Scores to be settled in season's final fights
Can Onions hang on as top wicket-taker? Will Sussex be relegated – yet still win one-day silverware? As the county game enters its final week, Jon Culley highlights the tussles that are going to the wire
Wednesday 23 September 2009
England may already be on the next leg of their relentless international schedule but domestic cricket is about to unlace its boots and toss its collective kit into the back of the garage for another winter, figuratively speaking at any rate.
The matches beginning today mark the last round of the County Championship, with the closing exchanges in the NatWest Pro40 scheduled for Sunday.
The biggest prizes in the Championship have been settled, with Durham already crowned as First Division champions for the second year running, and Kent well clear at the top of the Second.
There is still much at stake for other counties, however. These are the issues still to be decided.
First Division runners-up
The title – along with £500,000 in prize money – already belongs to Durham for the second year running but a three-way race for second place adds extra excitement to the final round of matches, particularly with £225,000 up for grabs for runners-up spot compared with only £40,000 last season. Somerset (182 points) are in pole position to claim the prize but have completed their programme and only if Nottinghamshire (173) and Warwickshire (171) both lose can they be sure of staying there. Warwickshire will finish second if they pick up at least 12 points against Lancashire at Old Trafford and three points more than Nottinghamshire take against relegation favourites Sussex at Trent Bridge.
First Division relegation
Worcestershire's relegation was confirmed two weeks ago and Sussex, beaten by Yorkshire at Hove last week, need help from elsewhere to survive. Even if somehow they can register a maximum-points victory over Nottinghamshire they would still go down if Lancashire can secure eight points. Hampshire will be safe with a draw at Headingley, where Yorkshire need only six points.
Second Division promotion
Kent are already confirmed as Second Division champions and Essex gave themselves a good chance of accompanying them on a return to the top flight by beating Northamptonshire last week. The Wantage Road side remain just three points behind in third place, however, and Essex will need 20 points when they visit Derbyshire to be certain that Northamptonshire do not slip past them by beating wooden-spoon contenders Leicestershire. Glamorgan and Derbyshire are still not out of contention, although their prospects are realistically remote.
Sussex, back-to-back champions in 2006 and 2007, may have suffered a dramatic demise in four-day cricket since former captain Chris Adams left to become Surrey's manager during last winter, but they could finish with a one-day cricket "double". Sussex, Twenty20 Cup winners and Friends Provident Trophy finalists, lead the First Division by a point going into Sunday's final matches, although they still need to win at third-placed Worcestershire if Somerset, who take on Durham at home, are not to avenge their defeat in the Twenty20 final, by pipping them for the title. This being the last year of the competition, whoever wins keeps the trophy.
Pro40 Division Two title
Middlesex lead Division Two but have completed their programme, which means that a win for Warwickshire against Lancashire at Old Trafford would take the title to the West Midlands.
Marcus Trescothick's 1,817 first-class runs have made the 2009 season the most productive yet for the former England opener, although with Somerset's programme finished he cannot be sure of finishing the nation's top accumulator. Durham's Michael di Venuto (1,541) is in prolific form and posting a couple of big scores against Worcestershire at New Road is certainly not beyond him.
Graham Onions has been top of the pile for much of the season but his selection for England's Champions Trophy squad means the mantle of leading first-class wicket-taker is likely to be snatched in the last round. Onions has 69 – the same tally as Essex leg-spinner Danish Kaneria. Kent's James Tredwell (66), Steve Kirby of Gloucestershire (62) and Onions's Durham teammate Steve Harmison (62) are also contenders.
Champions Durham also boast the country's leading wicket-keeper in Phil Mustard, with 67 dismissals, but rival James Foster goes into the final round of matches only two behind on 65. Somerset's 21-year-old Craig Kieswetter has had a remarkable season with bat and gloves, combining 48 dismissals with 1,242 runs, and would win most votes for best wicket-keeper-batsman, although former England gloveman Geraint Jones has clocked up 1,301 runs for Kent.
Number of first-class runs Marcus Trescothick has scored for Somerset this season, making him the country's top scorer going into the final round of matches.
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