Essex star prepares for Lord's clash
While Essex star Alastair Cook fights for test form as England cricket captain, there's pressure of a different kind for his county club.
West Indies star Brian Lara will play against Hertfordshire on Sunday in a special match at Lord's, but it could have been very different...
Northamptonshire face a tough opener in next season's County Championship.
Newly promoted Northants will play reigning champions Durham in the opening fixture of the LV=County Championship.
Northants won promotion after finishing second in Division Two last year.
Meanwhile, Essex will face newly relegated Derbyshire at the County Ground in Division Two.
Essex will hope to build on last season where they narrowly missed out on promotion.
For a more in-depth look at both clubs fixtures, click the links below:
England have been dealt a another blow with the news that batsman Jonathan Trott is heading home from the tour with a stress-related illness.
Trott's return means that England, captained by Essex star Alastair Cook, will have to make at least one change before battle resumes in Adelaide next week.
England go into the 2nd test on the back of a heavy defeat in Brisbane, as Australia cruised to a 381 run win with a day to spare.
Cook himself battled hard to make 65 as England were bowled out for 179 in their second innings, but his individual effort was a small highlight in an otherwise disastrous start to the Ashes series.
Meanwhile, Northamptonshire all-rounder David Willey is also returning home early from Australia after picking up a lower back injury.
The 23-year-old has been with the England Performance Programme squad but will now undergo rehabilitation back in the UK.
England are facing an uphill struggle to save the first Ashes Test after a disastrous batting collapse resulted in them being bowled out for 136.
Mitchell Johnson in particular terrorised the English batsmen, taking 4-61 in an inspired spell of bowling as England struggled in the Brisbane heat.
Michael Carberry top-scored for the tourists, hitting 40, but apart from that there was little resistance.
Essex star and England captain Alastair Cook could only make 13 at the top of the order, but England still looked set for a decent total with the scoreboard at 82-2.
However, in a phenomenal turnaround, England lost six wickets for just nine runs with Johnson and Ryan Harris causing mayhem.
It could have been even worse had Stuart Broad not registered a battling 32 to temporarily halt the slide, but England found soon found themselves on the back foot again, this time with the ball, as Australia got off to an ominous start in their second innings to reach 65-0 at the close of play.
It means that England already face a deficit of 224 runs with three days left to play with the need for quick Australian wickets on day three an obvious necessity.
England have no reason to feel intimidated by the Brisbane venue for the first Ashes test, according to captain Alastair Cook.
England are bidding to win at the Brisbane Cricket Ground - known as the "Gabba" - for the first time in 25 years.
Cook said the experience of his side would help break that unwanted record:
"A lot of players in this squad were here in 2010/11 - we've all got experience of winning in Australia.
"We're trying to use that to the best of our ability, and we know how important this game was last time for setting up the series. We certainly don't fear anyone."
The wait is almost over for the start of the Ashes series in Australia.
England will be hoping to retain the urn under the captaincy of Essex star Alastair Cook.
The first days's play gets underway overnight in Brisbane.
Veteran Essex bowler David Masters has signed a one-year contract extension with the county.
The 35-year-old joined Essex in 2007 from Leicestershire and has been the leading First-Class wicket-taker at the club for four years in a row.
He made 16 LV=County Championship appearances last season, taking an impressive 51 wickets in the process.
He'll now stay with Essex until the end of the 2015 season.
Speaking to the club's official website, Masters said that he was happy to extend his stay:
“I am very happy to a have signed a new contract with Essex.
"Being 35-years-old, this will take me up the age of 37 and I want to play for as long as I can.
"This is a great step for me to continue playing cricket for as long as I can continue to perform on the pitch."
England captain Alastair Cook has been warned he'll be facing a fired up Australian attack in the upcoming Ashes.
Aussie fast bowler Mitchell Johnson was speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald saying the Kangaroos will be targeting Cook and fellow batsman Jonathan Trott.
Asked about Essex batsman Cook, Johnson said:
"If I can get a few of those rearing balls towards the ribs or those throat balls, and if he gets in the way of it, that's his own fault.
"You'd rather get the wicket more than anything; you get a lot of joy out of that when you get a player like that out.
"I have a look at last summer, and (Sri Lanka's Kumar) Sangakkara was an example. I've busted his finger, and he's one of their best players.
"So they were one short, and I got a couple of those in the middle order. If you can't get them out, that's the second option."
Cricket has often been called a cottage industry with traditional bat making companies like Hunts County in Huntingdon remaining true to their roots and continuing to turn out products using craftsmanship from over the centuries.
But player safety is one area that has developed considerably, particularly batting helmets, and with its product about to appear in the ashes series down under in a couple of weeks time, a small British company is hoping to make it big on the world stage.
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Monty Panesar has taken to Twitter to express his delight at signing for Essex.
The England bowler agreed a two-year contract with the club earlier this afternoon, following a successful loan spell last season.