County Championship: Yorkshire CCC under the radar as Lancashire, Warwickshire and Essex look title contenders

THE County Championship season starts today – and not a minute too soon.

After the riveting excitement of The Hundred draft, we all need a little po-faced entertainment to bring us back down to earth.

Granted, there may not be fireworks, matchday announcers seemingly high on crystal meth and teams with thrilling monikers such as Manchester Werther’s Originals and Northern Powergrid, but who needs that when you’ve got the prospect of freezing conditions, bad light by 3.30pm and grounds populated by one man and his dog.

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Throw in plenty to moan about after a winter of unfettered misery in English cricket on-and-off the field, leading to the prospect of many happy hours of curmudgeonly conversation beyond the boundary, and it all adds up to an intoxicating blend as the four-day competition gets back into swing.

Can Yorkshire spring a surprise this season (Picture: SWPix.com)

The only downside from a parochial perspective is that Yorkshire are not involved in the opening round of games.

Although the prospect of sanctions from the Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) hangs over them like the Sword of Damacles, pending the outcome of an England and Wales Cricket Board investigation into the racism affair, there are no points penalties that we know of thus far, so Yorkshire will begin on a level playing field when they start their campaign against Gloucestershire in Bristol a week today at the Seat Unique Stadium (that’s Nevil Road in old money).

Quite what punishment Yorkshire will receive will be revealed in due course as attention now turns to the only cricket that 
truly counts – the first-class variety.

After England’s defeats in Australia and the West Indies, the poor old Championship has taken the usual kicking and yet it remains – with a respectful nod to the T20 Blast – our best tournament, with the 50-over event having sadly been reduced to a quasi-development affair due to the fixture clash with The Hundred.

Darren Gough has returned to Headingley Cricket ground as Yorkshire's interim director of cricket. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Following the recent upheaval at Headingley HQ, some people will fancy Yorkshire about as strongly to win the Championship as the Ugly Sisters were fancied in Cinderella, and yet the White Rose ‘Drizellas’, so to speak, might just surprise a few people and challenge for their first title since the mid-2010s.

Knowing the brains trust at the ECB, however, the CDC – which operates at arm’s length from the governing body – will probably wait until just before the final round of games, with Yorkshire an unassailable 49 points clear at the top of the table, before announcing a 50-point sanction that enables Lancashire, say, to leapfrog them at the last.

Still, let’s not head into the season with any sort of glass half-empty mentality (as you know, this column positively rails against any suggestion of cheap sarcasm and depressive negativity, and let’s hear it instead for positive thinking). Eh?

Lancashire, in fact, should be strong contenders and are fancied by bookmakers and punters alike.

They seem to have (cliche alert) all bases covered and (cliche alert) a strong side on paper. But, as we all know, (cliche alert) the game is not played on paper but on grass and (cliche alert) the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Yuck.

Lancashire should be there or thereabouts; ditto Essex, Somerset and defending champions Warwickshire, but don’t write off Yorkshire.

There is some love around for Hampshire, too, and the suggestion that the pitches at the Ageas Bowl might not be as dead this year as a Saturday night in Hedge End, Southampton, but we’ll believe that when we see it.

Yorkshire are travelling under the radar, a position that should suit them nicely.

They also have an excellent chance to get off to a flyer: Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Kent – three of their first four opponents – bring up the betting with most bookmakers.

A good start, inspired by a quality signing in Pakistan pace bowler Haris Rauf, would be just the tonic and then who knows? What a story it would be if Yorkshire could follow the winter from hell with the summer from heaven. Stranger things have happened at sea.

Of course, such idle speculation is incidental to the main feast at hand – The Hundred, which begins on August 3.

For the benefit of any lost souls who aren’t aware of the fixtures, Northern Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious start their 100-ball campaign against Manchester Werther’s Originals at Emirates Old Trafford on August 5.

Northern Supernovas then take on Trent Rockets in their first home game at Headingley on August 9.

Enjoy the Championship while you can, and happy new season.