County club-by-club guide 2014
The county season gets under way on Sunday as promoted Lancashire return to Division One of the Championship by facing Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge.
Sussex and Middlesex meet at Hove in the only other top-flight fixture, as Durham wait to begin their defence of the title seven days later.
Surrey meet Glamorgan at The Oval in Division Two, with skipper Graeme Smith hoping to inspire a promotion charge.
This summer, a new 50-over One-Day Cup replaces the 40-over competition.
The England and Wales Cricket Board hope to attract even larger attendances to the game's shortest format, which has now been rebranded as the T20 Blast.
In a change from last year, most Championship games will start on Sundays instead of Wednesdays, with the majority of T20 group games on Fridays, beginning on 16 May.
One-Day Cup group games will all take place between 26 July and 21 August, with quarter and semi-finals to follow ahead of the final at Lord's on 20 September.
The BBC will again have commentary on every day of every county match this summer, via the BBC Sport website.
Captain: Wayne Madsen
Overseas players: Shivnarine Chanderpaul (West Indies), Marcus North (Australia)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: 8th (relegated), YB40: 6th in group, FL t20: 5th in group.
Season prospects: Derbyshire impressed many last season in eventually putting up a brave fight against relegation. They certainly did enough to make sure they go into the new Championship campaign among the favourites for promotion from Division Two. New elite performance director Graeme Welch has instilled a sense of commitment and professionalism in the squad, and Derbyshire have also kept hold of their top performers from last year. More will be expected of Shivnarine Chanderpaul when he is not on international duty, while Welch is also demanding an immediate improvement in Derbyshire's short-form performances.
One to watch: Undoubtedly the captain, and talisman, Wayne Madsen. Named Championship player of the season 12 months ago, and the first man to reach 1,000 runs, just keeping him around is a huge achievement. Fitter and better prepared than ever, expect him to continue that form.
By BBC Radio Derby's Owen Bradley
Captain: Paul Collingwood (for Championship), Mark Stoneman (for One-Day Cup and T20 Blast)
Overseas players: John Hastings (Australia)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: winners, YB40: 4th in group, FL t20: quarter-finalists.
Season prospects: Durham were seen by many as relegation certainties for 2013. It was amazing then, that they won the title in fine style with a club-record 10 victories to boot. This summer is difficult to assess as the squad has been trimmed again for financial reasons and Ben Stokes, Graham Onions and Scott Borthwick could all be away at times on international duty. The signing of Australian all-rounder John Hastings is an interesting one as they did not employ an overseas player last year. Is he a straight replacement for Stokes? They could well miss the influence around the club of the likes of Will Smith, Callum Thorp and Dale Benkenstein, but the young players who stepped in last year did an astounding job and will have more belief in themselves as a result.
One to watch: There are so many exciting prospects, it is difficult to single any individual out, so take your pick from Usman Arshad, Keaton Jennings, Michael Richardson or Mark Wood as the young players hope to kick on further this season. Mark Stoneman will hope to build on a good 2013 with the bat, and there are not many better new-ball pairs than Onions and Chris Rushworth.
By BBC Newcastle's Martin Emmerson
Captain: James Foster
Overseas players: None signed so far.
How they did last season: County Championship D2: 3rd, YB40: 2nd in group, FL t20: semi-finalists.
Season prospects: Promotion from Division Two of the County Championship has been a priority for Essex in the last two years, but they came up short on each occasion. Getting first innings runs on the board has become a common problem and the batting has looked frail. Last season's 20 all out in their second innings against Lancashire might have been a shock to many, but for regular Essex fans it had been coming. A repeat of last season's Twenty20 Finals Day appearance is a possibility and the return of 50-over cricket will reignite memories of years gone by when Essex were a dominant force in that format.
One to watch: With his express pace, Tymal Mills was mentioned as a possible addition to the Ashes tour party during the winter. While his potential is undoubted, the youngster needs to work on his control and it will be interesting to see how a winter spent with the England Development Squad has benefitted him. His early season progress will be watched with great interest, although nailing down a regular place in the Essex side will need to be his first target as pitches in April may not suit him.
By BBC Essex's Glenn Speller
Captain: Mark Wallace (Championship and One-Day Cup), Jim Allenby (T20 Blast)
Overseas players: Jacques Rudolph (South Africa)
How they did last season: County Championship D2: 8th, YB40: beaten finalists, FL t20: 3rd in group.
