- Championship previews
Specsavers Championship, Division One
Hampshire v Nottinghamshire (Ageas Bowl)
Will Smith takes over the Hampshire four-day captaincy following James Vince’s England call-up, against one of his former clubs. Sean Ervine, who has been appointed one-day captain, returns to the squad after a hand injury, and former England Under-19 opener Tom Alsop is also back in contention.
Chris Wood has been ruled out for the season with a knee injury while Fidel Edwards, Gareth Berg, Reece Topley and Ryan Stevenson are also injured.
Nottinghamshire have Jake Ball available for the first two days of the match.
Hampshire are 12 points adrift at the bottom of the table, but have a game in hand on the four teams immediately above them, including Nottinghamshire, who suffered their second defeat of the season in their last match at home to Warwickshire despite a brilliant century by Samit Patel.
Lancashire v Surrey (Emirates Old Trafford)
A first meeting this season of the two teams promoted from Division One, and so far Lancashire have made the better start – even though they were lucky to salvage a draw when the teams last met in Manchester late last season, as Surrey came from behind to pip them to the Division Two title.
Zafar Ansari, who suffered the thumb injury in that match that ruled him out of England’s winter tour plans, is out again with a different problem in the same thumb – one of numerous problems that have undermined their bowling attack this season, with West Indies seamer Ravi Rampaul the latest to be afflicted after straining his hamstring in last week’s rain-affected draw against Middlesex. Stuart Meaker is in the squad for the first time this season.
Lancashire suffered their first defeat of the season at Durham on Wednesday, but remain well-placed in third.
Middlesex v Somerset (Lord’s)
Chris Rogers returns to one of his former clubs as Somerset’s captain, in a meeting between the only two counties in Division One who have drawn each of their first five matches. Both were frustrated by the rain in the last round after forcing their opponents to follow on – Middlesex at the Kia Oval, and Somerset against the champions Yorkshire at Taunton.
Warwickshire v Durham (Edgbaston)
Ian Bell is set to return after a hamstring injury to Warwickshire’s four-day team after the Bears went top of the table without him by winning at Nottinghamshire last week.
They have a dominant recent record against Durham, with four consecutive Championship wins, and their all-rounder Keith Barker will be striving to maintain both his excellent personal record against them (two of his six first-class centuries have come against Durham) and also his own current form, with 239 runs and 25 wickets taking him well clear at the top of the PCA Most Valuable Player Rankings.
Durham have another of the country’s form players in Scott Borthwick, who scored a century in each innings to set up their first victory of the season against Lancashire last week, when they made light of the absence of bowling mainstay Chris Rushworth with a buttock muscle injury.
Specsavers Championship Division Two
Derbyshire v Kent (3aaa County Ground, Derby)
Kent are second in the table, 18 points behind Essex, after another high-scoring draw at Northampton last week in which Joe Denly scored his first double century. Adam Riley is injured and his former England Lions team-mate Sam Billings still at the IPL.
Derbyshire are likely to name the same team who hung on for a draw at Essex provided they come through Saturday afternoon’s Blast opener at Lancashire.
Glamorgan v Essex (SSE SWALEC, Cardiff)
Nick Browne, the 25-year-old opener from Leytonstone who scored 255 against Derbyshire last week, has signed a new two-year contract to boost the Division Two leaders, but that marathon innings has taken its toll and he misses the match in Cardiff with a strained groin.
Glamorgan confirmed the signing of Dale Steyn on Friday to link up with his fellow South Africans Colin Ingram and Jacques Rudolph in the NatWest T20 Blast – but Steyn has to complete his commitments in the Indian Premier League first, and Ingram is still to play all season because of a knee injury.
They also have a doubt over allrounder Graham Wagg after he suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s defeat at Gloucestershire which left them bottom of the table with three defeats and two draws in their first five games.
It was enough for Hugh Morris, Glamorgan's CEO, to say: "Robert is a very experienced cricketer and he has been around the scene a long time. He is as disappointed and hurting as much as anyone but he is also as determined as I have ever seen him to try and turn things around. But it is a very disappointed start and we are not going to hide from that."
Gloucestershire v Northamptonshire (Brightside Ground, Bristol)
Michael Klinger returned to Bristol last week in time for Friday night’s Blast opener, and the return of the prolific Australian should give a further boost to a Gloucestershire team who surged to their first victory of the season on a dramatic fourth day against Glamorgan last Wednesday. Klinger replaces Cameron Bancroft at the top of the order; Will Tavare and Liam Norwell are still missing.
Monty Panesar is set to continue for Northants after an encouraging comeback in last week’s home draw against Kent.
Leicestershire v Worcestershire (Fischer County Ground, Grace Road)
Third plays fifth but both teams have good reason to believe they would be riding higher given a little more luck with the weather – they were both frustrated again in their last fixtures, Worcestershire forced to settle for a fifth consecutive draw at home to Sussex, and Leicestershire likewise against Northants the week before last.
Worcestershire have won their last four Championship games in Leicester, with the last in 2014 when Fell scored an important century.