Only a few weeks ago there was heavy snow the rain continues to fall and one stadium is flooded. It can only mean one thing in the UK: The start of the County Championship cricket.
<p>Only a few weeks ago there was heavy snow, the rain continues to fall and one stadium is flooded. It can only mean one thing in the UK: The start of the County Championship cricket season. The first round of matches begins Friday with players ordering extra thermals for a chilly beginning.</p><p>In Division One, Essex, the champions, are the team to beat. They are the +350 (Ladbrokes) favourites. Having retained the same squad – and added Peter Siddle and Neil Wagner as overseas players in two separate stints – it is hard to argue with their position. We won’t be betting them, though, because retaining this title is tough. It’s happened three times since 1995.</p><p>Lancashire, runners-up last year, are next best at +450. They will go close again, but it is rare they could be considered value. The Manchester weather almost always costs them vital wins.</p><p>The price we like is the +500 on Surrey. This is largely due to the capture of South Africa paceman Morne Morkel. Morkel has signed a two-year Kolpak contract, which gives Surrey the option of signing an overseas star too. Morkel could rip the division apart, and he is one of the more stellar arrivals in the last few years at this level. Surrey were third last season and we would hope Morkel can bridge the gap.</p><p>Hampshire are also worth an interest at +800 (Bet365). They are another team to have been boosted by the Kolpak rule, allowing them to sign South African internationals like Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw. It’s a policy which is frowned upon, but there is no doubt it gives them an edge.</p><p>As for the rest, Yorkshire have been hurt by withdrawals to the T20 format. David Willey is the latest to jump ship, signing for Indian Premier League team Chennai Super Kings. Adil Rashid had already confirmed he wouldn’t be playing red-ball cricket. Willey will return, but it’s hardly conducive to building the spirit needed for a title win. They are +500 (William Hill).</p><p>Somerset are a competitive outfit but they are hampered by their Taunton wicket being so darn good for batting. It is hard for them to pick up home wins, particularly when they don’t sign an overseas player with the X-factor. Swerve them at +1200 (William Hill, Bet365).</p><p>Nottinghamshire have lost Chris Read, their shrewd skipper, to retirement, and this will be a season of consolidation at the odds of +700 (Bet365, Ladbrokes). Worcestershire are the rags at +2000 (Bet365) and will be pleased with survival.</p>