Red rose hopes for late bloom at Bowl

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The Independent Online

The climax to the County Championship has never been so tight in recent times, with the denouement packed with nail-nibbling fixtures.

The fate of the title resides at Trent Bridge and Southampton, where the spotlight for the next four days will be on the matches between Nottinghamshire and Sussex, and Hampshire and Lancashire.

Eight points behind the leaders Sussex, Lancashire are justified in feeling a trifle paranoid, because things have not been at all equal for them all season. Their chief persecutor has been the weather. Rain has cost them 1,042 hours' playing time, and the sun (because their square is laid out east-west) a further 11. This has resulted in eight matches dribbling out into a draw.

At least the Met Office is predicting something a little better at the Rose Bowl when they tackle third-placed Hampshire, who are in with an outside chance of the runners-up spot and a remote hope (provided they beat Lancashire and Sussex do not pick up a single point) of lifting the title. Today will be cloudy with possible showers, but the remaining three days promise sunny intervals and no mention of rain.

But the fates have not finished with Lancashire. Already without Andrew Flintoff and Sajid Mahmood, Lancashire have been instructed by England to give their pace bowler James Anderson no more than 12 overs in either innings in spells of a maximum of six overs, as he continues his return to action following a stress fracture of the back.

Appeals for an increase in Anderson's overs' allocation appear to have fallen on deaf ears at the England and Wales Cricket Board. Lancashire have to decide whether Anderson can make any impact on a strong Hampshire batting line-up. The decision to play either Anderson or Gary Keedy will be made this morning.

They will definitely be facing the Hampshire captain Shane Warne, who has recovered from the cut eye he suffered last week, although opener Michael Carberry (groin) is doubtful.

Nottinghamshire, who have the retiring Darren Bicknell in their 12-man squad, will be up against Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, who took 34 wickets in five matches at the start of the season before being sidelined by injury. The full strength Sussex team that includes Michael Yardy also contains Mushtaq Ahmed, who needs just 11 wickets to reach 100 for the season.

Yorkshire and Durham meet at Headingley separated by half a point as each battles to avoid joining doomed Middlesex in the Second Division next year. Were they to draw, Nottinghamshire would go down if they failed to pick up three points against Sussex.

Counties' final countdown

First Division

P/W/L/D/Pts

1 Sussex 15/8/2/5/220

2 Lancs 15/6/1/8/212

Fixtures

Nottinghamshire v Sussex (at Trent Bridge)

Hampshire v Lancashire (at the Rose Bowl)

Four days; start today

WHO NEEDS WHAT TO WIN THE TITLE: If Sussex win, they claim the title. If Lancashire gain maximum points and Sussex draw or lose, then Lancashire win. If Sussex lose and Lancashire draw, then Lancashire need to earn two more bonus points than Sussex. If the sides finish level, the following tie-breakers apply: most wins; fewest losses; best head-to-head record; most wickets; most runs.

WEATHER FORECAST: At Trent Bridge: Today Cloudy, wind 16mph, visibility moderate; Tomorrow Sunny, wind 16mph, visibility moderate; Friday Showers, sunny intervals, wind 23mph, visibility poor; Saturday Sunny intervals, wind 3mph, visibility moderate.

At the Rose Bowl: Today Sunny intervals, wind 14mph, visibility moderate; Tomorrow Mostly sunny, wind 23mph, visibility moderate; Friday Light rain and sunny intervals, wind 23mph, visibility poor; Saturday Scattered showers, wind 8mph, visibility poor.

Squads

Lancashire (from): M Chilton (capt), I Sutcliffe, M Loye, S Law, N Astle, L Sutton, G Chapple, D Cork, T Smith, G Keedy, J Anderson, M Kartik.

Hampshire (from): J Adams, M Carberry, M Brown, G Lamb, J Crawley, C Benham, D Thornely, N Pothas, S Udal, A Mascarenhas, S Warne (capt), C Tremlett, J Bruce, B Taylor, J Tomlinson.

Nottinghamshire (from): D Bicknell, D Alleyne, W Smith, S Fleming (capt), S Patel, D Hussey, G Swann, M Ealham, P Franks, R Sidebottom, A Harris, C Shreck.

Sussex (from): C Hopkinson, R Montgomerie, M Yardy, M Goodwin, C Adams (capt), M Prior, R Martin-Jenkins, L Wright, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Mushtaq Ahmed, J Lewry, R Kirtley.

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