The wind is howling, the rain is falling and snow is forecast. It can only herald the start of the cricket season.

Warwickshire take on the MCC at Lord's over the next four days in the traditional curtain-raiser of the domestic season: county champions versus the MCC.

Inevitably in such a match, many of the intrigues concern personal ambitions. While the result will barely be remembered come October, individual players' fortunes could be heavily influenced over the next few days.

A good performance by Ian Bell - or indeed most of the MCC team - will do their Test aspirations no harm while the battle for first-team places at Warwickshire is such that all minds will be fully focused.

The match presents a tough start for the champions. With their pre-season preparations ruined by rain, they come into the match undercooked and up against an ambitious and talented side that has recently returned from a tour of Sri Lanka. The champions' 18-month unbeaten record in first-class cricket could be under threat if the weather relents.

Nick Knight would never entertain such negative thoughts, however. His thoughts are concerned with building momentum in preparation for Warwickshire's title defence.

With two players (Knight and Mark Wagh) who have scored triplecenturies on the last two visits to Lord's, confidence is justifiably high.

Warwickshire actually started the 2004 season in lacklustre fashion. Knight set surprising store in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy victory over Shropshire in May, citing it as the turning point of the season, and is keen to start this campaign with an equally moraleboasting performance.

Warwickshire have elected to play what appears to be a full-strength side in preparation for more meaningful battles ahead.

Michael Powell has displaced Jim Troughton in the batting order while Nick Warren retains the place he earned at the end of last year, with Neil Carter, who has a slight strain in his back, 12th man.

Off-spinning all-rounder Alex Loudon effectively replaces Brad Hogg but will have to impress to keep his place when Ashley Giles returns for the start of the Championship programme.

The batting still looks a great deal stronger than the bowling but if 2004 taught us anything it was never to write off this Warwickshire side.

The beginning of a season is always alive with fresh possibilities and excitement. Quite right too. A man unable to manage a tinge of optimism in spring is a sorry fellow indeed.

So what a shame that the editor of Wisden should have taken the opportunity to savage the hand that has fed it for nearly a 150 years.

In his comments in the 142nd edition of the Almanack published this week, Matthew Engel dismisses the county game as "...unwatchable and pointless," "wretched" and contested by "moderate players".

Furthermore, he suggests there are "no local heroes anymore"; that overseas players "barely know which side they are representing" and, most damagingly, that several first-class counties should be allowed to "go to the wall".

Engel is an intelligent man blessed with an elegant turn of phrase. But he is wrong. He does the game a terrible disservice with his world-weary comments and, by consequence, short changes Warwickshire for their whole-hearted efforts last year.

If Engel doubts the quality of county cricket he should have watched Bell compile centuries of supreme skill at Guildford and Old Trafford. If he doubts the passion of overseas players he should have seen the steely glint in the eyes of Hogg.

If he doubts the heroic status of modern county players he should go to Small Heath and see how Naqaash Tahir and Kabir Ali are lauded. Or stand outside the New Road dressing-room when Graeme Hick leaves. Or ask any Warwickshire members their views on Dougie Brown.

County cricket offers rich entertainment. Performers of proven class such as Mark Ramprakash and Andy Caddick rub shoulders with young guns like James Hildreth and Bilal Shafayat.

Add the introduction of two divisional cricket and overseas players likes of Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Shoaib Akhtar et al and one could make a persuasive case for suggesting that the intensity and quality of county cricket has never been stronger.

The most damaging aspect of Engel's polemic is that it's self-fulfilling. The more that the media - especially those that should know better - peddle the myth that county cricket is "pointless", the more the general public will stay away.

I watched every day of Warwickshire's Championship triumph, and a good many days at New Road too. Never did I see Engel. Or Michael Atherton. Or Derek Pringle. Or Tim de Lisle. Or Michael Parkinson. Yet they attack county cricket at every opportunity. Draw your own conclusions.

Those of us who still value county cricket can savour a season of almost six months and encompassing a mouthwatering Ashes series.

And what a start. This match at Lord's features at least 18 players with either international experience or realistic international aspirations. Weather permitting it promises to be a richly entertaining prelude to the season.