Season prospects: It has been a close-season of change off the field, with former Glamorgan captain Hugh Morris installed as director of cricket and chief executive and Toby Radford taking over as head coach from Australian Matthew Mott. With the backbone of Murray Goodwin, Jim Allenby and seamer Michael Hogan retained, the addition of former South Africa Test batsman Rudolph promises to add consistency at the top of the order. A first Lord's final in 13 seasons [in the YB40] marked an improvement last season, but promotion to Division One of the Championship is Radford's main aim.
One to watch: The top order's inconsistency last season means the arrival of former South Africa Test opener Jacques Rudolph is the source of much anticipation at the Swalec Stadium. Coach Radford has singled out Rudolph as a key player to provide runs and bring the benefit of his experience of 48 Test matches and 45 one-day internationals to bear on the club's homegrown batsmen.
By BBC Wales' Richard Williams
Captain: Michael Klinger
Overseas players: Michael Klinger (Australia)
How they did last season: County Championship D2: 6th, YB40: 4th in group, FL t20: 6th in group.
Season prospects: There was progress in the four-day game last season, as Michael Klinger proved a success with the bat and impressed with his captaincy, and if Gloucestershire can make a sound start to the season they could be an outside bet for promotion. Much depends on the support Klinger receives from his fellow batsmen, while on the bowling side a lot rests on the front-line attack remaining injury-free as Will Gidman and Craig Miles are up there with the best in Division Two. In the one-day game, the county were a massive disappointment last year, particularly in the T20 format, and must find greater consistency, but with the ground development coming along apace, there is more optimism in the club now than a year ago.
One to watch: Young paceman Craig Miles impressed all those who saw him last year, particularly at the the start of the season. He picked up 43 Championship wickets but suffered towards the end of the summer as he was forced to bowl more often than the club would have liked due to injuries to his bowling colleagues. His contract ties him to the county until 2017 and if nurtured correctly he could be leading the attack for seasons to come.
By BBC Radio Gloucestershire's Bob Hunt
Captain: Jimmy Adams (for Championship and One-Day Cup), James Vince (for T20 Blast)
Overseas players: Kyle Abbott (South Africa); Glenn Maxwell (Australia, for Twenty20)
How they did last season: County Championship D2: 4th, YB40: semi-finalists, FL t20: semi-finalists.
Season prospects: To mount a push for promotion in the Championship, Hampshire need their bowlers taking 50 wickets or more this season. The evergreen James Tomlinson will be expected to match his 53 from last season, and if David Balcombe can return to the devastating form that saw him pick up 59 in 2012, then Hampshire should prove a match for any side in the division, especially as they can also call on South African pace bowler Kyle Abbott and Matt Coles, who was signed at the back end of last season after claiming over 50 victims for Kent two summers ago. Hampshire's one-day record in the last few seasons is second to none, but it is difficult to see how a team in transition in the Championship can keep the same momentum in the shorter formats and they will certainly miss Neil McKenzie's cool head.
One to watch: James Vince passed 1,000 Championship runs for the first time last season, confirming the 23-year-old's undoubted natural stroke-making ability. A regular in England Lions squads, Vince will look to push himself into contention for the senior side as the fallout from the winter continues.
By BBC Radio Solent's Kevan James
Captain: Rob Key
Overseas players: Doug Bollinger (Australia)
How they did last season: County Championship D2: 7th, YB40: 4th in group, FL t20: 5th in group.
Season prospects: Kent step into the unknown in 2014 with a squad capable of matching the best in Division Two, but one that lacked consistency last year. Fans have yearned for an overseas fast bowler for years, so the addition of Doug Bollinger for the entire campaign to lead the bowling unit is a huge fillip. And if Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Northeast can turn their undoubted potential into 1,000 plus runs, and Adam Riley capably fills James Tredwell's spinning shoes whilst he is on international duty, Kent could surprise other teams this season. Rob Key's return as captain will add much-needed stability and although expectations on his side are low, the potential is there.
One to watch: Darren Stevens ended 2013 fearing his career could be over with an anti-corruption tribunal hanging over him. Despite the uncertainty, he was still Kent's leading run-scorer in all competitions, including an emotional 205 not out against Lancashire, and this summer should see Stevens like a man reborn, having been cleared of all charges. His swashbuckling batting will be feared in all forms of the game and his military medium-pacers are an underrated weapon.
