Sunday sees the start of the 18th Women's County Championship. Following on from our previews of the teams in Division One (here) we look at the first weekend's fixtures which are double-headers for most teams, with games on both Sunday (4th May) and Monday (5th May).
Sussex start the defence of their 2013 County Championship title with games against Essex at the County Ground in Hove (10.30am start) on Sunday, and Warwickshire at St James Montefiore CC on Monday (11am start). They defeated both teams comfortably last year and they will be hopeful of getting their 2014 campaign off to a double-winning start. Sussex will be hopeful of fielding a full-strength side with England's Sarah Taylor as their new skipper. Essex are a young team and they will do well to contain Sussex. Warwickshire have some promising cricketers in their squad with the likes of Becky Grundy and Amy Jones (fresh from the T20 World Cup) and they will be a stiff challenge for the champions.
Kent have a tricky opening weekend against Yorkshire at Upchurch Cricket Club (11am) on Sunday and an away fixture to Middlesex on Monday at Edmonton CC (11am start). Yorkshire defeated Kent in last year's County Championship and effectively took their place in the Championship play-off final as a result of their six wicket win. This was based around an opening partnership of 137 between Lauren Winfield (69) and Jess Watson (53), who should both be in the Yorkshire line-up again. Notable absentees are likely to be Katherine Brunt (Yorks) and Laura Marsh (Kent) both recovering from injuries (although Marsh has been netting with her former England coach Mark Lane recently so may appear), but Charlotte Edwards will almost certainly lead a strong Kent team. Yorkshire might just fancy their chances though in this early season clash if they can prise out Misses Edwards, Greenway and Beaumont. Middlesex will be no pushover on Monday. Aussie Emma Inglis flattered to deceive last year and might just come good with the bat this year. Cath Dalton is a consistent performer and Somerset's Izzy Westbury will be making her debut for her new county (see A Woman's Tale)
Heather Knight will lead her Berkshire side away against Notts at Welbeck CC (11am) on Sunday and they can sit back and relax on Monday as they get a rest day. Rumours are that Aussie Megan Schutt will be making her debut for Notts, alongside England's Jenny Gunn and Danni Wyatt, but Notts like to keep their team news to themselves. This might make them too strong for Berkshire unless Knight powers her way to another County Championship century to kick off her season in style.
After taking on Berkshire on Sunday Notts return to Welbeck CC the next day to take on Essex (12pm start). Essex have to make the trip up after playing Sussex the previous day and the inevitable element of fatigue is unlikely to do their chances of success much good. It could be a second win for Notts and a second defeat for Essex.
Prior to their meeting with Sussex in Sussex, Warwickshire are scheduled to take on Surrey at Reeds School on Sunday (11am). Warwickshire beat them comfortably last year by 119 runs, bowling Surrey out for just 79 runs - Marie Kelly claimed 4/13 and Becky Grundy 3/14. A similar result could well be on the cards again setting Warwickshire up nicely for their clash with Sussex the next day.
After their clash with Kent on Sunday Yorkshire hop over to neighbours Surrey for their Monday fixture again at Reeds School (11am). Yorkshire squeaked passed Surrey by just 12 runs last season after a poor batting display (with the exception of Lauren Winfield (96) and Hollie Armitage (25)). Nat Sciver (68) almost saw her Surrey side home until leggie Armitage claimed three wickets in 10 balls to finish the Surrey innings off. Yorkshire will either be on a high from a defeat of Kent or smarting at a first loss. Either way it could prove unfortunate for Surrey.
Middlesex - v Kent (Mon) (see above)
Surrey - v Warwickshire (Sun) and v Yorkshire (Mon) (see above)
Essex - v Sussex (Sun) v Notts (Mon) (see above)