A HAT-TRICK of Western Division pennants has given Dorset the chance to lift their first Minor Counties title at the third time of asking. Denied in both the last two championship play-offs - by Staffordshire at Dean Park in 1998 and by Cumberland at Netherfield last season - Dorset have the opportunity to make it third time lucky when they host a rematch with the 1999 champions at Bournemouth Sports CC between September 10 and 12.

Dorset clinched the Western Division when a last-match victory over Wiltshire at Corsham lifted them above Oxfordshire at the top of the table. They had gone into the final round of fixtures three points adrift of Oxfordshire, who drew their last game with Berkshire at Reading.

Vyvian Pike, their influential leg-spinner, took 13 wickets in the match to scale the 50-wicket barrier for the second successive season but Dorset's batsmen then knocked off a 304 target in 58 overs to win by two wickets with four balls to spare.

Skipper Stuart Rintoul said: "We are delighted to be in the final again and it's been another good year, if different from 1999. Last year we trounced a lot of teams but this season the results have been closer. We have had a younger side as well and they have come through well in tight situations. "Cumberland are obviously an organised and experienced side and our aim in the final is to avoid having any bad sessions. Last year we lost 10 wickets for 46 runs on the second morning and in the end that cost us the game."

Cumberland's second successive Eastern Division triumph was secured in controversial circumstances with an unorthodox last-match victory over Northumberland at Jesmond. Depending on your viewpoint, Simon Dutton either pulled off a tactical masterstroke - or went close to compromising the spirit of the game.

Tea-time discussions on the first day - instigated by what Cumberland captain Dutton called his 'brainstorm' - resulted in Northumberland declaring at 10 for two off 13 overs in reply to 293 for two off 67, Cumberland forfeiting their second innings and Northumberland resuming chasing a target of 284 - with more than 150 overs left!

The gamble virtually took away the possibility of the game ending in a draw, and Cumberland completed a 155-run win soon after lunch on day two. In doing so, they killed off the challenge from Lincolnshire, whose final game against Buckinghamshire at High Wycombe was reduced to a second-day anti-climax.

Dutton, set to stand down as Cumberland captain after this year's final, said: "The weather for Monday didn't look good and by giving Northumberland such a target, it improved our own chances of winning. It was entirely my idea and I consulted the umpires to make sure I was doing nothing wrong.

"The lads were a little taken aback and it wasn't something that had been planned. It just came to me at tea and I put it to Phil Nicholson, the Northumberland captain."

Teams
Dorset: (from) M Swarbrick, GR Treagus, NJ Thurgood, DJ Cowley, PJ Deakin, TCZ Lamb, SWD Rintoul (Capt), DA Kidner, VJ Pike, TJ Sharpe, S Forshaw, TC Hicks.

Cumberland: ST Knox, DJ Pearson, AA Metcalfe, DE Barnes, SM Dutton (Capt), SJ O'Shaughnessy, JM Lewis, SAJ Kippax, JM Fielding, DB Pennett, MA Sharp 12th man: JD Glendenen

*Bournemouth Sports CC (not Dean Park) is at Chapel Gate, East Parley in Bournemouth near Hurn airport. (Telephone 01202-581933). Plays starts on all three days (Sept 10-12) at 11am.