The LV= County Championship has a more traditional look this year, with a return to two divisions following two seasons of conference cricket.
Each side is allowed to field two overseas players per match until May 25, when the Vitality Blast kicks off.
Here is how the Divisions shape this year and the overseas players that will be available to the county’s until at least the end of May.
Nottinghamshire’s press day was halted by snow fall in typical early spring English weather
Essex, Simon Harmer (SA), Mark Steketee (Aus)
Gloucestershire, Marcus Harris (Aus), Naseem Shah (Pak)
Hampshire, Kyle Abbott (SA), Mohammad Abbas (Pak)
Kent, George Linde (SA), Jackson Bird (Aus)
Lancashire, Dane Vilas (SA), Hasan Ali (Pak)
Northamptonshire, Will Young (NZ), Matt Kelly (Aus)
Somerset, Marchant de Lange (SA), Matt Renshaw (Aus), Peter Siddle (Aus)
Surrey, Kemar Roach (WI), Hashim Amla (SA)
Warwickshire, Nathan McAndrew (Aus)
Yorkshire, Haris Rauf (Pak), Dimuth Karunaratne (SL)
Derbyshire: Shan Masood (Pak), Suranga Lakmal (SL)
Durham: David Bedingham, (SA), Keegan Petersen (SA)
Glamorgan: Marnus Labuschagne (Aus), Michael Neser (Aus), Colin Ingram (SA)
Leicestershire: Wiaan Mulder (SA), Beuran Hendricks (SA)
Middlesex: Peter Handscomb (Aus), Shaheen Afridi (Pak)
Nottinghamshire: Dane Paterson (SA), James Pattinson (Aus)
Sussex: Cheteshwar Pujara (Ind), Mohammad Rizwan (Pak)
Worcestershire: Azhar Ali (Pak)
Tom Haines, 23, will captain Sussex for the first time in this season’s County Championship
Opening fixtures (11am)
Division One: Essex v Kent, Hampshire v Somerset, Northants v Gloucestershire, Warwickshire v Surrey.
Division two: Glamorgan v Durham, Leicestershire v Worcestershire, Middlesex v Derbyshire, Sussex v Nottinghamshire.
Points win prizes
The points system from the 2021 Championship is retained, which means that draws are worth eight, a record level in the 132-year history of the competition.
The previous high of five was upped 12 months ago when England captain Joe Root argued saving matches should be incentivised following the 3-1 Test series defeat in India.
Points for a win (16) and bonus points for team performances in the first 110 overs of first innings remain, so up to five batting points can be earned (for scoring 400 or more) and three for bowling (taking at least nine wickets).
Darren Stevens will return for another season of domestic cricket – he made his debut in 1997
All eyes on Anderson and Broad
Discarded England new-ball duo Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are among those who will be using the next seven weeks to push for inclusion in the first Test squad to face New Zealand from June 2.
Anderson’s Lancashire do not play this week. Broad sits out Nottinghamshire’s visit to Sussex but will turn out at home against Glamorgan in round two.
England’s batting travails place focus on the early-season form of Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dom Sibley and Dawid Malan.
After being controversially left out of the West Indies tour Stuart Broad will look to impress
Simon Harmer has been the outstanding player in the county game since joining Essex in 2017. He has won the Most Valuable Player award for the last three years.
Since completing that hat-trick last September, however, circumstances have changed for the ex-Kolpak off-spinner who once contemplated qualifying for England.
He is likely to be involved in a Test series here this summer, but for his native South Africa, after ending a seven-year hiatus with a career-best international haul of seven for 124 against Bangladesh this week.
He misses the start of the county season and could be selected across all formats by his country for a tour that begins in July and ends in September, severely limiting his availability for Essex.
Simon Harmer will miss the start of the domestic season having previously stood out for Essex
Yorkshire seamer Ben Coad has a chance to become the first English bowler for more than half a century to reach 200 first-class wickets at an average under 20.
The 28-year-old needs to take his next eight wickets for 103 runs or fewer to achieve a feat not managed since 1971, when Derbyshire’s Alan Ward completed the double hundred at a cost of 19.9 per victim.
Ben Coad could become the first English bowler to reach 200 first class wickets at under 20 for more than half a century
Change on the way
It is not as simple as two up, two down.
With a high-performance review underway, directors of cricket have been advised by the ECB that finishing positions will influence placings in any revamp of the Championship for 2023.
It is anticipated that if a restructure to three divisions of six is the way forward, the top six in this summer’s Division One table would make up a new top tier, and the bottom six would go into the inaugural Division Three.
Such a scenario could leave Notts sore again after it was decided following last season to set up the 2022 campaign based on finishing positions two years earlier.
‘There were a few angry emojis on the group chat when we found out,’ said aspiring England batter Joe Clarke.
‘We felt that if it was just on points last year, we’d have finished top. We beat Essex, Somerset, Lancashire, so yeah, we felt we’d have been in that top league.’