By BBC Radio Kent's Ben Croucher
Captain: Glen Chapple
Overseas players: None signed so far.
How they did last season: County Championship D2: winners (promoted), YB40: 3rd in group, FL t20: quarter-finalists.
Season prospects: If Lancashire play as well as they played last season, they will be a match for anybody in Division One of the Championship. Their bowling attack, led by Kyle Hogg, Glen Chapple and Simon Kerrigan, is as good as anything in the top-flight, but the one slight concern is whether they can score enough runs, especially following the exit of Simon Katich. Ashwell Prince, in his final season before retiring, will be crucial and if Lancashire can make big scores, they could compete for the title. Since Peter Moores became coach in 2009, the only time they have finished outside the top four of their division was their relegation season of 2012, so they are used to challenging towards the top end of the table, and the arrival of England limited-overs wicketkeeper Jos Buttler should help them do so again.
One to watch: Luis Reece was handed his Championship debut halfway through last season and averaged more than 55 from 10 matches to help the Red Rose to promotion. He looks an accomplished batsman, with a calmness that you need to be a success at the top of the order, and he is brave as well. The one thing he needs to improve on, by his own admission, is turning big scores into hundreds. He got past 50 eight times in 2013, but was unable to make it to three figures.
By BBC Radio Lancashire's Scott Read
Captain: Ramnaresh Sarwan (Championship), Josh Cobb (one-day)
Overseas players: Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies)
How they did last season: County Championship D2: 9th, YB40: 5th in group, FL t20: 4th in group.
Season prospects: Failing to win a single match and finishing 70 points adrift at the bottom of Championship Division Two last summer means 2014 can surely only be a season of improvement. There is hope that Ramnaresh Sarwan, who played just five Championship matches in 2013, should be available for most, if not all, of the season, and in the considerable promise shown by Ned Eckersley, who scored 1,302 first class and 386 one-day runs last season. The bowling too appears to have a stronger core, with Charlie Shreck, Kent's leading Championship wicket-taker in 2012 and 2013, adding his experience to a youthful seam department, while off-spinner Jigar Naik is fit again after two seasons truncated by injury, and is joined in the squad by England Under-19 prospect Rob Sayer.
One to watch: Eckersley performed superbly in adversity last season and after an injury-affected 2013, Dan Redfern, signed from Derbyshire, will be determined to build on the promise he showed in scoring 848 first-class runs in 2012.
By BBC Radio Leicester's Richard Rae
Captain: Chris Rogers (for Championship), Eoin Morgan (for One-Day Cup and T20 Blast)
Overseas players: Chris Rogers (Australia)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: 5th, YB40: 3rd in group, FL t20: 4th in group.
Season prospects: Although finishing lower in the Championship table than in the previous season, Middlesex feel that last year again marked a further improvement for the county, and they were more competitive in the limited-over competitions as well. This summer Eoin Morgan will captain the one-day side and the Irishman will also play a large part in the early stages of the Championship following his decision to forego the Indian Premier League, adding invaluable experience and expertise to the middle order. Steven Finn should also see a lot of action for Middlesex as he looks to rebuild his confidence and challenge for an England place again. And if Toby Roland-Jones and James Harris can stay fit, then they have an attack, led by the ever-reliable Tim Murtagh, capable of ending the county's long wait for the title. The key word for the team, in all competitions, will be consistency.
One to watch: Persistent niggles prevented Toby Roland-Jones showing his true worth last season and it was to the detriment of the team. Many eyes last season were on James Harris and he too will hope to prove why the entire county circuit wanted him upon his departure from Glamorgan.
By BBC London 94.9's Kevin Hand
Captain: Stephen Peters (for Championship), Alex Wakely (for One-Day Cup and T20 Blast)
Overseas players: Richard Levi (South Africa, for limited-overs cricket)
How they did last season: County Championship D2: runners-up (promoted), YB40: 2nd in group, FL t20: winners
Season prospects: Northants supporters have come down to earth with a bump following the understandable euphoria of last summer. Australian fast bowler Jackson Bird will not be coming to Wantage Road because of a back problem, one-day captain Alex Wakely could miss the entire summer with an Achilles tendon injury and there are early-season fitness worries about several others players, including pivotal all-rounder David Willey. On the plus side, batsman Rob Newton is back in the reckoning after an injury-hit 2013, while left-arm spinner Graeme White returns to the club where he began his first-class career after a spell at Nottinghamshire. Both could have important roles to play for Stephen Peters' side as they face their first Championship Division One campaign since 2004.
