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Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 10:37 UK

County season preview 2009

Durham's players celebrate after winning the County Championship in 2008
Dale Benkenstein (with cup) resigned as captain after Durham's title win

By Mark Mitchener

The new county cricket season is almost upon us - with the traditional curtain-raiser between the MCC and the county champions kicking off the season at Lord's on Thursday.

Durham won their first County Championship title last September after a thrilling final round of matches.

Going into the final furlong, four teams had a chance of winning the title, while four other teams were bidding to avoid joining Surrey in the relegation places - but as it turned out, Durham's win at Canterbury not only won them the title but sent Kent down.

Title-winning captain Dale Benkenstein stepped down as skipper, to be replaced by Will Smith - while at the other end of the country, an era has ended with long-serving captain Chris Adams leaving Sussex to become cricket manager at neighbours Surrey.

However, one eye-catching addition to the Sussex squad is Joe Gatting, nephew of ex-England skipper Mike, who is trying his hand at cricket after a spell in the Football League with Brighton & Hove Albion.

COUNTY COMPETITIONS
County Championship (four days): 15 April-26 September
Friends Provident Trophy (50 overs): Group matches 19 April-20 May, Quarter-finals 23 May, Semi-finals 5 July, Final 25 July
Twenty20 Cup (20 overs): Group matches 25 May-28 June,
Quarter-finals 27-29 July,
Semi-finals & final 15 August
Pro40 (40 overs):
13 July-27 September

Meanwhile, another ex-Sussex stalwart - Peter Moores, sacked as England coach in January - has resurfaced in charge of Lancashire, while Surrey's bid to bounce back after relegation will be assisted by the signing of lively South African paceman Andre Nel, the latest ex-international to join county cricket as a "Kolpak" player.

Other overseas recruits include Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, who will warm up for the Ashes with a spell at Middlesex - while New Zealand trio James Franklin, Iain O'Brien and Jeetan Patel have moved to Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire respectively.

Another Australian Ashes contender, Stuart Clark, was set to join Kent, before that move was halted by his call-up to the Aussie one-day squad.

Of the three one-day competitions, the Friends Provident Trophy begins on 19 April with yet another change of format, now including quarter-finals after the group stage. Scotland and Ireland are once again involved.

Essex beat Kent in last year's Trophy final, while Rob Key's side were also losing finalists as Middlesex triumphed on a thrilling Twenty20 Cup finals day.

That earned Middlesex a trip to Antigua as part of the ill-fated Stanford Super Series, and a place in a Champions League tournament which was never contested.

However, this season's Twenty20 champions can expect an invite to 2009's money-spinning tournament - unless they field any players with links to the "rebel" Indian Cricket League.

Meanwhile, 40-over cricket will make its final bow in the county game in 2009, exactly 40 years after the old Sunday League was first contested.

But can it beat the climax to last year's Pro40 competition, where Murray Goodwin won the title for Sussex by hitting the last ball of the final game for six?

YOUR SAY ON THE NEW SEASON

Our journalists around the UK have given their views on each county on the 606 messageboards - but now it's time for you to have your say on your team's prospects.



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see also
County ins & outs 2009
24 Sep 09 |  Counties
Jones hopes Kent can bounce back
08 Apr 09 |  Counties
Counties find out FP Trophy draw
14 Oct 08 |  Counties
Durham seal title as Kent go down
27 Sep 08 |  Counties
County finale day four as it happened
27 Sep 08 |  Counties
Essex secure Lord's final glory
16 Aug 08 |  Counties
Middlesex win thrilling Cup final
26 Jul 08 |  Counties
Goodwin fires Sussex to title win
14 Sep 08 |  Counties


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