Paul Nixon column – Tykes can make it a triple but Bears are prowling

So here we go again! The County Championship season is finally upon us and for all the global and saturated Test and T20 cricket we have beaming through our screens, this is when the game really lifts off for me.

It’s a strange feeling as you work towards a new campaign. As a professional you are really geared up for it. You have your own little goals, personal targets that you know if you hit, you will be contributing to the team and to their goals.

For me, the County Championship has got more of an edge to it now.

Yorkshire have stirred things up a bit; there is an aura about them. Their coach, Jason Gillespie, is one of the most sought-after guys in the game – just so hugely respected and his players have really bought into him. It’s Dizzy’s Army versus everyone else and the strength that squad has in reserve makes them so tough to bet against.

Although Yorkshire has always been a wonderful county to represent – 20 or 30 years ago the aura they had in the mid-to-late Sixties wasn’t there. They have always had great players because the pool of talent in the county, from the academy and also the elite club game in the Bradford League, creates an endless conveyor belt for it to come through.

But now they are doing everything right at the top end of the table. They are working with the best players and getting the very best out of them. Call it arrogance, but Yorkshire know their strengths and they back themselves. You can see why everyone is talking about them making it three Championship wins on the spin.

That said, there will be a substantial challenge coming, most notably, from Warwickshire. I don’t think Ian Bell’s days as an England player are quite over yet, but to get back in he has to go big for the Bears, and it could take some time – all good for the Edgbaston side.

To add to what they have got in the ranks, the news that Graham Gooch is going to lend a hand on the batting side is a massive boost. Goochie will really push them on there and guys who were making good scores will take that step up to match-winning ones. That appointment shows they mean business for this year.

Elsewhere, Surrey have got the money, while Nottinghamshire and Middlesex will be there or thereabouts too.

Dropping down into Division Two, it’s a real scrap. Kent have long been a county that, for me, have underachieved with the players they have. Rob Key is still there, but we are becoming more accustomed to seeing him perform in a television studio these days. The recruitment of Kagiso Rabada, all be it for six weeks, is one that has raised a few eyebrows. He could prove a real handful and on flatter pitches with the toss being done away with, he has that extra pace that can run through sides.

For me though, Essex are the county to beat in the second tier. Jesse Ryder will give them some real muscle and they just look strong in all areas.

They will also be very well led under a new coaching set-up with Chris Silverwood and Anthony McGrath. A little bit of Yorkshire steel could be what’s needed at Chelmsford to complement the playing talent they have down there.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday April 8 2016

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