Notts set to steal Durham's crown

This time last season, Durham stood on the brink of a second successive Championship. Few then would have bet against them winning a third this year but it hasn't turned out that way: while Durham have flirted with relegation, it is today's visitors to the Riverside, Nottinghamshire, who look most likely to carry off the pennant.

With a 16-point lead over their closest rivals, Somerset, and this game in hand, it will take a catastrophic stumble to prevent Notts securing their first title since 2005. In truth, it will have been a rather underwhelming success if only because the presence of the Twenty20 cup has made for a somewhat disjointed four-day season. Half of the games were wedged into a short period in spring/early summer and the rest have come in the moist weeks since the Twenty20 finished in mid-August.

Not that this is Nottinghamshire's fault. They have been far and away the most consistent side, burning off the challenge from Yorkshire's talented set of home-grown youngsters in recent weeks. Somerset, meanwhile, probably kissed goodbye to their hopes when Marcus Trescothick inexplicably refused to set up a run-chase at Canterbury at the start of the month.

Notts' challenge has been underpinned by the astute recruitment of overseas players – from Hashim Amla, who shone at the start of the season, through David Hussey, who recently returned to Australia, to Adam Voges, his compatriot and replacement for the season's final matches.

While Nottinghamshire's grip on the trophy tightens, the final relegation spot could also well be decided this week. Essex look as good as down, while Warwickshire and Kent will face off today in the battle to avoid joining them.

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