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    Vitality County Championship 2024: Division Two, part 1
Vitality County Championship 2024: Division Two, part 1
Kiran Carlson hits out for Glamorgan. Source: ECB

Vitality County Championship 2024: Division Two, part 1

Derbyshire

Captain: David Lloyd.

Head Coach: Mickey Arthur

2023 finish: Sixth (Division Two)

2023 highest run-scorer: Leus du Plooy (1236)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Alex Thomson (31)

The most important winter moves: Blair Tickner, a 30-year-old right-arm fast bowler from New Zealand, has signed until early July and will lead the attack. According to Arthur, Tickner has "some serious pace" but plans to form an overseas new-ball partnership with Mohammad Amir have been scuppered when the Pakistani fast bowler announced his retirement from international cricket. Leus du Plooy has left for Middlesex.

The main question: Last season, Derbyshire did not win any home matches, losing twice, and five out of six games at the Incora County Ground ended in a draw. To mount a serious challenge for promotion, the pitches will need to offer a better balance between bat and ball.

Anticipated sights: It is anticipated that David Lloyd, the former Glamorgan captain, will instil an aggressive approach in a team that has undergone significant changes during the winter. Arthur has recruited players who can provide a positive and enjoyable style of cricket, which will increase the team's chances of converting draws into wins.

Who is most likely to play Bazball: In 2016, Aneurin Donald scored an incredible 234 runs off just 136 balls for Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay, showcasing his ability to hit boundaries. This performance was one of the fastest first-class double centuries at the time. Derbyshire's attack was unable to contain him.

Final note: Despite the disappointment of losing Amir so close to the start of the season, Derbyshire's seam attack remains strong with Zak Chappell, Sam Conners, and Ben Aitchison supporting Tickner. Lloyd and the evergreen Wayne Madsen should compensate for du Plooy's departure to Middlesex, while Luis Reece and Harry Came will aim to build on the opening partnership they formed last season. The spin department is bolstered by Jack Morley's arrival on a season-long loan from Lancashire.

Glamorgan

Captain: Sam Northeast

Head Coach: Grant Bradburn

2023 finish: Fifth (Division Two)

2023 highest run-scorer: Kiran Carlson (1,068)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Timm van der Gugten (39)

The most important winter moves: Glamorgan's new head coach, Grant Bradburn, has brought in seam bowler Hamza Mir, whom he previously coached while in charge of the Pakistan national team. Additionally, leg spinner Mason Crane has joined the club on a season-long loan.

The main question: Glamorgan's main issue last year was their inability to take wickets. Despite the batting unit often setting up a winning position, they were unable to capitalize on it. The question now is whether the addition of Bradburn, Mir, and Crane will help turn some of the 12 draws they had in 2023 into wins this season.

Anticipated sights: Glamorgan fans will likely prioritize the career progression of local player Kiran Carlson. It has been 19 years since a player from the county appeared in an England team, and Carlson's potential for another 1000-run season could make him a strong contender for selection in an England tour at some level this winter.

Who is most likely to play Bazball: Dan Douthwaite enjoys hitting bouncers for six and hooking them when they come his way. He is a hard hitter in all formats of the game.

Final note: It may seem odd to consider a Championship campaign with only one loss as a disappointment, but last year's team felt like it underperformed. The 12 draws in 2023 were a mix of good and bad luck, but the main problem was a lack of killer instinct when ahead. To make 2024 better than last season, this needs to change. The bowlers, both new and old, must be able to take wickets to ensure success this season.

Gloucestershire

Captain: Graeme van Buuren

Head Coach: Mark Alleyne

2023 finish: 8th (Division Two)

2023 highest run-scorer: Miles Hammond (812)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Zafar Gohar (32)

The most important winter moves: New head coach Mark Alleyne has announced the return of Australian Cameron Bancroft as an overseas player to bolster the batting line-up ahead of the 2024 Championship season, while fellow countryman Beau Webster, an all-rounder, will be available for two matches in June as part of his overseas assignment in T20 cricket.

The main question: Can Gloucestershire shed the stigma of being the weakest team in the Championship? Last season, they failed to reach 100 points in 14 Second Division games, resulting in no victories and six defeats. The previous year, they were relegated to the bottom of the First Division with only two wins.