One to watch: Wicketkeeper batsman Ben Duckett underlined his enormous promise during the winter with some eye-catching performances at the Under-19 World Cup, but is one of the county's injury concerns. Seam bowling all-rounder Ollie Stone is another talented youngster who could have plenty of work this year.
By BBC Radio Northampton's Andrew Radd
Captain: Chris Read (for Championship), James Taylor (for One-Day Cup and T20 Blast)
Overseas players: Peter Siddle (Australia)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: 7th, YBO: winners, FL t20: quarter-finalists.
Season prospects: Nottinghamshire salvaged something from a disappointing 2013 campaign by winning their first one-day final for 24 years at Lord's last September. For a side bursting with seasoned internationals, their Championship form was poor, forcing director of cricket Mick Newell to re-assess their overseas player strategy and switch from his usual preference of an experienced batsman. With Australia pace bowler Peter Siddle brought in instead to bolster the bowling unit, Notts should be more competitive in four-day cricket and, with proven hitters at the top of the order, will always be competitive in the shorter formats. Expect at least one of the three trophies to be heading towards Trent Bridge.
One to watch: It is not only Nottinghamshire supporters that are looking forward to seeing Peter Siddle in English domestic cricket for the first time. A proven competitor at the very highest level, he should relish the conditions in England and is already an early tip to be leading wicket-taker in Division One. If he stays fit and is available all summer, Siddle may well prove to be the signing - and player - of 2014.
By BBC Radio Nottingham's Dave Bracegirdle
Captain: Marcus Trescothick.
Overseas players: Alviro Petersen (South Africa)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: 6th, YB40: semi-finalists, FL t20: quarter-finalists.
Season prospects: Even the most avid Somerset fan is unsure what to expect in the Championship this summer. Last year's brush with relegation certainly came as a surprise to most and how the players respond to that remains to be seen. Some brittle batting performances were the biggest problem last year, but a top order containing Nick Compton, Alviro Petersen, Marcus Trescothick, James Hildreth and Craig Kieswetter should surely be able to provide more solid foundations. Having been one of the most consistent one-day teams in the country over the last five years, Somerset should again be a force to be reckoned with, although the loss of Jos Buttler is a real blow.
One to watch: The only new face this summer is South African Johann Myburgh who should add more solidity to Somerset's batting, as well as a useful spin option. But their success this season is likely to revolve around how many of the club's talented youngsters can become real match-winners. If half of a group including Craig and Jamie Overton, Lewis Gregory, Craig Meschede, Alex Barrow, Chris Jones, George Dockrell and Jack Leach step up, they could be title challengers.
By BBC Radio Bristol & BBC Somerset's Ed Hadwin
Captain: Graeme Smith
Overseas players: Graeme Smith (South Africa)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: 9th (relegated), YB40: 5th in group, FL t20: beaten finalists.
Season prospects: Surrey head into the new season with bags of potential and a new regime under head coach Graham Ford, while having Graeme Smith available for the whole season to lead the side is huge. Former England batsman Kevin Pietersen will also be available outside of his overseas T20 commitments. Promotion from the Championship will be a target, but the management team will also be focusing on seeing improved performances from individuals and the team in the longer form of the game. There will be a more youthful look to the side and patience will be needed because the rate of improvement will differ among individuals. Surrey will be confident of making an impact in the shorter forms of the game and it will be a fascinating season to see the progress that is made over the summer months.
One to watch: Jason Roy possesses so much natural talent and can take an attack apart on his day. He has already shown what he can do in the shorter form of the game, but in the Championship he is yet to reach his full potential. There is no reason why he cannot score a stack of runs in the longer form of the game - two sessions of Jason Roy batting can turn a game on its head.
By BBC London 94.9's Mark Church
Captain: Ed Joyce
Overseas players: Steve Magoffin (Australia), Yasir Arafat (Pakistan, for T20 Blast)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: 3rd, YB40: 3rd in group, FL t20: 6th in group.
