Level playing field sets the scene for a magnificent summer

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THERE are some questions in life that we just can’t answer.

What is the meaning of life itself?

Don’t know.

How long is a piece of string?

It depends.

What is the point of flying insects?

No idea.

And so on.

To this list of imponderables can be added another: Who will win this year’s County Championship?

Now that, as they say, is the million-dollar question.

One of the best things about the Championship – English cricket’s greatest competition – is that it is so unpredictable.

Unlike football, where you can pretty much guarantee who will be up at the top of the Premier League, the four-day competition is much more capricious.

Last year, who would have thought that Warwickshire would be county champions?

Beyond the confines of the Edgbaston dressing room, few would have predicted they would win the title.

This year, the tournament looks particularly wide open.

In alphabetical order, take your pick from Derbyshire, Durham, Nottinghamshire, Middlesex, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire and Yorkshire.

Although the bookmakers have Derbyshire and Yorkshire as the least likely to win, you really cannot rule out anyone.

Even Derbyshire – boosted by the signing of West Indian batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul – cannot be discounted.

The biggest difference between the Premier League and the County Championship, of course, is money.

In the Premier League, clubs splash the cash like there’s no tomorrow and can literally buy their way to success.

In cricket, where money is not so prevalent (apart from at The Kia Oval, perhaps), there is not the same movement of players.

Each club receives the same annual handout from the England and Wales Cricket Board, while there are negligible financial implications for relegated sides, with clubs on more of a level playing field.

It is also getting increasingly difficult to sign overseas stars who could make all the difference to a county’s success.

With so much international cricket, the best players are either unavailable or only available for a short period.

In a summer such as this, when you have got the ICC Champions Trophy as well as the Ashes, it is particularly hard to sign overseas players.

And, as Yorkshire could testify, it is hard even if you identify a player and that player is available and wants to come.

This year, Yorkshire want South African batsman David Miller back as an overseas player for Twenty20.

The hard-hitting left-hander was their leading run-scorer in the format last year with 390 at 48.75 and a big reason why Yorkshire reached Finals Day for the first time.

However, the chances of Miller returning are negligible owing to rules which state that he must have played at least 15 one-day internationals/Twenty20 internationals during the last two years or one Test match to qualify; at the time of writing, he had played 13 limited-overs games and there is no guarantee he can make up the difference.

One of the biggest factors in determining the outcome of the Championship is England calls.

Yorkshire, for instance, are among the heaviest hit.

Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan are either in or around the Test team at present, while it is surely only a matter of time before Gary Ballance reaches the same level.

In addition, players such as Adam Lyth, Azeem Rafiq and Moin Ashraf could potentially carve out England careers in the coming years, which could also impact on Yorkshire going forward.

So, who is going to win this year’s Championship?

I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue.

But I do know one thing.

Anyone can win it, which is why it is so magnificently exciting.