County Championship showdown September 23, 2008

Nottinghamshire hold edge in title race

Samit Patel has played a key part in Nottinghamshire entering the final round of matches in top spot © Getty Images
Four teams can still claim the County Championship going into the final round, and another four are battling to avoid the drop. That's not bad for a nine-team division. The county season is set for a thrilling finale over the next four days and although Nottinghamshire - at home against Hampshire - are in pole position, any slip-ups could open the door for another side to sneak through.

The extraordinarily tight nature of the table is partly due to the wet summer that has finally abated in time for the final two rounds of matches. Teams have been so bunched together that one win or defeat has sent them rocketing either up or down the standings. The perfect example was last week's match between Lancashire and Kent when Kent's defeat sent them from Championship hopefuls to relegation candidates.

Whoever wins the Championship this season will need to win their final match to do so, and that can only be a good thing. Safety-first cricket has been an issue in county cricket for some time, especially when teams have found themselves building a lead at the top of the table. If Somerset nip in for the crown they will have done it with the lowest percentage of wins in history - just four victories from 16 matches. No-one, though, can afford to take a backward step this time.

"As professional cricketers, this is the type of game that you want to be involved in and we will approach it with clear minds," said Ashwell Prince, who will line-up for Nottinghamshire. "We've got four seamers, right and left-hand spinners and we bat very deep so the balance of the side couldn't be any better."

The pitches will play a key role. Trent Bridge has been a result surface all season with swing also playing a major part. Somerset can't afford to produce a featherbed at Taunton so will have to gamble on a track with some life, which will make the toss an interesting decision. Teams batting first have been shot out on occasions this summer. Durham need plenty of help from other teams to claim their maiden title, but with an attack including Steve Harmison they have the firepower to dismantle a fragile Kent line-up.

Below are the permutations for the teams aiming for the title.

  • A Nottinghamshire victory gives them the title, regardless of how many bonus points are accrued. Even a 14-point win would leave them on 192, the maximum Somerset can reach, and Nottinghamshire have more victories, which is the first tie-break.
  • Somerset have to score nine more points than Nottinghamshire and hope Durham don't score two more than them.
  • Durham need 10 more points than Nottinghamshire and two more points than Somerset manage against Lancashire.
  • Hampshire are the rank outsiders. They need to win with the maximum 22 points against Nottinghamshire and restrict them to less than three points, while also needing Durham not to beat Kent and Lancashire to win against Somerset.
  • At the other end of the table, five points separate four teams. Sussex and Yorkshire - minus Darren Gough and Michael Vaughan - face each other at Hove in a potential relegation dogfight. However, both could still survive depending on what happens at Taunton and Canterbury.

    For Sussex, being led for the final time by Chris Adams, it will be an experience they haven't had for a while, scrapping it out at the bottom of the table. They have felt the absence of Mushtaq Ahmed and 11 draws shows the impact of not being able to bowl sides out twice, as well as the weather.

    Lancashire gave themselves a lifeline with their victory against Kent at Aigburth, but it could all come to nothing if they suffer a heavy defeat at Taunton. However, their fate is in their hands and a good victory, with at least 17 points, will put them safe.

    In Division Two the scenario is very simple. If Warwickshire take four points against Glamorgan they will claim the title ahead of their Midlands rivals Worcestershire. Both are already promoted, but who'll they be playing against in 2009 is still anyone's guess.

    Team Mat Won Lost Tied Draw Aban Pts
    Nottinghamshire 15 5 2 0 7 1 178
    Somerset 15 3 1 0 11 0 170
    Durham 15 5 3 0 6 1 168
    Hampshire 15 4 4 0 7 0 160
    Lancashire 15 4 2 0 8 1 152
    Kent 15 4 5 0 6 0 151
    Sussex 15 2 2 0 11 0 151
    Yorkshire 15 2 5 0 8 0 147
    Surrey 16 0 5 0 10 1 124

    Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo