Time to switch on

County cricket returns to Sky Sports with a bang on Thursday as defending champions Warwickshire take on last season's runners-up Somerset in a Championship clash at Taunton.

Last Updated: 28/04/13 at 12:24 Post Comment

Dougie Brown: aiming to build on Ashley Giles' successful spell at Warwicksh

Dougie Brown: aiming to build on Ashley Giles' successful spell at Warwicksh

Craig Kieswetter struck 152 in last season's corresponding fixture as the hosts sneaked home by one wicket to inflict Warwickshire's only defeat of the season.

Ashley Giles may have left Edgbaston to become England's limited-overs supremo, but under new coach Dougie Brown the title-holders have begun the season strongly and beat Durham by 318 runs in their second outing of the campaign to climb to second in the table.

In contrast Somerset - who have lost just three Championship matches at Taunton since the start of 2009 - came off second best as they rolled over by Durham but rallied to earn a draw against Surrey.

So what does the season hold in store for the two counties? Former England and Warwickshire duo Nick Knight and Bob Willis will be part of our commentary team for the first of 60 live county games on Sky Sports this summer. Here are their thoughts...

How tough a job has Dougie Brown got in succeeding Ashley Giles at Warwickshire?

NICK: He's starting on a tricky footing because the club has such high expectations now after what Ashley delivered and the way he set up the club. Dougie will want to stamp his own authority on it but at the same time, I guess, he'll realise that there is not a lot to change. The flip side to that is that he has inherited a very strong squad with some experienced players who have been through the mill; looking from afar, this is a team that has a pretty good idea where it is heading.

I'm sure Dougie is very grateful for what is a good squad with excellent depth. They've got cover in important areas. At the start of the season I always look to see how many seamers each county has got and how good they are. Warwickshire have at least five, possibly six, who are ready to play at first-team level and could do a very good job. So they'll be in a pretty good state when international call-ups come.

In Jeetan Patel, they've also got an overseas player who will be there for six months. In the modern era it's not easy to sign a top-quality player up for that long, but if you can do that I think the continuity serves you well.

Chris Wright has started the season in cracking form and is one of six Warwickshire players included in England's provisional ICC Champions Trophy squad. Just how good is he?

NICK: Everyone is talking about Chris because he performed last season and has started off well this year. He has got a little more pace than it appears and hits the bat a little bit harder. I understand that he works incredibly well with Graeme Welch, who was the bowling coach last year and is now assistant coach. They have a good working relationship.

I honestly don't know how good Chris ban be. When I first saw him play for Essex I didn't think 'this bloke is a bit special' but he's getting fitter, stronger and more resilient as a bowler and he's improving year on year. One of the things I'm really looking forward to in this game is Chris bowling at the likes of Marcus Trescothick, Nick Compton and Alviro Peterson - high-quality batsmen - to see just how good he is on what, presumably, will be a pretty flat surface over four days.

Could you say the same about Rikki Clarke, who has just signed a new four-year contract at Edgbaston?

NICK: We know where Rikki Clarke is now. Quite clearly he has responded to the Edgbaston environment and playing under Ashley Giles. At 31 he's a lot more mature now and is probably at the peak of his powers. By his own admission, he let things go a little bit earlier in his career, has realised the error of his ways and is putting them right. It's not too late for Rikki to find his way back into that England set up. Nick Compton's selection at 29 has shown that if you have an outstanding season then the selectors will have a look at you. Rikki has got a great season ahead of him; I think he's a very good player. I've talked about him now for a year or two and have been hoping that the England selectors won't ignore him. Now they haven't, he has to prove his worth to them.

Will Warwickshire be up there or thereabouts this season?

NICK: I think so, for the reasons above and because they've got a very strong five, six, seven, eight, nine; if they find themselves 30-3, which they will at some stage, they are still a hard side to knock over for 350-450 because the likes of Clarke, Darren Maddy, Tim Ambrose and Chris Woakes can all bat. It's reminiscent of the era in which I played when we had Giles, Brown and Welch and Neil Smith. Sides might think they are through only to be thwarted by the middle and lower middle order, which in partnership with their attack, serves Warwickshire so well.

Somerset finished fourth in 2011 and were runners-up last year. Are they still on an upward curve?

BOB: I think Somerset will struggle to better their second place of last year; they did very well last season to finish as high as they did given that they were without Marcus Trescothick for most of the time. There's no doubt that as a collective unit their batsmen are going to get lots of runs - the question is whether they have the bowling attack to win enough matches and I'd say that their prospects are stronger in one-day cricket than the four-day game. They do play on sportier wickets now at Taunton, but I think they'll still have their work cut out to bowl sides out twice. I don't think their bowling attack is as good as some of the other contenders up at the top of the table. The Warwickshire contest will be a good pointer to see how they are going to go this time around.

What do you make of the way the side is shaping up this season?

BOB: They've decided, probably with a nudge from England, to move Nick Compton up to open the innings, Alviro Petersen is a quality act and you can generally rely on James Hildreth to fill his boots at Taunton. Personally, I'd like to see Jos Buttler move up the order so he has the chance to prove what he can do in the longer form of the game. They've got some good triers in the seam department - Steve Kirby will run in all day as will Peter Trego, and Alfonso Thomas (when he's free of the IPL) can be a handful. They are a bit thin in the spin department, though. George Dockrell is a decent prospect but he's not the finished article yet. That's definitely Somerset's weakest area for me.

What do you like about Petersen as a batsman?

BOB: Getting into that South Africa top order is no easy task - Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers are all world-class players. But Petersen has tremendous powers of concentration - he's certainly not a 'flash Harry'. He's got a good technique against quick bowling and takes very few risks early on. He's what you might call an old-fashioned opening batsman. I don't think he's at his best against spin bowling but that's true of a lot of South African players because they didn't see much of it in their domestic cricket for many years.

Can Buttler and Kieswetter enhance their five-day prospects in the four-day game?

BOB: If Hildreth bats at four, Buttler and Kieswetter could once again find their opportunities to express themselves rather limited at five and six. The onus is on them to deliver a great volume of runs. They are both very unselfish and quite a bit more than flash-in-the-pan players - they are both decent batsmen so when Somerset do get into difficulties they've got to show that they can bat for long periods of time and put together big scores. In some ways it is going to be a straight shoot-out between the two of them. Buttler is probably England's favourite son at the moment and I'm a big fan of his. Like Eoin Morgan, there is that little bit of magic in his game that England have got to make the most of and hone him into a top-class performer.

Sky Sports will show each county at least three times this summer, with 60 live fixtures from the Yorkshire Bank 40, LV=County Championship and Friends Life t20. For more details click here...

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