There has been no red ball county cricket since July 28 – but the County Championship returns on Monday for a four-week uninterrupted run that will decide this season’s title. Unbeaten Surrey is 16 points clear at the top of Division One, while Division Two leaders Notts have taken advantage of 30 points from their last three games.
While the sport’s powers have recommended a smaller top division and fewer days of cricket as part of their High-Performance Review, the first-class counties want the Championship to be 14 matches per side until 2023.
And so, as things stand two teams will be promoted from Division One and two from Division Two this summer.
Who is in the running for the title?
Surrey won nine games in a row to win their 20th title in 2018 – 19 outright and one shared with Lancashire in 1950 and have been almost as impressive this season with seven wins and four draws.
Rory Burns’ side is not in action this week, so it is vital that Hampshire and Lancashire, their only realistic challengers, do not fall behind.
T20 Blast winners Hampshire were chasing a home title until Darren Stevens’ brilliant batting for Kent in last week’s ODI Cup semi-final dashed their hopes.
A double, though, still stands and second-placed Hampshire has actually won one more Championship match this summer than Surrey, with all three of them played in July.
A ninth victory would take them top of the table as they chase what would be just their third title, and first for 49 years – and in Kyle Abbott (49) and Keith Barker (43), they have two. There are important wickets. — Takers in Division.
Lancashire is third and will be looking for the double after beating Sussex to reach the ODI Cup final, but they have 34 points at the end – and are one point ahead of their opponents at Emirates Old Trafford, Roses. Cannot expect favors. Rivals Yorkshire.
“We’re chasing Surrey and Hampshire – whenever we do well, they seem to do well, but we’ve just got to have faith,” captain Dan Vilas told BBC Radio Lancashire. “.
“We know we have to win three games and if we do that we will give ourselves a chance.”
Who can go down?
Things are looking bleak for Gloucestershire in their first season in Division One since 2005.
They have yet to win a game and have lost eight out of 11, and nothing less than a win against Somerset, who are immediately above them in the table, will do.
Gloucestershire is 42 points behind third-placed Warwickshire, who do not play this week, and who they meet in Bristol on September 20.
It has also been a difficult season for Somerset, who have finished as runners-up in the title race five times since 2010 and have not played in the second tier since 2007.
But they have a game in hand on other teams in the bottom half of the table and are yet to play anyone above Northamptonshire, currently fifth, in their remaining four fixtures.
They have signed Pakistan opener Imam-ul-Haq and off-spinner Sajid Khan for a final push, with Matt Renshaw returning to Australia, and are also hoping for captain Tom Able, who has already scored three centuries this season. Done, will be back. Action after a hamstring injury.
Somerset director of cricket Andy Harry told BBC Radio Bristol: “The championship hasn’t started well. We’ve had some pleasing performances, two wins against Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.
“We’ve started to show some learning from a batting point of view in the last few Championship games before the break. So we go in there with a lot of optimism and a lot of confidence.”
Who can win the promotion?
Nottinghamshire undoubtedly feels they belong in Division One and finished third last season under the revised format due to Covid, just five points short of winning the title.
They are equally strong in batting – Ben Duckett has already scored over 1000 runs – and bowling. Two of their six wins have come by an innings and two by 10 wickets, so they will be confident of winning it at home from seven down and without Leicestershire.
Duckett will not be available though after Jonny Bairstow was called up to England’s Test squad after suffering a golfing injury.
The only blemish on Notts’ record is a seven-wicket home defeat by Glamorgan at Trent Bridge earlier in the season.
They are clear favorites for one promotion spot, but the other is less clear with just 10 points separating second-placed 2016 champions Middlesex and fourth-placed Derbyshire.
In between are Glamorgan, who have the chance to leapfrog Middlesex in their game against Worcestershire at Sophia Gardens – a team they beat by three wickets at New Road in June.