Cricket: Warwickshire return to major quest: Pressure mounts on Championship leaders with designs on domestic grand slam

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The Independent Online
AROUND this time of year, a Championship match at Edgbaston normally represents a handy weapon for parents in the annual school summer holiday survival battle. Few threats are calculated to guarantee a reasonable period of good behaviour more than a curt 'if you don't behave, I'll take you to see Warwickshire'.

This summer, however, the reverse is true and Warwickshire's quest for a domestic grand slam of all four trophies continues today with the visit of Nottinghamshire, who, with five matches to play, are far from hopelessly adrift 29 points behind the leaders.

It is perhaps no coincidence that of the top six in the table, four of them - Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Somerset and Nottinghamshire - have not had their team choices complicated by the England selectors, and while Essex (seventh) and Middlesex (eighth) are certainly not out of it, it is a team from the top half dozen who are most likely to deny Warwickshire their first pennant since 1972.

Surrey, 17 points behind in second place, meet Essex at Colchester today and a season which promised so much for them may, after the disappointment of Tuesday's NatWest semi-final defeat by Worcestershire, become irretrievably derailed if they fail to win. Graham Gooch may be missing with the hamstring injury he sustained in the Test, and John Stephenson is likely to be named soon as Gooch's replacement as Essex captain.

The team thought least likely to stand the pace, Leicestershire, are theoretically better placed than any of Warwickshire's immediate challengers, 26 points behind in third place but with a game in hand. Today they meet Worcestershire at Grace Road, the visitors having done their bit for the others by yielding only a single bonus point to Warwickshire in the last round of matches.

Leicestershire give a Championship debut to the local-born batsman Darren Maddy, 20, whose prolific 2nd XI form has earned him a place ahead of Ben Smith, the former England Under-19 player.

Sussex remain many people's idea of the side who may yet mount the strongest challenge to Warwickshire, even though the presence of an England selector for their match against Derbyshire at Eastbourne is likely to be for a check on Devon Malcolm's form before the final Test on The Oval's traditionally bouncy pitch.

Somerset, lying in the position they finished last year, fifth, face a difficult match at Lord's against Middlesex. The current champions are probably only playing for place money now and the most interesting aspect of their run-in is whether Mike Gatting can persuade the England selectors that his experience is worth a place in Australia this winter.

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