Mark Butcher does not expect Yorkshire to retain their LV= County Championship title – and he has warned his former county, Surrey, that they also face a tough battle to gain promotion back to Division One.
The former England opener, who won domestic cricket’s most coveted honour three times in his own playing career, has been appointed official ambassador for an expanded LV= highlights programme this summer. He will select one match from each round for extended coverage to enhance the highlights service available at www.ecb.co.uk/lvcc.
Butcher will begin with the first match of Yorkshire’s title defence against newly-promoted Worcestershire on Sunday, 12th April at New Road. This was also the venue for the official launch of the competition – on the eve of the domestic first-class season, when six counties faced MCC University opposition on 2nd April.
Who is he tipping to be the winners of the LV= title in 2015? “Can Yorkshire defend the title? My feeling is probably not,” said Butcher. “They are starting the season with six of their players in the Caribbean with England, and even for a county with Yorkshire’s strength in depth, that is a tough ask. I wouldn’t completely rule it out before a ball is bowled, but I like the look of Sussex, Warwickshire and maybe even Nottinghamshire to make a challenge.
“In Division Two you’d have to look at Surrey and Lancashire as the big beasts who will be expecting to come up. But again it won’t be easy with other ambitious counties in that division, like Derbyshire, who will relish the prospect of having a crack at them.
“That’s good for the competition though, in both divisions. They’re very hard to predict, and there will be an extra edge with England away at the start of the season but international places up for grabs in all forms of the game. I like the fact that we talk about the LV= County Championship as the competition which Test players come from, and I’m really looking forward to watching more young talent come through this summer.”
Gordon Hollins, the ECB’s Chief Operating Officer, explained the decision to launch the 125-year-old competition in Worcestershire, as the county celebrate its 150th anniversary.
“Worcester is a classic county venue, and the club’s progress in earning promotion on the field and developing their business off it was rewarded at our Business of Cricket Awards during the winter, when they were nominated in five categories and received the County Recognition Award. So there could be no better place to look ahead to another fascinating county season, which begins with the first round of LV= County Championship fixtures on12th April – and the visit of the champions, Yorkshire, to New Road.
“We continue to support the competition in a range of ways, helping to fund the BBC’s ball-by-ball radio commentaries, which will be made available on tablets and mobile handsets for the first time this season – and also wider media coverage as part of an expanded match-reporting service which will be freely available to regional and national media.
“We are delighted to have Mark Butcher as the ambassador for an improved package of video highlights, supported by LV= and available through our own website and those of the counties. There were more than 525,000 views of the highlights last season on the county ePlayer syndication channel alone.
“Finally, while celebrating the present and future of the Championship, we should also recognise its history as an intrinsic part of the sporting summer, and ECB is pleased to support the publication of an excellent new book by the cricket historian Stephen Chalke marking the competition’s 125thanniversary.”
•The opening round of LV= County Championship fixtures starts on Sunday, 12th April and features:
Division One – Hampshire v Sussex, Middlesex v Nottinghamshire, Somerset v Durham, Worcestershire v Yorkshire
Division Two – Leicestershire v Glamorgan, Northamptonshire v Gloucestershire