The landscape of the County Championship has changed drastically. Matches will be played in the early and latter parts of summer, as the ECB hand summer’s best days to white-ball cricket.
The Hundred looms in 2020 and the County Championship continues to fight for relevance amid the glitz of the IPL, glory of Test cricket and sell-out crowds of international one-day matches.
The loyal followers of county cricket will be no less excited for the 2019 season, though. Here’s our County Championship preview...
County Championship: Division One
Surrey cruised to the County Championship title last season with remarkable ease. Their 11/5 price to make it two in a row is hardly shocking.
Several of their team, including Rory Burns and Jason Roy, could be in Test action from England, but the altered schedule means it should not impact their County Championship campaign too severely.
Burns and Roy lead a gifted line-up. Ollie Pope and Jamie Smith shone against the MCC in Dubai, while Dean Elgar returns as the overseas.
Morne Morkel, who terrorised County Championship batsmen last season, extended his deal. All-rounders Liam Plunkett and Jordan Clark add to an already immense bowling unit. Few will bet against Surrey making it two titles in two years.
The British ‘summer’ weather halted Essex’s title charge last season. With Alastair Cook ready to dominate in his first full County Championship season in 14 years, they are the leading challengers for Surrey’s crown.
The ever-reliable Peter Siddle will be back at Chelmsford accompanying the talented Jamie Porter. It will be weird to see Essex without James Foster, but they have an experienced core that will tempt people to back them at 7/2.
It’s all been change at Headingley, with Yorkshire waving goodbye to Jack Brooks and Plunkett.
Duanne Oliver’s Kolpak signing softens the blow of Brooks – who was a fan favourite – leaving the club, but it’s hard to see Yorkshire competing with Surrey and Essex this year. The 13/2 price is on the short side, even with Gary Ballance returning.
Nottinghamshire, like Yorkshire, have wrung the changes. Ben Duckett, Ben Slater and Joe Clarke are great additions to the batting order as they look to play their way into the England side, though Billy Root, Joe’s younger brother, was allowed to leave for Glamorgan.
The Trent Bridge outfit survived on matches won last season, having finished level on points with Lancashire. Some will look at the 3/1 odds on relegation as good value. A busy offseason makes the 7/1 to win the title a better bet, though.
Hampshire had a pretty bland 2018, residing in mid-table and suffering a long winless streak. They have reason to optimistic of a more enjoyable 2019, thanks to the signings of Keith Barker, Aneurin Donald, Fuller and Dimuth Karunaratne.
The batting is as good as any in county cricket. James Vince and Sam Northeast could pile up the runs this summer, but the bowling is a concern.
Re-signing Dale Steyn, for even a brief spell, would change their outlook drastically. The 15/2 to lift the trophy is worth considering.
Somerset finished second in 2018, but never made it much of a contest. The team is similar this season, and Brooks adds to a deep bowling group. They are still looking for that first title, and it is unlikely to be their year. At 15/2, Hampshire are the better option.
Jonathan Trott’s retirement and Barker’s move put Warwickshire at threat of relegation. The Bears are 7/4 to go down.
Sam Billings and Joe Denly will miss the start of the season because of IPL commitments. Kent are up against it to retain their top-flight status after being promoted last year.
Matt Henry does not come back to this season – he will be sorely missed. Their 1/2 to suffer relegation is fair.
County Championship: Division Two
Lancashire had a torrid 2018 campaign, ending in relegation. The club was in turmoil for much of the season but are unsurprisingly strong favourites to win Division Two this season at 15/8 in 888sport’s cricket betting odds.
Part of the 2020 shake up sees Division One grow to 10 teams, meaning three will be promoted this term. It would be a major shock if Lancashire are not in the top flight, particularly after adding Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns as overseas players.
Liam Livingstone had a difficult 2018 but had a solid time in the Pakistan Super League and could take the division by storm.
Middlesex follow Lancashire in 888sport’s odds, sitting at 3/1 to win the division and 5/4 to make the top two.
Failure to gain promotion at the first time of asking led to frustration at Lord’s. Stuart Law has been appointed as head coach, but it’s been a quiet winter in terms of arrivals despite the departures of James Franklin and James Fuller.
A fully fit Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones changes the situation drastically for Law’s team and could make that 3/1 look a bargain bet. Dawid Malan needs a big season if he’s to force his way back into England reckoning after Middlesex’s batting faltered in 2018.
Sussex’s first campaign under Jason Gillespie didn’t go quite as planned. Their 6/4 price to finish in the top two is a good one, though, and many will fancy them to secure promotion.
Mir Hamza makes a threatening bowling attack yet fiercer. Sussex will be confident of playing in Division One in 2020 and, with a bit of good fortune, could creep into contention for the division at 7/2.
Injuries contributed to Worcestershire’s relegation last season, and Joe Clarke leaving for Nottinghamshire was a bitter blow. The return of Australian Callum Ferguson and arrivals Wayne Parnell and Rikki Wessels bolster the squad.
Dealing with Clarke’s absence is going to be a challenging. Providing the order holds together, the Pears have a chance of breaking into the top three.
After the top four contenders, we’re onto the outsiders for promotion.
Durham lingered near the bottom of the division last season and are out at 14/1 to finish top in 2019. Paul Collingwood’s retirement leaves a gaping hole in the middle order, and it’s hard to see Durham filling that this year.
Cameron Bancroft was controversially named captain – Durham need him in his best form if they are to trouble for promotion.
The 7/1 on Durham to finish bottom of the division is worth considering, though Derbyshire and Glamorgan are the favourites in that market at 7/2.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*