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County Championship Division 1 preview: Surrey target third title in six years

It is going to be a jam-packed summer of cricket in England and Wales with a home Ashes on the horizon and the World Test Championship final set to take place between Australia and India at the Oval in June.

But either side of that, the County Championship should provide plenty of entertainment, with the premier domestic competition returning this week. 

Last year it was Surrey who came out on top in Division One and, although they lead the betting for the new campaign, which runs until the end of September, plenty of clubs will be looking to throw their name into the ring for the title this year.

WhatCounty Championship Division 1 2023
WhereEngland and Wales
WhenThursday 6th April - Friday 29th September
How to watchSky Sports Cricket
OddsSurrey 10/3, Hampshire 4/1, Essex 5/1, Lancashire 5/1, Nottinghamshire 8/1

A lot to like about defending champions Surrey

After picking up eight wins from 14 matches to come out on top in Division One in the County Championship last year, Surrey go into the new campaign targeting a third title in six years. 

As with any other big county, Surrey had to deal with international absences throughout the course of 2022 with the likes of Sam Curran, Ben Foakes, Jason Roy and Ollie Pope turning out for England

However, they had luck with injuries and were not too badly impacted. Of course, with the Ashes to come, international absences could again play their part in the season and Surrey are already set to start the campaign on the back foot with Will Jacks (thigh), Jamie Overton and Tom Curran (both back) initially unavailable. 

Veteran Hashim Amla has also since called time on his Surrey career, meaning the performances of Rory Burns, who struck 842 runs in last year's County Championship, could be even more important this time around. 

Former England Test opener Dom Sibley has also been drafted in following Amla's retirement and, in truth, this Surrey team rarely had issues at the crease last season with 209 having been their worst first-innings total in 2022. 

Kemar Roach has also been re-signed along with Sean Abbott as the team's overseas players. 

Surrey are 10/3 to get the job done and with everything considered, that is a decent price. They will start their campaign with a potentially explosive encounter against last season's runners-up Lancashire at Old Trafford. 

The Manchester venue was the setting of Surrey's only four-day defeat in 2022 and Lancashire should most definitely be closely monitored this season.

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Lancashire and Hampshire among Surrey's main rivals

Lancashire finished 25 points adrift of Surrey in second spot in Division One of last year's County Championship and were also second best in the Twenty20 Blast and One-Day Cup in 2022. 

Keaton Jennings, top scorer in Division One last season with 1233 runs at an average of 72.52, is now their captain and will be aiming to lead by example. 

The Red Rose will also be hoping they can carry a greater threat with the ball with Saqib Mahmood back from injury after missing most of last season. 

At 5/1, Lancashire look a little big, with Hampshire expected to be Surrey's closest Division One title challengers at 4/1

No teams won more matches in Division One than Hampshire last season, yet bizarrely none of their players averaged more than 40 with the bat. 

Back-to-back third-placed finishes in Division One of the County Championship speak for themselves, though, and the county have been happy enough to leave their squad unchanged for the red-ball campaign. 

If they are to stand any chance of dethroning Surrey this year, a bowling attack featuring Mohammad Abbas, Kyle Abbott and Keith Barker is sure to play a crucial part.

Low-scoring Essex and newly-promoted Nottinghamshire expected to have outside title shots

For this season's County Championship, the amount needed to score a maximum five points has increased from 400 to 450 in a bid to dissuade teams from creating low-scoring pitches. 

That could be bad news for Essex, who finished 48 points off the pace in Division One last season, with a lack of batting firepower having been a clear issue. 

They will not have the services of Will Sutherland this season, so they moved to bring in Doug Bracewell, and they will as ever be reliant on veteran bowler Simon Harmer to get them over the line. 

Batsman Dan Lawrence could well improve, though, after a season plagued by injury. 

They are 5/1 shots for the title, while Nottinghamshire can be backed at 8/1

Nottinghamshire gained promotion from Division Two last year and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could forge an immediate title push in Division One. 

They have largely kept things as they were but fast bowler Olly Stone was a significant addition, having been drafted in from Warwickshire, and they have left an overseas slot empty ahead of the new season. 

Haseeb Hameed will be dangerous after plundering 1,235 runs at an average of 58.80 in Division Two last year but the potential loss of Ben Duckett, who also surpassed 1,000 runs last season, to Ashes duty could be a big blow later in the season.

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