County Championship preview September 19, 2006

Championship race enters final stretch



Mushtaq Ahmed is a key player in the closing stages of the title race © Getty Images
The Championship season enters its final round on Wednesday with Sussex and Lancashire chasing the main prize. Sussex hold an eight-point advantage going into their match against Nottinghamshire, while Lancashire face Shane Warne's Hampshire at the Rose Bowl.

If Sussex win the pennant is theirs, anything less and Lancashire could overtake them if they manage a high-value win. If the teams finish level on points the trophy would go to Hove as Sussex will have more victories than Lancashire.

Sussex are boosted by the availability of Michael Yardy and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan following their participation on the Natwest Series. Mushtaq Ahmed needs 11 weeks to bag 100 in a season for the second time while Murray Goodwin and Chris Adams form a powerful middle-order.

Mark Chilton, the Lancashire captain, is aware Sussex hold the advantage but is just concentrating on Lancashire's performance. "While they have the better hand, anything can happen, and we have a set of players who just never give up.

"Their attitude over the whole season but particularly in the last few weeks when we have suffered from injuries and bad weather has been fantastic. We can't worry about what is happening at Trent Bridge. We know we have to beat Hampshire and we will give it everything we have got."

It is appearing unlikely that Lancashire will risk James Anderson with the ECB imposing a 12-over per day limit on his workload. They have been served well by Dominic Cork, Glen Chapple and Tom Smith throughout the season and seem set to stick with them along with Gary Keedy and Murali Kartik.

Hampshire still have an outside chance of stealing second place (and mathematically the title although Sussex would have to lose without gaining a point) and any side led by Warne - who will have a late fitness test on his cut eye - will not give an inch even at this stage of the season.

At the other end of the table of the competition is just as tight with the winner of the Yorkshire-Durham clash at Headingley securing first division status for next season. However, if the match is drawn both have a slim chance of surviving if Nottinghamshire fail to collect three points against Sussex.

The race for promotion in the second division is between Essex and Worcestershire who have away matches against Leicestershire and Northamptonshire respectively. Essex currently hold second place by four points.

Two divisions was brought in to create meaningful and competitive cricket late into the season. With titles, promotion and relegation at stake you can't really ask for much more.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo