Vitality County Championship Division One Preview – Part 1


It’s been 182 days since we last saw live County Championship cricket, but who’s counting?

Thankfully, the winter is coming to an end and the long six-month off-season is nearly over, with the 2024 season set to begin next Friday, 05 April.

For Essex, that means an opening trip to Trent Bridge to face Nottinghamshire, but that is only one of nine games set to take place across the country.

Read the first half of a team-by-team preview of this year’s Division One competitors, and part two is available to view here.


Captain: Scott Borthwick
Overseas players: David Bedingham (South Africa), Scott Boland (Australia)
2023 finish: 1st in Division Two (promoted)
2023 leading run-scorer: Alex Lees (1,347)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Ben Raine (60)
Championship titles: 3 (most recent in 2013)

The big question: Just how strong will Durham be in Division One after promotion? Their 2023 season saw them demolish Division Two, losing only once in 14 games on their way to amassing 233 points, which included an enormous 54 batting bonuses. The North-Eastern outfit are back in the top flight for the first time since 2016, and will be immediately aiming to shake up the division.

Key players: Talented opener Alex Lees will look to continue a fine 2023 that saw him hit the most runs of anyone across both Championship divisions with 1,347. However, it will be the seam battery, featuring Test-capped Matthew Potts and shrewd Australian import Scott Boland, who have really caught the eye on paper ahead of the season.

Wildcard watch: Batter Harry Crawshaw is yet to make his first-class debut, but hit 519 runs in last season’s 2nd XI Championship. That total included a top score of 129, made against Yorkshire in Scarborough, in a match that saw him also strike 83 in the first innings. He is a promising 20-year-old and, as a left-hander, possesses a handy X-factor that asks different questions of bowlers.

Final thought: This Durham squad looks strong enough to not only survive, but be competitive. They have turned Chester-le-Street into a fortress in recent times, losing just once in their past 16 games at home, a run that stretches back to May 2021. Now with the wind in their sails and a fearsome-looking seam bowling attack, Ryan Campbell’s side could well shake up Division One.


Captain: Tom Westley
Overseas player: Simon Harmer (South Africa)
2023 finish: 2nd
2023 leading run-scorer: Tom Westley (1,130)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Simon Harmer (61)
Championship titles: 8 (most recent in 2019)

The big question: Will Essex be the ones to dethrone double champions Surrey? Having pushed the consecutive title-winners all the way last season, including going on a run of six consecutive wins, the Eagles ultimately finished as runners-up in cruel fashion. There has been upheaval amongst the squad, with the retirement of the legendary Alastair Cook, but motivation will remain as high as ever.

Key players: The acquisition of resolute South African Dean Elgar to replace Cook has been widely hailed. However, it will more than likely be his compatriot Simon Harmer who will have the biggest impact on any title ambitions, with his off-spin having been instrumental in recent years, and it should be so again in 2024. Seam pair Jamie Porter and Sam Cook, who claimed 105 wickets between them last year, will also have major roles to play.

Wildcard watch: Might any of the young trio of Luc Benkenstein, Charlie Allison, or Noah Thain break into the first XI in 2024? All three were part of England’s squad in the recent Under-19 World Cup and are highly thought of around the club. Allison and Thain in particular enjoyed eye-catching breakout campaigns with the bat in last season’s One-Day Cup.

Final thought: After a strong showing last year, Essex will fancy their chances of being the ones to finally knock Surrey off the summit. Much will depend on how well new signings Elgar and Jordan Cox bed in, but if they do so smoothly, and the key performers in Porter, Harmer, and Westley all continue to display their class, the Eagles should expect to be challenging at the top again.


Captain: James Vince
Overseas players: Kyle Abbott (South Africa), Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan)
2023 finish: 3rd
2023 leading run-scorer: James Vince (1,007)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Mohammad Abbas (53)
Championship titles: 2 (most recent in 1973)

The big question: Will a strong squad finally be able to get over the line? Hampshire’s last four Championship finishes read 3rd, 3rd, 4th, and 3rd, revealing the fact that on paper, they are easily good enough to lift the trophy, but have just stumbled once too often. However, expectations remain high heading into 2024, and this once again could finally be the year they break a now-51-year duck.

