Africa)
The current Hampshire squad is comprised of a mix of youth and experience. With seasoned county players like Kyle Abbott, Sam Northeast and James Vince combined with more raw talents, including Scott Currie, Ajeet Dale and Felix Organ, Hampshire will be looking to finish in the top half of Group 2 this year. When comparing this year’s groupings to last year’s Bob Willis Trophy Group South Group, Hampshire will be coming up against different opponents, which may present that the team’s resources are challenged differently compared to last season.
Key Player – Felix Organ (21)
21-year-old off-spinner Felix Organ finished with seven wickets last season during an impressive season. After completing the season with an average of 12.85 and a strike rate of 23.1, Organ could be one of the spin bowlers to watch out for during 2021. Organ could also provide to be an essential part of Hampshire’s batting line up despite having a lean season in terms of run-scoring during 2020. Having already scored a first-class century, there is no doubt that Organ has talent with the bat, and 2021 could be another opportunity for him to showcase it.
One to watch – Scott Currie (19)
Hampshire has found another exciting player who previously played for Dorset County Cricket Club. Currie burst onto the scene at the end of last season during a first-class match against Kent taking three wickets on debut. Hopefully, Currie will be given more opportunities to showcase his evident talent this season and could form an important part of the bowling unit with the increased number of games this season. There have been early signs that Currie has found his rhythm this season following an impressive showing against Northamptonshire during a pre-season friendly.
Ins: Jared Warner (Yorkshire)
Outs: Gareth Roderick (Worcestershire), Stuart Whittingham (retired), George Drissell (released)
Overseas: Dan Worrall (Australia)
Despite being traditionally characterised as a smaller county, Gloucestershire has some of the brightest stars of English cricket with their roster. Last season was not the most successful for Gloucestershire; however, the county appears to be building an exciting project with several England youth internationals within the squad. This season has seen the side bring in bowler Jared Warner to boost their bowling resources and Australian Dan Worrall, who previously played for the county during 2018 and 2019.
Key Player – James Bracey (23)
Wicket-keeper batsman James Bracey could be one of the brightest stars in English cricket. Bracey has already been a part of the England set-up after being called up to the 55 man squad that was called up ahead of the 2020 English home summer. After impressing during the initial training camp, Bracey was retained as part of the Test series squad against Pakistan. Bracey currently has a first-class batting average of 34.93, and his runs form an important part of what could be a season to remember for Gloucestershire.
One to watch – Tom Lace (22)
Tom Lace joined Gloucestershire in 2020 after coming through the Middlesex youth system and spending two seasons on loan at Derbyshire. Lace is yet to have a consistent platform to showcase his talent; however, now that he will be playing an entire red-ball season for the county, it is hoped that Lace will be able to show his true potential.