Anticipated sights: The return of Alleyne as head coach in place of Dale Benkenstein will hopefully reproduce the winning mentality of the hugely successful one-day team he captained in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Alleyne is one of the most popular players in Gloucestershire's history and his shrewd cricket brain will be an asset to the team.

Who is most likely to play Bazball: Jack Taylor is guaranteed to bat aggressively in all forms of cricket. He has developed his leg-spin in recent seasons after being found guilty of an illegal action as an off-spinner. This new skill allows him to tempt mistakes from opponents with similar intent.

Final note: Gloucestershire must improve in all areas to overcome the memories of two disappointing seasons. Last season, they only managed to score 23 batting points, the lowest in the Second Division, and no seam bowler took more than 20 wickets. Although injuries played a part, key players underperformed, with Chris Dent and James Bracey contributing less than 1,200 runs between them. If the team is to mount a promotion challenge, both players will need to recapture their top form.

Leicestershire

Captain: Lewis Hill

Head Coach: Alfonso Thomas

2023 finish: Fourth (Division Two)

2023 highest run-scorer: Rishi Patel (1,075)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Chris Wright (48)

The most important winter moves: Under new head coach Alfonso Thomas and assistant James Taylor, eight players left and four new players joined the team. Peter Handscomb, an Australian international, was tied down for a second season, and Marcus Harris returns to provide high-quality early-season cover.

The main question: After winning their first one-day trophy in 38 years, can Leicestershire continue their success and launch a promotion challenge? They begin their season away at Yorkshire, followed by consecutive home fixtures against Derbyshire and Glamorgan. A victory in either of these matches could greatly boost their confidence, especially under the leadership of new red-ball skipper, Lewis Hill.

Anticipated sights: Tom Scriven, the young player of the year for 2023, is continuing to make progress. Despite being unable to establish himself in three seasons with Hampshire, the 25-year-old all-rounder is now thriving at Grace Road. He combined 62 wickets with 432 runs across all formats last season and played a key role in providing the red-ball attack with the depth that it has sometimes lacked in recent years.

Who is most likely to play Bazball: Sol Budinger is a natural Bazballer, while Rishi Patel's strike rate in making his 1,075 runs last year was impressive, with an average of almost 45.

Final note: Some cricket commentators wrote off Leicestershire as a basket case after they had only won eight wooden spoons in 14 seasons. But they showed promise last season. They finished as Metro Bank One-Day Cup champions. While there is still room for improvement, promotion to Division One would be the perfect next step.

Middlesex

Captain: Toby Roland-Jones

Head Coach: Richard Johnson

2023 finish: Ninth (Division 1)

2023 highest run-scorer: Ryan Higgins (955)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Ethan Bamber (41)

The most important winter moves: The team has faced financial restrictions, resulting in limited arrivals. However, the recent acquisition of Leus du Plooy, who was prolific with Derbyshire last season, will strengthen the batting ranks. Additionally, Henry Brookes' arrival from Warwickshire is timely, given Tim Murtagh's retirement. It is worth noting that John Simpson's departure to Sussex has left big shoes to fill behind the stumps.

The main question: Middlesex's fragile batting was a major factor in their relegation last season, with the top order being decimated on a regular basis. Du Plooy's arrival should provide consistent runs at the crucial three or four positions, which will hopefully support the development of young players like Josh De Caires and Joe Cracknell.

Anticipated sights: The aim is for Middlesex to regain competitiveness in red-ball cricket. Their batting struggles put them on the defensive throughout 2023, leaving little respite for bowlers who were expected to perform miracles to turn the tide. The reduction in difficulty should result in more runs being scored.

Who is most likely to play Bazball: Last season, Ryan Higgins had to keep his aggressive instincts in check during innings rebuilds but he would be more explosive with runs behind him. Similarly, Cracknell could be belligerent in the middle order against an older ball.

Final note: Middlesex must make key decisions correctly if they are to contend for promotion in a competitive Division Two. These decisions include what to do with Josh De Caires. Although generally regarded as a top-order batter, he spent last year as the leading off-spinner and was often left stranded with the tail batting at eight. Whether Cracknell wins the battle with Robbie White and Jack Davies for wicket-keeping duties and drops down the order accordingly may determine whether he returns to the top order.

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