A County Championship match taking place

Surrey and Middlesex gear up for new County Championship season

Surrey will be hot favourites to win the County Championship for a third consecutive year, as the London-based county prepares for another season with a star-studded squad.

In what will be director of cricket Alec Stewart’s final season at the head of the county he spent 23 years playing for, Surrey will hope to compete across all three county competitions, including the T20 Blast where they have enjoyed relatively little success compared to their red ball exploits.

At the top of the order, Rory Burns and Dom Sibley offer their usual reliability and will be complemented by the new signing of Dan Lawrence from Essex and England star Ollie Pope, whilst high-quality overseas players Kemar Roach and Sean Abbott return to add punch to the bowling attack.

If they completed the feat and lifted the title, Surrey would become the first team to win the County Championship three times in a row since Yorkshire in 1968.

In the north of the city, Middlesex will be readying themselves for a very different season, with last year’s relegation to Division Two proving the least of their worries.

Off-the-field financial issues have characterised Middlesex’s winter, and this will have an impact on the playing squad this time around, with no international player brought in for this campaign.

Wicketkeeper John Simpson has also sealed a move to Sussex having spent 16 years north of the river, with youngster Jack Davies set to take the gloves this season.

They have, however, been able to secure the services of Leus du Plooy who’s been in red-hot form across the franchise leagues in recent months and has already shown signs in pre-season of carrying that on in a Middlesex shirt.

Young fast bowler Henry Brookes has also joined their ranks, providing another option in an area where Middlesex are typically strong.

Fellow quick and club legend Toby Roland-Jones, who made a series of England appearances before a number of injuries, has also been granted a testimonial year.

With all this in mind, expectations will be limited, although Middlesex will be hopeful of some early-season success to satisfy members who are becoming increasingly disgruntled with a lack of progress in recent years.

They have also attracted criticism for a decision to play two T20 home games at Essex’s County Ground as a financial measure.

Whilst last season saw relegation from the top division of red ball cricket, it took until the last game of the season for their fate to be sealed and with a theoretically lower standard of cricket facing them this year there are reasons to be positive.

Not necessarily having star names to rely on will undoubtedly provide more opportunities for the Middlesex youngsters to showcase their abilities, and there can be no better example than Josh De Caires who took full advantage of the chances afforded last term.

He will be a name to look out for this season as he attempts to build on an impressive debut campaign.

The County Championship begins on Friday with Surrey away at Lancashire and Middlesex hosting Glamorgan. The T20 Blast begins at the end of May and the One Day Cup in July.

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