Kent set to go one better than last year
Reduced workload can help Spitfires' small squad
Starts 11am Thursday
Sussex flopped as hotpots in Division Two last year – the 2-1 ante-post favourites won four of their 16 matches – and it may be worth swerving Nottinghamshire at similar odds this term.
There were some mitigating circumstances for Notts’ 2016 relegation from Division One.
Shortly before their first game, James Taylor had to retire because of a heart condition – a horrible shock for his county teammates – and Alex Hales was limited to two Championship outings.
Hales, discarded by the England Test team, is intent on scoring heavily in the Notts middle-order but the county’s fans will see less of Jake Ball, who was outstanding with 49 wickets in 11 games last summer.
Ball and Stuart Broad are both available for this month’s clash with second-favourites Sussex but Steven Mullaney, last season’s top runscorer, has been ruled out of the early part of the season with a foot injury.
Notts have the talent to give retiring skipper Chris Read the perfect send-off but at the prices it may pay to look further down the betting.
Sussex have brought in former South African internationals Stiaan van Zyl and David Wiese, as well as Warwickshire batsman Laurie Evans, but Ed Joyce’s increased Ireland commitments are a blow to his county.
Kent finished as runners-up to Essex last summer and they should go well again under the impressive leadership of batsman Sam Northeast.
A reduced workload of 14 games, down from 16 last year, should help Kent’s small squad and Jason Gillespie’s arrival as interim assistant coach (before Allan Donald qualifies for a visa) will only benefit the club.
Daniel Bell-Drummond can improve his conversion rate – he reached 50 seven times in 19 innings last year yet made only one century – and all-rounder Will Gidman has made his loan move from Notts permanent.
Mitch Claydon and veteran Darren Stevens remain excellent operators and the early-season loan signing of James Harris from Middlesex could help Kent make a flying start.
Worcestershire start a new era under Joe Leach and T20 Blast champs Northamptonshire hope to replicate their end-of-season form, having won four of their last six Championship games.
Improving Leicestershire are still unlikely to threaten the promotion places, along with Gloucestershire, Derbyshire and Durham – demoted and deducted 48 points after financial problems – but Glamorgan could outrun their massive odds.
A each-way bet on the Welsh county is a bit of a leap of faith but their three Championship wins in 2016 all came in the second half of the season and the signing of Marchant de Lange is a major boost.
The fast bowler, who took 7-81 on his Test debut for South Africa in 2011, is only 26 and eases the burden on Michael Hogan and Timm van der Gugten, who shared 105 wickets last summer.
Youngsters Aneurin Donald, Owen Morgan, Kiran Carlson and Lukas Carey can kick on after exciting performances in 2016 and the Dragons look overpriced to make the top three.
2pts 5-1 general
1pt e-w 25-1 BoyleSports, Ladbrokes
Derbyshire man has a classic pedigree
Derbyshire finished bottom of Division Two last summer, 29 points adrift, and it could have been even worse but for the efforts of Wayne Madsen.
The batsman made 1,292 runs in the Championship – opener Billy Godleman was second in the Derbyshire runscoring list on 934 – and Madsen is well worth a bet at 2-1 to frank that form this summer.
He is used to shining in a struggling side, scoring 1,221 as Derbyshire were relegated from Division One in 2013, and he also passed 1,000 runs in 2014 and 2015, finishing first and second in the top Derbyshire runscorer heat.
Veteran Mark Cosgrove is a short-priced favourite to be Leicestershire’s leading batsman but Ned Eckersley could be better value at 10-1.
Like Madsen, Eckersley had an annus mirabilis in 2013, when only Moeen Ali beat his Division Two tally of 1,275 runs.
The 27-year-old hasn’t quite lived up to that lofty standard since, scoring 818 runs in 2014, 798 in 2015 and 624 in 11 matches last summer.
He scored three centuries in his last six appearances of 2016 and has the talent to reach 1,000 runs regularly – especially if he shares wicketkeeping duties with Lewis Hill.
