Vitality County Championship Division One Preview – Part 2


The 2024 season is now beginning to creep ever closer, with less than a week to go until the first balls are bowled up and down the country.

Essex’s match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge is only one of nine games set to take place on the opening weekend, which starts on Friday, 05 April.

Following the Eagles’ opener in the East Midlands, Anthony McGrath’s men return to Chelmsford for their first home fixture against rivals Kent.

Read on for the second half of a team-by-team preview of this year’s Division One candidates, and you can click here for part one.


Captain: Haseeb Hameed
Overseas players: Dane Paterson (South Africa), Will Young (New Zealand)
2023 finish: 6th
2023 leading run-scorer: Joe Clarke (1,053)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Brett Hutton (62)
Championship titles: 6 (most recent in 2010)

The big question: After a season of consolidation in 2023, can Nottinghamshire kick on? Promoted in 2022, the Green and Golds were somewhat inconsistent in their first season back in Division One, and may have been sweating at one point after going on a run of just one win in eight. They did, though, ultimately secure a mid-table finish, and the challenge now will be to ensure a squad with some eye-catching recruits can improve upon that.

Key players: Seamer Brett Hutton was the leading wicket-taker in red-ball cricket in the country last summer, claiming 62 victims, while South African Dane Paterson picked up 50 scalps for the third season in a row. More players will have to step up with the bat to push Nottinghamshire on from sixth place, but the likes of new red-ball captain Haseeb Hameed and Joe Clarke, who struck 1,000 runs in a season for the first time in his career in 2023, certainly have the ability to do so.

Wildcard watch: All-rounder Tom Loten has yet to play a first-class match for the Green and Golds since moving from Yorkshire last winter, but he shone in the Second XI Championship, hitting 638 runs at an average of 42.53 to finish fifth in the overall rankings. Seamer James Hayes, who is still only 22, picked up 26 wickets at 28.30 in the same competition and is also one to watch out for.

Final thought: Given their winter signings of batter Jack Haynes and seamers Josh Tongue and Dillon Pennington, Nottinghamshire’s squad is extremely talented. A strong season would see them pushing for the top three, but on the flip side, a poor campaign could have them in relegation trouble. The key to being closer to the former will lie with being more consistent.


Captain: Lewis Gregory
Overseas player: Matt Renshaw (Australia)
2023 finish: 7th
2023 leading run-scorer: James Rew (1,086)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Lewis Gregory (34)
Championship titles: 0

The big question: How will Somerset fare under the command of a new captain? Tom Abell, a man widely admired across the circuit for his leadership abilities, stepped down from the role over the winter to be replaced by T20 skipper Lewis Gregory. Having led the Taunton outfit to their second Vitality Blast title last season, the onus will now be on Gregory to improve on a disappointing seventh-place finish in the red-ball arena.

Key players: James Rew burst onto the scene last summer, hitting 1,086 runs at an average of 57.15, including five centuries. An extremely talented operator with both bat and wicketkeeping gloves, the 20-year-old left-hander is justifiably touted across the board as having a very bright future. Meanwhile, Craig Overton and new captain Gregory remain serious bowling threats, with the latter in particular having impressed in 2023, taking 34 wickets at a miserly 21.55 apiece.

Wildcard watch: In the absence of Rew, who can hardly be considered a wildcard any more given his breakout 2023 campaign that turned him into a lynchpin. However, another worth keeping an eye on is 23-year-old all-rounder Kasey Aldridge, who has both a five-wicket haul and an unbeaten century to his name. Last season, he struck 451 runs at 41.00, and was included in the England Lions squad to tour India this winter.

Final thought: The major aim for Somerset will be to start the season better than they managed in 2023, when it took until their sixth game to secure their first win. How quickly the new captain beds in could be crucial in determining if they will get that stronger start. In Gregory, though, they have selected a skipper with proven winning experience, and with Abell still in the side to impart wisdom if needed, the transition should be smooth, and hopes of a better season feel justified.


Captain: Rory Burns
Overseas player(s): Kemar Roach (West Indies), Sean Abbott (Australia)
2023 finish: 1st
2023 leading run-scorer: Dom Sibley (746)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Jordan Clark & Daniel Worrall (48 each)
Championship titles: 22 (most recent in 2023)

The big question: Can Surrey become the first county in more than 50 years to win three back-to-back titles? Despite being pushed all the way by Essex, the all-conquering Brown Caps finished 20 points clear at the top of the tree to lift their second successive title. They head into 2024 as the favourites to be the first team to seal a hat-trick of titles since Yorkshire achieved the feat between 1966 and 1968.

Key players: Openers Dom Sibley and Rory Burns represented England’s exact new-ball pair for 15 Test matches and combined for 1,377 runs last summer, with Ben Foakes adding 716 more. The bowling workload was similarly shared around evenly, and both Jordan Clark and Daniel Worrall, who claimed 48 wickets apiece to lead the way in those charts, will hope to break the 50-scalp barrier in 2024.