Season prospects: Sussex's preparations for the new season have been hampered by injuries to key players. Opener Chris Nash is recovering from a burst appendix and is likely to be missing for several weeks, while Luke Wright suffered a side strain on England duty and could miss the first two Championship matches. Add to that the possibility that Chris Jordan could be on England duty during the summer, and Sussex may be missing an opening batsman, all-rounder, and opening bowler, at various stages. On the positive side, Matt Prior will be determined to erase the memory of a disappointing 2013, and his presence in the middle-order will be a major boost in the early season. The seam bowling department will be heavily dependent on the reliable Steve Magoffin, while Ashar Zaidi and Will Beer will be competing for the vacant spinner's berth following the departure of Monty Panesar.
One to watch: Luke Wells showed last season that he has the ability to bat for long periods, with his 208 at The Oval being a model of concentration and excellent shot selection. Playing grade cricket in Australia over the winter will have improved his game further, and with Chris Nash initially absent, Wells has added responsibility at the top of the order.
By BBC Sussex's Adrian Harms
Captain: Jim Troughton
Overseas players: Jeetan Patel (New Zealand), Shoaib Malik (Pakistan, for T20 Blast)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: 4th, YB40: 7th in group, FL t20: 4th in group.
Season prospects: Warwickshire will take encouragement from having finished in the prize money in the Championship last season despite a long list of injury problems and international call-ups. Fast bowler Chris Wright was especially missed in the second half of 2013 and avoiding similar problems this season will determine the county's prospects of success. A year after Dougie Brown replaced Ashley Giles as director of cricket, Warwickshire have lost another key member of their backroom team, with bowling coach Graeme Welch returning to Derbyshire, but Alan Richardson, lured back from Worcestershire, is a popular replacement. The county will expect to be competitive in the Championship, but need to improve in both short formats of the game, though whether supporters from other parts of the county should care how the "Birmingham Bears" get on in the T20 Blast is a moot point.
One to watch: Seam bowler Richard Jones has been snapped up from Worcestershire, and Warwickshire will hope he can stay fit and build on some of the promise he showed at New Road. His former Worcestershire team-mate Alan Richardson should be in a good position to get the best out of him.
By BBC Coventry & Warwickshire's Clive Eakin
Captain: Daryl Mitchell
Overseas players: Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan)
How they did last season: County Championship D2: 5th, YB40: 5th in group, FL t20: 5th in group.
Season prospects: How Worcestershire will cope after the departure of Alan Richardson is the question on many supporters' minds. The pace attack looks a little thin and with four spinners on the books, including Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal, it is unlikely there will be many 'green tops' at New Road. Inconsistent batting, Moeen Ali apart, cost Worcestershire last summer, although Matt Pardoe emerged as a solid opening partner to skipper Daryl Mitchell. Ross Whiteley was another who looked good at times and with a full season, could become a useful all-rounder. One-day success of any sort has eluded Worcestershire for some seasons and their Twenty20 form is among the worst in the country. Maybe the change of name to the Rapids will speed things up.
One to watch: Tom Kohler-Cadmore broke David Nash's record for most runs in a season for Malvern College. It will be a big step-up to full-time county cricket, but he looks a quality player. He has signed a three-year deal with Worcestershire, such is the faith coach Steve Rhodes has in him. Other youngsters like Ed Barnard and Joe Clarke, impressed with England Under-19s over the winter.
By BBC Hereford & Worcester's Dave Bradley
Captain: Andrew Gale
Overseas players: Kane Williamson (New Zealand), Aaron Finch (Australia)
How they did last season: County Championship D1: runners-up; YB40: 6th in group, FL t20: 6th in group.
Season prospects: Yorkshire finished runners-up to Durham in the Championship race last summer and there is no reason why they will not be up there again competing for the title. The Tykes have a strong squad, well coached by Jason Gillespie, and have an exciting crop of young players to back up those with more experience. Gillespie has instilled an element of steel into the ranks and Yorkshire have only lost two Championship games in the last two seasons. They were poor in both limited-overs competitions in 2013 and director of cricket, Martyn Moxon has called for a big improvement, especially in the T20, and with big-hitting Australian Aaron Finch set to arrive in May, they could repeat their trip to finals day in 2012. Without a trophy since 2002, this should be a season when some silverware is finally obtained, most probably in the Championship, having gone so close last year.
One to watch: Jonny Bairstow is a great talent who will feel he has something to prove after England gave him limited opportunities in the winter down under.
By BBC Radio Leeds' Dave Callaghan