- Championship previews
Specsavers Championship Division One
Nottinghamshire v Yorkshire (Trent Bridge)
David Willey, Yorkshire’s close-season signing from Northants, is a likely debutant in front of the TV cameras at Trent Bridge. He would be a like-for-like left-arm replacement, for Ryan Sidebottom who will not be fit to face his former club, Nottinghamshire, where won two County Championships, after injuring his calf in the second of their two draws at Warwickshire.
Jack Brooks, a former team-mate of Willey's at Northants, and a bowler who has also made the move to Headingley, anticipates an immediate impact: "He's the kind of guy who is likely to turn up for a box office game. He's had to wait a while for his debut but it ends up being in front of the cameras. Don't be surprised to see him take a five-for or something."
Joe Root, who has not played a Championship game for Yorkshire since September 2014, will replace Jack Leaning in the middle order, a temporary reprieve for a Yorkshire batting order that has to date looked overly reliant on Jonny Bairstow.
Alex Hales, who like Root took a break after the World T20, made a career best 236 against Yorkshire at Trent Bridge in in a high-scoring draw last season. Notts have won five of their last seven Championship matches at Trent Bridge, including an opening victory over Surrey this season. But they were swept away by the Yorkshire seamers at Headingley despite seven wickets for Stuart Broad in reply.
Michael Lumb has had a pop at the media on Hales' behalf. I know he's looking forward to getting going and silencing some of the critics he had over the winter," Lumb told Sky Sports. "He is raring to go and wanting to show the critics and other people that he's world class."
Hampshire v Middlesex (Ageas Bowl)
Self-styled former cricket "man whore" Tino Best, the former West Indian quick who has been signed by Hampshire after Fidel Edwards suffered a broken leg during a football warm-up at Yorkshire, is included in a 14-man squad which also includes former captain Jimmy Adams, who missed the first two games with an ankle problem but scored a century for the second team earlier this week.
Sean Ervine, Chris Wood and Liam Dawson have also passed fitness tests, although Dawson may not be able to bowl – which could mean a first chance this season for highly-rated teenage legspinner Mason Crane. James Vince, very much on England's radar for the first Test squad, has another opportunity to impress.
Hampshire's chairman Rod Bransgrove has prepared for the game in Blackpool, where his band, Strapped for Cash, supported Status Quo at the Winter Gardens on Thursday.
After a couple of days to thaw out from an icy draw in Durham, Middlesex are playing 300 miles away this week on the south coast. Offspinner Ollie Rayner is added to their squad, although captain Adam Voges praised the performance of Paul Stirling in the north-east.
Middlesex have a bad record in Hampshire, with a single win in 12 Championship matches stretching back to 1984 – and that came at the United Services Ground in Portsmouth 20 years ago when Angus Fraser, now the county’s cricket director, took 10 wickets in the match. They have not won in Southampton since 1975, long before Hampshire’s move from Northlands Road to the Ageas Bowl.
Somerset v Lancashire (Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton)
This is only Lancashire’s second trip to Taunton since they clinched the Championship title there in September 2011, and they have only lost once in 11 visits since 1997. They are set to be unchanged after 11 wickets on debut from Neil Wagner fired them to victory over Notts in their first game back in Division One, with Jimmy Anderson available for the second of three appearances.
Somerset have started with draws at Durham and Surrey, and have added Jamie Overton to the 11 who played at the Kia Oval. All eyes will be on the quality of the Taunton outfield where grass growth has been slow because of a cold April following the laying of new drainage.
Surrey v Durham (Kia Oval)
After taking four wickets but being dismissed by Steven Finn in single figures in his only innings against Middlesex, Ben Stokes will be hoping for more chance to make an impact in his last scheduled county appearance before joining England’s preparations for the Investec Tests against Sri Lanka.
Michael Di Venuto, the Australian who has succeeded Graham Ford as Surrey’s coach this season, is pitted against the club for which he scored more than 6,500 runs at an average of over 50 in five seasons from 2007-11, playing a key role in their first two Championship titles.
Durham, who have started with consecutive weather-affected draws at the Emirates Riverside, had suffered six consecutive defeats at the Oval until their last visit, in their last title-winning campaign of 2013, when Scott Borthwick took six for 70, still career-best figures, to set up a five-wicket win. Second team captain James Weighell is include in the 12-man squad.
Surrey have only lost once in their last 14 Championship games at the Oval stretching back to 2014, but find themselves bottom of the early-season Division One table.
Specsavers Championship Division Two
Kent v Glamorgan (Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence)
New Zealand opener Tom Latham is set to make his debut for a Kent team who have had a frustrating start to the season, with a washout at Worcester followed by another rain-affected draw at Leicester. But their last Championship win was against Glamorgan, by a crushing margin of 316 runs in Cardiff last September, when Joe Denly and Robert Key hit second innings centuries, and Darren Stevens wrapped things up with five wickets. Stevens had his birthday on Saturday and, assuming he is selected, will become Kent’s first 40-year-old player since Derek Underwood.
Northamptonshire v Derbyshire (The County Ground, Northampton)
Derbyshire will have captain Billy Godleman back earlier than expected after a broken thumb to boost their bid for a repeat of last summer’s win at Wantage Road, when Northants failed to support a lone rearguard action by Ben Duckett. Northants are bottom after an innings defeat at Essex and four senior players - Rob Keogh, Rob Newton, Steven Crook and Olly Stone – are again likely to be unfit. Monty Panesar won’t play either, despite a successful comeback after shoulder surgery for Bedfordshire last week, with Graeme White remaining ahead of him in the pecking order of left-arm spinners.
Sussex v Leicestershire (1st Central County Ground, Hove)
Ben Brown is set to continue as Sussex captain with Luke Wright expected to be ruled out against his former county after suffering wrist and back problems in pre-season. Former New Zealand captain Ross Taylor will remain in the ranks, after a week to rest a finger problem that flared up during their draw against Essex.
The counties have only met twice since 2003, with Sussex completing an emphatic double in their promotion-winning season of 2010 – Andrew McDonald, the Australian who is now Leicestershire’s elite performance director, on the beaten team on each occasion.
Leicestershire, who have started well with a win at Glamorgan and maximum bonus points in a rain-affected draw against Kent, will have to make at least one change because of an injury to young seamer Zak Chappell. They have called up Lewis Hill who could provide wicketkeeping cover for Niall O’Brien, the Irishman who hurt his finger during the Kent game. Ned Eckersley remains on the sidelines, also with a finger injury.
Worcestershire v Essex (New Road)
Alastair Cook will make the last of his four scheduled early-season county appearances, with 333 runs from the previous three, and Essex 21 points clear at the top of the Division Two table after victories in two of their first three matches. Both of those came at home, against Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire, with a draw at Sussex in between.
Jamie Porter, the 22-year-old seamer from Leytonstone who was selected on the Potential England Performance Programme last winter, is comfortably the leading wicket-taker in the country with 22.
Cook was the first Test victim for Matt Henry, the New Zealand seamer who made his Worcestershire debut in the high-scoring draw against Gloucestershire in Bristol – after their opening fixture against Kent at New Road was abandoned without a ball bowled.