A good captain can bring out that extra ten percent in a group of players. When all are flagging in the dying weeks of the season, it is vital that someone is able to rouse the extra get-up-and-go from players who would otherwise have got up and gone. Rory Hamilton-Brown was hand-picked by Surrey in his early twenties, but departed the county in tragic circumstances after the death of his close friend Tom Maynard. Now back at certified 'caring county' Sussex, he is back in the ranks and back enjoying his cricket.
A good academy set-up is vital for any county. Leicestershire have been a production line for talented young cricketers such as Stuart Broad, James Taylor and most recently Shiv Thakor. Holding onto these players can be tricky, but the injection of youth, talent, and usually athleticism in the field can be vital to any side. One simply has to look at the exploits of any number of academy-produced cricketers on the county scene.
County cricket is unique in that the whole world is available to plunder overseas talent from. With no other major domestic competitions that coincide, Twenty20 notwithstanding, you should be relatively able to pick up any player of your choice. Northants have shown how this can be done by signing Trent Copeland, who has been very impressive for New South Wales, but will not be called away for international duty. A good job for the Steelbacks after his recent ten-wicket haul showed just how good he is.
Every team needs a player who's seen it all before. Surrey recognised this need in the off-season, bringing in 37-year-old Vikram Solanki from Worcestershire. There were many raised eyebrows given that he is hardly a youth-minded signing. However, his experience of almost two decades of professional cricket means that when a situation comes along that requires someone to bat out a day, he will be able to do so with aplomb.
In the Championship, draws aren't enough to keep you afloat. You need a bowling attack that will be able to take twenty wickets, or you will be consigned to the lower reaches. Vital among your armoury will be a strike bowler, someone who will be able to run through teams with pace or spin. Every good county has one and the best have two or more, none more successful than Toby Roland-Jones for Middlesex. His wickets have helped Middlesex to back-to-back wins, and big wins at that.
Of course, wickets may not be much help if you don't have someone to score the runs that the opposition don't. Spectacularly ginger Luke Wells has made something of a habit of this for Sussex, converting fifties into hundreds and hundreds into "daddy-hundreds" which win matches on their own, or at least put them beyond the point of being lost. Your premier batsman will ideally bat in the top four, and take the pressure right off the middle order.
Sixteen matches, each lasting four days apiece; the County Championship season is extremely long, and you won't get through it bowling a few overs a day. What many counties would love to have, and almost as many are without, is a work-horse seamer of genuine quality. One of the few who ticks both boxes is Worcestershire's Alan Richardson, the Championship Specialist who just gets better with age. 3979 balls bowled in 2011 equates to a shade more than 650 overs, a phenomenal effort that helped the rest stay fresh.
Of course, it's not just about the Championship. The FriendsLife T20 involves an extra overseas pro, and the Yorkshire Bank 40 requires a set of skills somewhere between the two. It is important that these competitions do not get forgotten by the counties; Hampshire, although struggling in the Championship, won both limited overs titles in 2012, and an innings like Scott Styris' for Sussex can raise the morale of the entire club.
Of course, cricket is an eleven-a-side game, and injuries happen. You need a strong, deep squad to make things work out. Many counties show the importance of the good, old-fashioned county pro, such as Northants' Steven Crook; Derbyshire's David Wainwright and Tony Palladino; Warwickshire's Chris Wright. All of them came with little pedigree at presumably low prices, but have proved to be vital cogs in successful teams. Wright has even been successful enough to put himself into the Test frame.
Many counties go overboard on back-room staff. Warwickshire in particular have more tracksuited staff than those who wear whites. Whatever happened to cricket being a simple game? A coach, in my view, should be someone who the players can talk to, and can help players who want it. They should not stamp themselves all over the team, and should certainly not feel the need to tinker with all their players. I would also like to note that perhaps exercises like high intensity tyre pulls and harness training actually contribute to back injuries, especially in that most sport-science minded nation, Australia.