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    Vitality County Championship 2024: Division Two, part 2
Vitality County Championship 2024: Division Two, part 2
Sussex. Source: Sussex CCC

Vitality County Championship 2024: Division Two, part 2

Northamptonshire

Captain: Luke Procter

Head Coach: John Sadler

2023 finish: Tenth (Division One)

2023 highest run-scorer: Rob Keogh (780)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Jack White (50)

The most important winter moves: Indian batsman Karun Nair, who scored 150 runs against Surrey last season, returns for the first seven Championship fixtures. His compatriot Prithvi Shaw is also back after his record-breaking 244 in the One-Day Cup. In-form Australian fast bowler Chris Tremain returns until the end of April, having taken 50 wickets in the Sheffield Shield.

The main question: Northants surprised many in 2022 with their hard-hitting, attritional style of cricket but a batting slump in 2023 left them firmly rooted to the bottom of Division One with five innings to spare. The question now is whether their fragile batting can stand up and mount a bid for promotion. The return of Nair and Shaw provides much-needed ballast. They will be joined by promising former Somerset batsman George Bartlett.

Anticipated sights: Hopes are high for new signing George Scrimshaw from Derbyshire, who brings a point of difference with his height and express pace. Although he has mainly taken wickets in white ball cricket, which earned him an England debut, he is eager to make an impact in the Championship at Wantage Road.

Who is most likely to play Bazball: Saif Zaib's impressive strike rate and white-ball form earned him a call-up for The Hundred last year. Although his Championship batting form dropped off in 2023, his century against Surrey the previous year showcased his immense talent as a batter.

Final note: Jack White was the leading wicket-taker last season, thanks to his dependable fast-medium pace. He will be a key player again in 2024, alongside the evergreen Ben Sanderson. Meanwhile, Tom Taylor's departure provides opportunities for the club's young seamers to stake their claim. Stepping away from the heat of Division One should help the batters recalibrate and find form. However, Northamptonshire's season will be judged on whether they can earn promotion at the first attempt.

Sussex

Captain: John Simpson

Head Coach: Paul Farbrace

2023 finish: 3rd (Division Two)

2023 highest run-scorer: Fynn Hudson-Prentice (879)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Ari Karvelas (35)

The most important winter moves: John Simpson, an experienced player from Middlesex, will captain Sussex for the first seven games, after which the position will be reviewed. The bowling attack will be led by overseas players Nathan McAndrew, Jayden Seales, and Jaydev Unadkat, while the prolific Cheteshwar Pujara will return for the first seven fixtures with the expectation of scoring plenty of runs.

The main question: Sussex would have finished with the same total as promoted Worcestershire if they had not been deducted 17 points for indiscipline against Leicestershire and a slow over-rate against Yorkshire. Therefore, they are close to ending a seven-year exile from Division One.

Anticipated sights: The upcoming season holds the exciting possibility of Ollie Robinson and potentially Jofra Archer sharing the new ball, with Archer continuing his injury rehabilitation during Sussex's pre-season trip to Bangalore. Robinson alone would provide a strong spearhead for the attack.

Who is most likely to play Bazball: Last season, Fynn Hudson-Prentice scored nine lower middle-order half-centuries, with a better strike-rate (73) than any of his top-order colleagues. Farbrace has challenged the all-rounder to convert more of those fifties into hundreds. Hudson-Prentice certainly has the shots and temperament to do so.

Final note: The team appears to be stronger and better balanced now. Additionally, Tom Clark has the talent to regularly open following Ali Orr's departure. Simpson is an excellent signing but it remains to be seen if the pressures of captaincy will affect his performance with the bat and gloves. Farbrace should be able to rotate his bowlers to keep them fresh. It is important to note that Sussex only won once before September last season, and they will need to improve their record if they hope to mount a promotion challenge.

Yorkshire

Captain: Shan Masood

Head Coach: Ottis Gibson

2023 finish: Seventh (Division Two)

2023 highest run-scorer: Adam Lyth (1,019)

2023 highest wicket-taker: Ben Coad (36)

The most important winter moves: Last month, Darren Gough left his position as director of cricket, placing more responsibility on coach Ottis Gibson. Left-arm spinner Dan Moriarty has signed permanently from Surrey after a brief loan spell last summer. Yorkshire will begin the season with captain Shan Masood, who returns for a second campaign, as their only overseas player. The excellent early-season availability of Joe Root and Harry Brook will, however, give them encouragement.

The main question: Yorkshire is the clear favourite to win Division Two. Can they live up to this billing? The team has faced significant off-field challenges over the past three years, including a 48-point deduction last season that prevented them from gaining promotion but the slate has been wiped clean and they are confident they can achieve their ultimate goal.

Anticipated sights: Yorkshire supporters will be eager to witness sustained fitness for crucial new ball seamers Ben Coad and Matthew Fisher, who have both experienced injury setbacks in recent seasons. They collectively took 64 wickets in 20 matches last year. If they can surpass that in 2024, the Headingley team will be formidable.

Who is most likely to play Bazball: If the opening duo of Fin Bean and Adam Lyth can set a good platform, George Hill has the potential to make a significant impact in the middle order. Hill's ability to play spin makes him a particularly valuable asset.

Final note: Yorkshire is eager to gain promotion to kick-start a new era at Headingley. A strong start would settle both the dressing room and the fanbase. The team boasts a mouthwatering batting line-up, featuring Bean, Lyth, Masood, Root, Brook, and Hill in the top six for the first block of seven Championship matches until late May. This is arguably the best batting line-up in the country, let alone Division Two. Root and Brook will be available for five of those games each.

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