A flexible championship is crucial to winning friends

COUNTY COMMENTARY
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The Independent Online
What a sad bunch we are. After spending virtually all summer watching the paint dry, suddenly the County Championship has turned into a competition and we not only cannot wait for this weekend's denouement, but we want to do it all over again next year.

Not surprisingly Matthew Maynard, inspirational captain of the leaders Glamorgan, thinks it is the best league in the world and sees no reason to change it. Tomorrow's vote now seems likely to make him happy. But whatever the outcome, a flexible fixture list is important - by all means keep the Championship as it is, but play most of it between Monday and Friday, forget about making money from it and leave weekends free for one-day cricket and selected Championship fixtures such as local derbies and festivals. Attracting young spectators is the name of the game and most of our four-day cricket plainly does not do that.

The final round of this year's Championship, beginning on Thursday, sees Glamorgan visit Somerset while Kent, one point behind, receive Surrey. From this distance it is hard to pick a winner as there are pros and cons to both assignments. Glamorgan will be envious of Kent's home advantage, while the Welsh county have to tackle Andy Caddick and Mushtaq Ahmed at Taunton.

Against that Surrey, for all their disappointing cricket (and they were apparently quite dreadful in their last match) are still capable of beating anyone when the mood takes them. Furthermore Kent will be without their increasingly influential leg-spinner Paul Strang. The Zimbabwean has had an excellent season and it will be with mixed emotions that he takes the field for the first Test against New Zealand in Harare on Thursday. Kent are reported to be undecided about their overseas player for next season, with Carl Hooper still very much in their minds.

Glamorgan will probably start favourites simply by virtue of their one- point lead, gained over the weekend when they completed victory by seven wickets over Essex at Cardiff, while Kent drew with Yorkshire at Headingley.

It is still possible for Warwickshire and Yorkshire to take the title, but it would require a virtual wash-out for the two leaders and since neither is playing at Leicester, that is unlikely.

Saturday's rearguard action by Matthew Fleming and Mark Ealham broke Yorkshire hearts - if such a thing is possible - after Chris Silverwood had single-handedly taken the Tykes to within sight of victory. He took 5 for 55 in a 15-over spell and Kent, chasing 240 in 80 overs, were wobbling at one stage on 48 for 5. Their two all-rounders came to the rescue and in the end Kent were grateful for a draw. They will now be monitoring the fitness of Dean Headley (back) and captain Steve Marsh (thumb).

Glamorgan, too, suffered a mini-crisis against Essex, slipping to 26 for 3 chasing 149 before Maynard stepped in to make 75 not out and eventually they cruised home. The other reason for making them favourites is that in Waqar Younis they have the one truly world class player in the two sides.

Elsewhere on Saturday Middlesex completed their seventh win of the season by 10 wickets over Nottinghamshire at Lord's where Angus Fraser was given the honour of opening the Middlesex second innings. He duly responded by hitting three successive boundaries off the devilish bowling of the Nottinghamshire wicketkeeper Wayne Noon to give Middlesex the nine runs they needed.

Worcestershire enjoyed a similar margin of victory at New Road despite the century partnership for Derbyshire's ninth wicket between Karl Krikken and Simon Lacey. Alamgir Sheriyar, Worcestershire's left-arm pace bowler, took his 50th wicket of the season and new coach Bill Athey would seem to have plenty to play for next year. Derbyshire's next captain, Dominic Cork, might find life a little more difficult.

At Northampton, Leicestershire were held to a draw thanks to the cussedness of the home captain Rob Bailey, who came in at No 11 with a broken finger and staved off 20 overs in a 63-run partnership with David Ripley (83 not out). And Hampshire secured only their third win of the season, over bottom team Sussex at Southampton. Giles White, who scored his maiden century three weeks ago, steered Hampshire home by three wickets with an unbeaten 75.

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