Cricket: Edge retained by relegation

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WITH SURREY having sealed their first title in 28 years, the race for second place and the fight to avoid relegation dominate the penultimate round of County Championship fixtures the majority of which get underway today.

The leaders, whose crushing win over Nottinghamshire last week sent them 61 points clear of the chasing pack, are the only side in the competition guaranteed First Division status next season.

Adam Hollioake's side are not in action until tomorrow, when they play Middlesex at Lord's, but every other county, including Leicestershire, Yorkshire and Lancashire, who are separated by three points in second, third and fourth places, still face the possibility of relegation.

If Lord MacLaurin's plan has helped the game in this country, it has done so by increasing the points earned for drawn games, lessening the reward for a win and introducing two divisions - ensuring games in September retain a competitive edge.

The table is more contracted this year and only double cup-winning Gloucestershire, who play Derbyshire at Bristol today, are certain of relegation.

Whether increasing emphasis on staving off defeat will help develop a new generation of England Test cricketers is debatable, with a large number of games this summer having finished inside two days. Such is the quality of the wickets, however, and the inability of players to adjust between one-day and Championship cricket that just one good session can turn a game.

The Derbyshire coach, Colin Wells, is aware of the fact that any side is capable of beating another. "Gloucestershire are a good one-day side, and it is possible for them to transfer that form into the four-day game," he warns.