WHO’S GOING TO WIN IT?
Raf Nicholson: Yorkshire – They surprised everyone last year by breaking the Kent-Sussex domination of the County Championship honours board; and they’ve strengthened their bowling attack ahead of this season with the signing of Essex’s Beth Langston, who is rumoured to have recently clocked some of the quickest bowling times of any player in the England set-up.
Syd Egan: Kent – The shorter international window means they’ll have their England players for most of the season, and I wouldn’t bet against a repeat of 2014, when they cruised it with maximum points from their 6 completed games.
WHO’S GOING DOWN?
SE: I’m afraid Staffordshire might be this year’s Lancashire, who were relegated without winning a game last season; but who will be joining them? With 3 teams out of 9 going down over an 8 game season, honestly it’s a crapshoot – the likelihood is we’ll see 3 or 4 teams clustered around the relegation zone and it will come down to bonus points, so those are going to be critical – the whole thing could hang on someone getting one extra wicket or run to grab that additional BP.
RN: As Syd says, this is a difficult one to call, but I wonder if Surrey might find themselves in trouble – they struggled with the bat last season, being bowled out for the lowest ever total in a women’s county T20, and their bowling line-up was heavily reliant on their overseas player Rachel Candy (who won’t be returning) and Sarah Clarke (who doesn’t seem to have been included on their squad list).
WHO’LL GET PROMOTED?
RN: I think Worcestershire are in with a good shot. They finished 3rd in Div 2 last year; and they’re going into this season on the back of the introduction of new paid contracts for their players – a revolutionary step and one that can surely only increase player commitment and professionalism.
SE: I’ll be very surprised if Nottinghamshire don’t go straight back up – they’ve lost their England players, but they were pretty unlucky to get relegated by 3 bonus points last season; and I think the “ping-pong” might also extend to Lancashire – going up in 2016… and then straight back down again in 2017 when they lose three-quarters of their team to Super League!
SE: Yorkshire look very strong for the T20s – Lauren Winfield… Katherine Brunt… Dani Hazell… Katie Levick… Beth Mooney. A lot will depend on Winfield’s batting though – she completely smashed county last season – if she can do that again, they’re going to be the team to beat.
RN: Sussex – who won the T20 Cup last year – are still looking a good bet. Of course they’ll miss Holly Colvin; but they’ve also signed up Danni Wyatt – and while she might not be able to quite rival Hol-Col with the ball, she’s certainly explosive enough with the bat to take them to victory.
RN: Sophia Dunkley (Middlesex) – Last season was a breakthrough one for Dunkley – selected into the England Academy squad on the back of successful performances with bat and ball. She’s just returned from the Academy tour of Sri Lanka, where by all accounts she performed well in difficult conditions, and I’m confident she’ll be one of Middlesex’s key assets in the coming season. And she’s still only 17!
SE: Sophie Luff (Somerset) – Aged 22, Luff has been one of the victims of professionalisation, in terms of England’s reluctance to look outside the contracted squad, even when they were struggling with the solidity of their batting lineup; but with Somerset promoted to Division 1, this is her big opportunity, and I’m backing her to seize it.
BEST OVERSEAS BUY?
SE: There’s a slightly second-string look to the overseas contingent this year, and let’s be honest, we all know why! (It begins with ‘M’, ends in ‘Y’, and has ‘ONE’ in the middle!) Warwickshire’s overseas is a case in point – to borrow Jimmy Ormond’s quip, she isn’t even the best player in her family; but then again when your surname is Lanning, that might not be so much of a problem! Of course Anna Lanning isn’t her sister, but she has a good cricketing brain and she could well be the difference between survival and relegation for Warwickshire this season.
RN: While she’s only here from June onwards, Yorkshire will be very happy to see Aussie Beth Mooney returning to their ranks. The depth she added to their batting order last season was crucial to their Championship success; and she joins them fresh from both a successful Women’s Big Bash stint and a call-up to the Southern Stars for the T20 World Cup.
SE: Heather Knight (Berkshire) – I’m just repeating what I said last year here; but I think it is even more the case now. As a batsman and as a bowler she remains the one player in the domestic game that can and will win you games single-handedly, and it feels like she really came of age as a captain in WBBL too. As a Berkshire fan, am I biased? Totally! But am I right? Yup – totally!
RN: Charlotte Edwards (Kent) – Yes, I’m also repeating myself, but I just don’t buy the criticism of Edwards which seems to have sprung up since the Ashes last summer. She’s still the best batsman in England by a country mile in my book, and her experience at county level – not to mention her captaincy ability, which has done a lot to bring on Kent’s younger players – makes her the obvious pick for MVP.