Key players: As ever, captain James Vince remains one of the classiest batters on the county circuit, and last year passed 1,000 runs in a Championship season for the third time in his career. He will be relied upon to lead from the front again. Meanwhile, the Utilita Bowl surface should remain as bowler-friendly as it has in recent years, aiding overseas seam duo Kyle Abbott and Mohammad Abbas.

Wildcard watch: Hampshire had a very settled squad in 2023, making use of just 16 players across their entire 14-game campaign. However, there might be room for seamer John Turner to break through, especially after his exploits with a white ball last summer. He has played just two Championship matches, but took 21 wickets in the Vitality Blast, was included in England’s squad for the West Indies tour in December, and had his action compared to Glenn McGrath.

Final thought: Hampshire remain one of the strongest competitors in the division, and should consider success to be a title win. Many might raise an eyebrow at the length of their Championship drought, but if they can keep their heads and push away the painful memories of falling short, they too should be amongst the closest challengers to defending champions Surrey.


Captain: Daniel Bell-Drummond
Overseas players: Wes Agar, Xavier Bartlett (both Australia)
2023 finish: 8th
2023 leading run-scorer: Ben Compton (735)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Wes Agar & Matt Quinn (21 each)
Championship titles: 7 (most recent in 1978)

The big question: Can Kent avoid the drop with more comfort than they managed in 2023? Having stayed up on the final day last year only by virtue of Middlesex slipping to a narrow defeat against Nottinghamshire, the Canterbury outfit will be looking for a more secure finish this summer. Hopes will be high that a winter of much off-field movement can be the catalyst for a step forward in 2024.

Key players: New captain Daniel Bell-Drummond remains a class act but will hope to improve on his return of 579 runs from last season – even if that did include a magnificent triple century at Northamptonshire. Meanwhile, Kent’s bowlers’ woes have been well-documented in recent seasons, but the addition of leg-spinner Matt Parkinson should help.

Wildcard watch: With his uncle Joe already a key part of the Kent first XI, youngster Jaydn Denly is developing quite a name for himself, having made five appearances in the Metro Bank One Day Cup last summer. The 18-year-old was also included in England’s squad for the Under-19 World Cup, and could continue his flourishing progress with a first-class debut in 2024.

Final thought: Whether or not a Kent bowler can step up to lead the attack will be key. If someone produces a notable haul of wickets, they might well do far better than last season, but conversely, if they cannot improve on that bluntness with the ball that has plagued them recently, it could be another tough summer in Canterbury.


Captain: Keaton Jennings
Overseas players: Nathan Lyon (Australia), Tom Bruce (New Zealand)
2023 finish: 5th
2023 leading run-scorer: Josh Bohannon (1,257)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Tom Bailey (50)
Championship titles: 9 (most recent in 2011)


The big question: Can Lancashire finally put all the pieces together to mount a sustained title challenge? Despite being touted by many as strong contenders to lift the trophy in 2023, the Red Rose drew ten of their 14 games to finish fifth. However, they have undergone changes off the field over the winter, including appointing new head coach Dale Benkenstein, and will once again be bullish about their chances.

Key players: Lancashire have without doubt made the most eye-catching signing of anyone heading into 2024 in Australia spinner Nathan Lyon. Given the need to turn draws into wins and the fact that their spinners collectively averaged 39.57 in 2023, Lyon is a perfect fit even before his surreal star power is considered. Top-order batter Josh Bohannon, who was Division One’s leading run-scorer last season with 1,257, will also be instrumental, as will opener, and new captain, Keaton Jennings.

Wildcard watch: Wigan-born middle order batter Matty Hurst caught the eye in the final two games of last season, hitting back-to-back unbeaten half-centuries against Nottinghamshire and Kent. With the departures of Steven Croft and Dane Vilas from Lancashire’s red-ball team, there could be an opportunity for the talented 20-year-old, who can also keep wicket, to nail down a spot.

Final thought: Lancashire fans will be eager to see how former Gloucestershire head coach Benkenstein gets on in the Old Trafford hot seat. He has a task on his hands to increase the Red Rose’s cutting edge to a point that they can be considered genuine contenders, but there is no doubt that the quality exists within their squad to be in the title race, especially with the stellar signing of Lyon.