Wildcard watch: Wicketkeeper-batter Jamie Smith, who hit his 736 runs at an average of 40.88, is very much one for England’s future, but for now is a mainstay of the Surrey side. When it comes to a wildcard for the Brown Caps, though, it is another wicketkeeper who is worth watching, in Josh Blake. The 25-year-old led the way in the entire 2023 Second XI Championship run-scoring charts with 729, and numbers like that will do his efforts to finally make his first-class debut no harm whatsoever.

Final thought: What was instrumental to Surrey’s success last year was the fact that every player contributed in one form or another. Lower-order partnerships with the bat helped them pick up vital bonus points and extend innings to score crucial runs. That bodes exceptionally well heading into 2024, with no one player having to bear the mental weight of expectation with either bat or ball. It feels difficult to see past the Three Feathers making it three in a row.


Captain: Alex Davies
Overseas player: Hasan Ali (Pakistan)
2023 finish: 4th
2023 leading run-scorer: Sam Hain (706)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Oliver Hannon-Dalby (54)
Championship titles: 8 (most recent in 2021)

The big question: Will new captain Alex Davies be able to steer Warwickshire into Division One’s top three? The Bears were ‘best of the rest’ in 2023 after finishing fourth, 13 and 17 points behind Surrey-chasers Hampshire and Essex, respectively. It was a huge improvement on the relegation battle of 2022 that saw them dramatically stay up on the last day, but a tendency to fall to too many heavy defeats derailed any possibility of establishing themselves amongst the title contenders.

Key players: Sam Hain displayed his consistent class again in 2023 by scoring over 700 runs at an average of 47.06. Solihull-born Rob Yates is another talented operator with the bat, and should improve upon his 2023 return of 583 at 34.29. With the ball, it is hard to look beyond veteran seamer Chris Rushworth, who moved to Edgbaston ahead of the 2023 campaign after 12 consecutive seasons with Durham, and marked his first summer in a Bears shirt by taking 53 wickets at 20.26.

Wildcard watch: Batting all-rounder Jacob Bethell was born in Barbados but first came to the attention of Warwickshire when he accepted a scholarship at Rugby School. He played four Championship games last summer to add to the five appearances he already had under his belt, and has a first-class top score of 61. Bethell is well thought of both domestically and at international level, having played a key role in England’s run to the Under-19 World Cup final in 2022.

Final thought: Two of Warwickshire’s losses in 2023 came by nine wickets, another by an innings and 97 runs, and the final one by eight wickets. That affliction of rolling over with the bat hit them once too often, and cost the Bears dearly when it came to chasing a place in the top three. Solving that issue will be high on the agenda for new captain Alex Davies, but with the talent in their squad, there is no reason to think the Edgbaston outfit cannot crack the top three if they do make progress in that area.


Captain: Joe Leach
Overseas players: Nathan Smith (New Zealand)
2023 finish: 2nd in Division Two (promoted)
2023 leading run-scorer: Jake Libby (1,153)
2023 leading wicket-taker: Joe Leach (48)
Championship titles: 5 (most recent in 1989)

The big question: Can promoted Worcestershire defy the odds and stay in Division One? In beating Sussex and Leicestershire to the runners-up spot, the Pears made sure of a return to the top flight for the first time since 2018. It was driven by their bowling attack, as they still managed to secure promotion despite recording the lowest number of batting bonus points. The battle for the New Road side now will be to make sure they don’t make an immediate return to Division Two.

Key players: Jake Libby has been one of the circuit’s most consistent openers in recent years, and last season struck 1,153 runs at 57.65, marking the second time in the last three seasons he has hit four figures. The Pears were reliant on him, with no other batter averaging above 37, but Brett D’Oliveira at least enjoyed some success with a return of 661, including four half-centuries. Captain Joe Leach – who is also handy with the willow – leads the bowling attack, and claimed 48 wickets last summer.

Wildcard watch: Worcestershire’s pathway has often been widely praised for its consistent ability to produce talented players, and one of the brightest prospects at the moment is Rehaan Edavalath. The 20-year-old had a sterling season in the Second XI Championship last summer, hitting 544 runs in 15 innings, including a mammoth unbeaten 169* away to Somerset. He also made his first-class debut at home to Derbyshire, and should be in line for further recognition in 2024.

Final thought: Remaining in Division One is going to be tricky on paper for Worcestershire, but if there is one thing the Pears have demonstrated over recent seasons, it is that they love to upset the odds. Alan Richardson’s men were undefeated at New Road last summer, in fact losing just two of their last 14 games at home, and they will be relishing the opportunity to cause some surprises against the big beasts of the top flight.