Such are the vagaries of the County Championship that five out of eight sides can still join Kent in being promoted from the Second Division. In a competition where negative cricket is too often the norm and bonus points help to blur the line between good sides and mediocre ones, that is to be expected and, perhaps, lamented. That said, it does make for an interesting end to the season.
Of the five, Northamptonshire were best placed before this penultimate round of matches but their contest with Essex looks likely to fizzle out into a draw despite the home side's attempt to force the pace at Chelmsford yesterday. Resuming on 3 for no wicket, Essex reached 253 for 8 before declaring, thereby conceding a first-innings lead of 46 to their opponents.
They had lost half their side for only 128 but Ryan ten Doeschate invigorated the situation with a half-century that spanned only 38 deliveries and included eight boundaries. Together with James Foster, he eased his side away from their difficult position as the pair added an entertaining 89 for the sixth wicket before both departed in quick succession to Andrew Hall.
After the declaration, David Masters raised Essex hopes with the wickets of Stephen Peters and Paul Harrison, who were both pinned in front of their stumps, but Niall O'Brien and Riki Wessels survived until the close against an attack that saw leg-spinner Danish Kaneria take the new ball with Masters.
Glamorgan are also in the hunt to be promoted, some 15 points behind Northants and just two behind Gloucestershire, whom they are playing at Cardiff.
James Franklin frustrated his old Glamorgan team-mates with a half-century that went a long way to helping Gloucestershire save the follow-on on the second day at Cardiff. The New Zealand all rounder provided 66 as Gloucestershire made 251 for seven – 159 behind needing 10 more runs to avoid the follow-on – in response to Glamorgan's 410 all out. There are still two days to go in this match and, given the situation at Chelmsford, a victory could be crucial.
As it could at Uxbridge, where the fifth team with hopes of promotion, Derbyshire, go into the final day 244 runs ahead of Middlesex witheight second-innings wickets remaining. They will have to bowl well, though, to force victory on a good pitch.