In the County Championship division one, Lancashire secured the title in 2011 after a long barren period without success in the long form of the game and as expected, they are among the favourites to lift the trophy once again.
As Sussex proved recently, winning the division one title after so many years could lead to a period of dominance and the belief that is now surging through Peter Moores’ side could be enough to see them triumph again in 2012.
As far as changes in personnel are concerned, the men from Old Trafford will take to the field with a similar side but the retirement of Mark Chilton could have some effect in the batting department. Much will therefore depend on the contribution of overseas player Ashwell Prince who is currently out of favour with South Africa and therefore likely to be available for the whole campaign.
At odds of 6.00 for an outright win, Lancashire share the favourites tag with Durham and Somerset and any of those three sides could be sound bets for the overall title. Durham have been the most successful side in four day cricket in recent years and after narrowly missing out on the trophy for the past two seasons, the men from the North East will have a determination to recapture their reputation as the best exponents of the four day game.
Somerset meanwhile have never won the County Championship and although they came agonisingly close in 2010, last year was a largely disappointing campaign under Marcus Trescothick. They are however a hugely talented squad in all forms of the game and if South African Vernon Philander can perform in his brief stint in Taunton between April and May, they could well surge to an important early lead in the title race.
Of the chasing sides, Nottinghamshire were Champions in 2010 and have often been in the running to take the trophy over the course of the last ten years. In 2011 however, they undoubtedly missed Ryan Sidebottom who returned to Yorkshire, taking his wickets with him. Notts have strengthened their batting with the acquisition of James Taylor from Leicestershire but the important question is whether Harry Gurney, who also made the transition from Grace Road, can take the vital wickets that Sidebottom once provided?
Notts are priced at 7.00 to win the title and shortly behind them are last season’s runners up Warwickshire who seem to be good value at 7.50 for the win and 2.30 for a place in the top three. The midlands side have coped better than most by losing players such as Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell to international duty and are likely to challenge for the trophy once again this year.
The Bears’ have changed little in terms of personnel but the addition of Chris Wright from Essex should improve their bowling, although the tall seamer has built more of a reputation for his death bowling in the one day game.
Of the newly promoted sides, Surrey are resurgent under the leadership of Rory Hamilton-Brown on the pitch and there’s nothing to suggest that they can’t mount a serious challenge for the division one title this year. With Chris Adams’ astute coaching behind them, the county could yet achieve the same success that they enjoyed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and at a price of 2.50 for a place, they could be the best value bet in the whole division.
Lagging behind in the betting are Middlesex, Sussex and Worcestershire and it looks as though these three sides will have to concentrate on battling against relegation this year. As for the title, it could ultimately be a straight fight between Lancashire and Durham, but there are some high value place bets among the chasing counties.