THE 2021 County Championship season kicks off this week, with a tweaked format across the 18 sides to compete.

Teams will start in three groups of six before being sorted into performance-related divisions, after playing 10 pool games.

The winners of the top division will be named county champions, before a showpiece final at Lord’s for the Bob Willis Trophy, to be contested by the top-two Division One teams.

Hampshire start their campaign with an away clash at Leicestershire, starting on Thursday (11am).

Here is a preview of each county ahead of the new campaign.



Head of cricket: Dave Houghton

Captain: Billy Godleman

Last Year's Performance: Second (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Leus du Plooy (296, 42.28)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Matt Critchley (17, 26.88)

Overseas Players: Billy Stanlake (Australia - full season), Dustin Melton (Zimbabwe - full season).

Key man: Billy Stanlake – The Australian’s reputation has been forged in white-ball cricket but the 26-year-old 6'7" fast bowler is keen to show he can also deliver in the longer game.


Coach: James Franklin

Captain: Scott Borthwick

Last Year’s Performance: Fifth (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Alex Lees (386, 48.3)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Chris Rushworth (16, 22.4)

Overseas players: Cameron Bancroft (Australia – May 13 onwards), David Bedingham (South Africa – full season), Will Young (New Zealand – 15 April – 2 May)

Key man: Scott Borthwick – Borthwick re-signed for the county from Surrey in the off-season. The 30-year-old was handed the captaincy and will be determined to lead from the front with the bat.


Coach: Anthony McGrath

Captain: Tom Westley

Last Year’s Performance: Winners

2020 Leading Runscorer: Sir Alastair Cook (563, 65.3)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Simon Harmer (38, 15.9)

Overseas players: Peter Siddle (Australia – full season), Simon Harmer (South Africa – full season)

Key man: Simon Harmer - Off-spinner, but no longer Kolpak, Harmer has bamboozled whatever has been placed in front of him during his first four years at Chelmsford. 250 competitive red-ball wickets for Essex and counting…


Coach: Peter Moores

Captain: Steven Mullaney

Last Year’s Performance: Fourth (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Ben Duckett (394, 56.3)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Zak Chappell (15, 28.7)

Overseas players: Dane Paterson (South Africa)

Key man: Joe Clarke - Even with 17 first-class centuries to his name already - four for Nottinghamshire - the classy middle-order strokemaker can still improve and his form could be key to the county’s fortunes.


Coach: Mark Robinson

Captain: Will Rhodes

Last Year’s Performance: Third (Central Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Will Rhodes (423, 52.88)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Olly Hannon-Dalby (25, 20,92)

Overseas players: Pieter Malan (South Africa – full season)

Key man: Olly Stone - Unlucky not to play more for England during the winter, Stone has much impressed around the national team and Warwickshire will look for some explosive early-season displays from him.


Coach: Alex Gidman

Captain: Joe Leach

Last Year’s Performance: Second (Central Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Jake Libby (498, 55.33)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Joe Leach (19, 25.78)

Overseas players: Alzarri Joseph (West Indies – first seven matches)

Key man: Gareth Roderick - Will further bolster the batting order after his move from Gloucestershire and add more competition for places)



Coach: Ian Harvey (interim)

Captain: Chris Dent

Last Year’s Performance: Fifth (Central Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Graeme van Buuren (244 @ 30.5)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Ryan Higgins (17 @ 23)

Overseas players: Dan Worrall (Australia - full season), Kraigg Brathwaite (West Indies - April 8–June 6)

Key man: Chris Dent has scored consistent runs over the past five seasons and will need to do so again if Gloucestershire are to be competitive.


Coach: Adrian Birrell

Captain: James Vince

Last year’s performance: Fourth (South Group)

2020 Leading runscorer: Joe Weatherley (263, 43.83)

2020 Leading wicket taker: Ian Holland (17, 17.47)

Overseas players: Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan 8 April-30 May), Kyle Abbott (South Africa, full season)

Key man: Kyle Abbott - The big fast bowler is back after missing last season and looking to repeat his superb 2019 campaign where he took 72 wickets at 16.19.

Flies under the radar: Joe Weatherley - Made his breakthrough in last season’s Bob Willis Trophy, the 24-year-old is primed for a big summer after putting himself through a gruelling winter fitness programme.

Best player under 24: Felix Organ - At 21, the Sydney-born all-rounder already has a County Championship century and a five-wicket haul to his name.

The Season Ahead: After a third-place Division One finish in 2019, hopes were high for the 2020 season. However, with Covid-19 keeping overseas players away and a ruptured Achilles sustained by England allrounder Liam Dawson in the opening match of the Bob Willis Trophy against Middlesex, it proved to be disappointing finish in a truncated year. Abbott and the newly-signed Abbas will pose plenty of problems for opposing batsmen. But the pressure will be on Vince, Sam Northeast and the highly-rated Weatherley to provide the runs to steer the club to a first County Championship title since 1973.