W Madsen top Derbyshire runscorer
3pts 2-1 bet365
N Eckersley top Leicestershire runscorer
1pt 10-1 bet365
CC2 9th ODC 7th, North Group
T20 Blast 7th, North Group
Last six Championship seasons (most recent on right, Division One in bold) 5 1 8 4 8 9
Top runscorer 1,292 W Madsen
Top wicket-taker 39 A Palladino
Captain Billy Godleman
Coach Kim Barnett
Overseas players Jeevan Mendis (SL), Imran Tahir (SA), Matt Henry (NZ, T20)
In Gary Wilson (Surrey), Luis Reece (Lancashire), Imran Tahir (Nottinghamshire), Hardus Viljoen (Kent, Kolpak), Matt Henry (Worcestershire)
Out Callum Parkinson (Leicestershire), Chesney Hughes, Neil Broom, Wes Durston (all released)
CC1 4th (relegated due to financial issues) ODC 5th, North Group
T20 Blast Runners-up
Last six Championship seasons 3 6 1 5 4 4
Top runscorer 1,548 K Jennings
Top wicket-taker 54 G Onions
Captain Paul Collingwood
Coach Jon Lewis
Overseas players Stephen Cook (SA), Tom Latham (NZ)
In Tom Latham (Kent)
Out Mark Stoneman, Scott Borthwick (both Surrey), Phil Mustard (Gloucestershire), Asher Hart (Hampshire), Callum McLeod,
Jamie Harrison (both released), Gordon Muchall (retired)
CC2 8th ODC 7th, South Group
T20 Blast Quarter-finals
Last six Championship seasons 6 6 8 8 4 8
Top runscorer 1,088 W Bragg
Top wicket-taker 56 T van der Gugten
Captain Jacques Rudolph
Coach Robert Croft
Overseas player Jacques Rudolph (SA)
In Marchant de Lange
Out James Kettleborough (released), Mark Wallace (retired)
CC2 6th ODC 8th, South Group
T20 Blast Quarter-finals
Last six Championship seasons 4 9 6 7 6 6
Top runscorer 1,243 C Dent
Top wicket-taker 52 C Miles
Captain Gareth Roderick
Coach Richard Dawson
Overseas players Cameron Bancroft, Michael Klinger (both Australia),
Andrew Tye (Australia, T20)
In Phil Mustard (Durham)
Out Hamish Marshall (released)
CC2 2nd ODC Quarter-finals
T20 Blast 7th, South Group
Last six Championship seasons 8 3 7 6 7 2
Top runscorer 1,337 S Northeast
Top wicket-taker 48 M Claydon
Captain Sam Northeast
Coach Matt Walker
Overseas players TBC
In Will Gidman (Nottinghamshire), Joe Weatherley (Hampshire, loan), James Harris (Middlesex, loan)
Out David Griffiths, Fabian Cowdrey (both released), Hardus Viljoen (Derbyshire, Kolpak), Tom Latham (Durham)
CC2 7th ODC 8th, North Group
T20 Blast 9th, North Group
Last six Championship seasons 9 7 9 9 9 7
Top runscorer 1,279 M Cosgrove
Top wicket-taker 56 C McKay
Captain Mark Cosgrove
Coach Pierre de Bruyn
Overseas players Clint McKay (Australia), Luke Ronchi (New Zealand, T20)
In Richard Jones (Warwickshire), Gavin Griffiths (Lancashire),
Callum Parkinson (Derbyshire), James Burke (Surrey, loan),
Luke Ronchi (Warwickshire)
Out Rob Taylor, Ollie Freckingham, Jigar Naik, Michael Burgess,
Atif Sheikh (all released)
CC2 5th ODC Quarter-finals
T20 Blast Winners
Last six Championship seasons 3 8 2 9 5 5
Top runscorer 1,338 B Duckett
Top wicket-taker 55 B Sanderson
Captain Alex Wakely
Coach David Ripley
Overseas players Rory Kleinveldt (SA), Seekkuge Prasanna (Sri Lanka, T20)
In Nathan Buck (Lancashire), Max Holden (Middlesex, loan)
Out Olly Stone (Warwickshire), Monty Panesar (released)
CC1 9th ODC 6th, North Group
T20 Blast Semi-finals
Last six Championship seasons 6 5 7 4 4 9
Top runscorer 1,009 S Mullaney
Top wicket-taker 49 J Ball
Captain Chris Read
Coach Peter Moores
Overseas players James Pattinson (Australia), Dan Christian (Australia, T20), Ish Sodhi (New Zealand, T20)
Out Sam Wood (released), Will Gidman (Kent), Imran Tahir (Derbyshire)
CC1 4th ODC 9th, South Group
T20 Blast 6th, South Group
Last six Championship seasons 5 4 3 3 8 4
Top runscorer 1,256 C Nash
Top wicket-taker 62 S Magoffin
Captain Luke Wright
Coach Mark Davis
Overseas players Vernon Philander (SA), Ross Taylor (New Zealand, T20)
In Stiaan van Zyl, David Wiese
(both Kolpak), Laurie Evans (Warwickshire)
Out Lewis Hatchett (retired), Craig Cachopa, Fynn Hudson-Prentice (both released)
CC1 3rd ODC Quarter-finals
T20 Blast 8th, North Group
Last six Championship seasons 7 9 5 2 9 3
Top runscorer 1,206 J Clarke
Top wicket-taker 65 J Leach
Captain Joe Leach
Coach Steve Rhodes
Overseas players John Hastings (Australia), Mitchell Santner (New Zealand, T20)
Out Chris Russell (released), Matt Henry (Derbyshire)