However, the name is not all that has changed at Middlesex this time around. Now known as the Panthers, the holders have lost some key personnel, with Tim Murtagh, Owais Shah, Eoin Morgan, Dirk Nannes and Murali Kartik missing out on large portions of this year’s tournament.
Essex have also been weakened thanks to the international call-ups of James Foster, Ravi Bopara, Ryan ten Doeschate and Graham Napier, whilst Kent are lacking the energy and sharpness that characterised their limited overs performances last term.
That is not to say the South Division is weak – Sussex are always hard to beat, whilst Surrey are rapidly improving and Hampshire, Friends Provident trophy semi finalists, are a team to look out for.
However, the favourites are surely Lancashire. Quarter finalists last year, when they missed out on a finals day place thanks to a sparkling Dawid Malan century, they look to be a formidable limited overs outfit.
New coach Peter Moores has got the under-achieving red roses playing with confidence and in Francois du Plessis, a key man in their run to the Friends Provident semi finals, they could have the batsman of the tournament. With regards to Twenty20 betting, he scores quickly without taking risks and is a good bet to be the tournament top runscorer.
Zander de Bruyn is another South African in good form and his talented Somerset team are the team to beat in the Midlands/Wales/West Division.
Gloucestershire and Warwickshire have made slow starts, but I expect them to both be soon in the qualification picture. Both have shown enough form in the Friends Provident trophy to suggest they have something to offer in this format and their squads will not be affected by ICC World Twenty20 call-ups.
The Bears are particularly strong in the batting department, with Neil Carter, Jim Troughton, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott forming one of the strongest top orders around.
Written by Philip Oliver