Coach: Paul Nixon

Captain: Colin Ackermann

Last Year’s Performance: Fifth (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Colin Ackermann (379, 54.1)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Ben Mike (9, 31.0), Dieter Klein 9 (36.9)

Overseas players: Marcus Harris (Australia)

Key man: Colin Ackermann - The captain is also Leicestershire’s most valuable asset, a reliable source of middle-order runs who averaged 54 in the Bob Willis Trophy, a fine fielder and a handy off-spin bowler.


Coach: Stuart Law

Captain: Peter Handscomb

Last Year’s Performance: Third (South Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Nick Gubbins (350, 43.75)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Tim Murtagh (25, 12.72)

Overseas players: Peter Handscomb (Australia – full season)

Key man: In addition to his leadership experience, Middlesex will hope Handscomb can bring some ballast to a batting order that has looked fragile at times.


Coach: Jason Kerr

Captain: Tom Abell

Last Year’s Performance: Runner-up

2020 Leading Runscorer: Tom Lammonby (459 @ 51)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Craig Overton (30 @ 13.43)

Overseas players: Marchant de Lange (South Africa - full season)

Key man: Tom Abell has grown into a confident leader and added an impressive haul of runs to his captaincy last season, proving leadership is not a distraction to his own development.


Coach: Vikram Solanki

Captain: Rory Burns

Last Year’s Performance: Fifth (South Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Jamie Smith (274 @ 30.44)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Amar Virdi (22 @ 25.90)

Overseas players: Hashim Amla (South Africa – full season), Kemar Roach (West Indies – April & May).

Key man: Jamie Overton - Signed from Somerset on a three-year contract last August, the 6ft 5in tall paceman – capable of 90mph-plus speeds – sees his move as a potential stepping stone to England honours.



Coach: Matthew Maynard

Captain: Chris Cooke

2020 Leading Runscorer: Chris Cooke (294, 32.66)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Dan Douthwaite (14, 33.78)

Overseas Players: Andy Balbirne (Ireland – April); Marnus Labuschagne (Australia - May until end of season), Michael Neser (Australia – May until end of season).

Key man: Marnus Labuschagne – The Australian brings his unorthodox style back to Glamorgan where his ascent to one of the world’s most prolific batsman gathered pace two summers ago.


Coach: Matthew Walker

Captain: Sam Billings

Last Year’s Performance: Fourth (South Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Jordan Cox (324, 53.02)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Darren Stevens (29, 15.58)

Overseas players: Heino Kuhn (South Africa – full season), Miguel Cummins (West Indies – 8 April-6 June)

Key man: Daniel Bell-Drummond - Billings’ limited availability means the vice-captain could be in charge for much of the campaign. Scored heavily in pre-season and the extra responsibility may be the making of him.


Coach: Glen Chapple

Captain: Dane Vilas

Last year’s performance: Third (North Group)

2020 leading run-scorer: Alex Davies (337, ave 48.14)

2020 leading wicket-taker: Tom Bailey (13, ave 21.69)

Overseas players: Dane Vilas (South Africa - full season), Jackson Bird (Australia - six Championship matches from April 22)

Key man: Saqib Mahmood - Fast bowler with devastating pace and skill, injury has stunted his development. But a full summer of cricket could see him guide Lancashire to silverware and maybe even secure Ashes and T20 World Cup selection.


Coach: David Ripley

Captain: Adam Rossington

Last Year’s Performance: Fourth (Central Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Charlie Thurston (357, 44.62)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Curtley-Jack White (13, 20.00)

Overseas Player: Wayne Parnell (South Africa – full season)

Key Man: Ben Sanderson - The Sheffield-born paceman remains the spearhead of the Steelbacks’ seam attack. His 244 first-class wickets at less than 20 underline his skills which constantly put opponents under pressure.


Coach: Ian Salisbury

Captain: Ben Brown

Last Year’s Performance: Sixth (South Group)

2020 Leading Run Scorer: Phil Salt (290, 36.25)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Jack Carson (15, 22.66)

Overseas players: Travis Head (Australia from end of April), Stiaan van Zyl.

Key man: Ollie Robinson – One of the most skilful bowlers on the circuit, he has taken 166 wickets at 17.74 since 2018. At 27, he is coming into his prime and a Test debut surely awaits if he maintains his consistency.


Coach: Andrew Gale

Captain: Steve Patterson

Last year’s performance: First (North Group)

2020 leading run-scorer: Dawid Malan (332, ave 66.4)

2020 leading wicket-taker: Jordan Thompson (15, ave 16.4)

Overseas players: Duanne Olivier (South Africa - full season), Mathew Pillans (South Africa - full season)

Key man: Ben Coad - New ball seamer who has a bit of “genius” about him, according to Andrew Gale. If he can stay fit throughout 2021, Yorkshire will have no problems taking 20 wickets.