Warwickshire have been allocated a tough start to the 2017 Specsavers County Championship season with their opening three games consisting of resurgent Surrey at The Oval and Edgbaston either side of a home match against Yorkshire.

But captain Ian Bell insists his players will be ready for the challenges of a championship Division One trimmed to eight teams for the first time – and which, he insists, gets stronger every year.

“They are massively tough games to start with,” the skipper said. “We all know how strong Yorkshire are and Surrey have made some signings to enhance their squad so it will be a challenging start. But as a cricketer you always want to challenge yourself against good teams so we’ll have that opportunity, as will the opposition because we’re a good side too.

Last season the First Division was really tight from top to bottom and it will be even tighter next year with one fewer team in it. The First Division gets stronger and stronger every year, with every game a proper battle, so we’re all looking forward to a real challenge.

“As a squad we will work hard throughout the winter and go about our business nice and quietly. We’ve started the pre-season very well and will build on that because we want to be mentally and physically tougher than we were last year and ready to go at the start of the season.”

The 2017 fixture-list has been structured differently to before by the England and Wales Cricket Board in an attempt to separate the formats as much as possible, enabling players to focus on one format at a time.

The schedule has its tidiest look for years with the eight Royal London One-day Cup group matches in a self-contained block between April 27 and May 14 and the 14 NatWestT20Blast group phase conducted between July 7 and August 18.

Bell believes the changes will benefit players, and therefore spectators, across the formats.

“Having two fewer championship games makes the fixture-list simpler,” he said. “It will enable us to keep the quality high every time we go on the field in any competition which can be hard when you are playing cricket on seven days out of eight, sometimes in three formats.”

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