Will Hawkes: Why weather gods could have final say in congested title race

County Focus: The west coast gets more rain than the east. Lancastrians have long grumbled it is the weather which has kept them from the title since 1950
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The Independent Online

If you want to know which way this title race is going, look up. With the battle for the pennant now into its final month, the key factor may not be playing heroics but just how much time each of the four sides in contention (Durham, Lancashire, Somerset and Warwickshire) get in the field. The weather forecast suggests there will be plenty of rain over the next month. If it does end up playing a key role then Warwickshire could be the team to watch: the county suffers fewer rain days in August and September than its three rivals for the title, according to Met Office figures (see panel, below).

Durham, too, might benefit, situated as they are on Britain's drier east coast. Generally speaking, the west coast gets more rain than the east, as anyone who has experienced the contrasting winter experiences in Glasgow (torrential rain) and Edinburgh (less rain, but bitterly cold) can tell you. Lancastrians have long grumbled that it is the weather, and not on-field deficiencies, that has prevented them winning the title since 1950. Certainly their record – eight titles, one of them shared – does not reflect the county's historic devotion to the game.

But then west-coast teams have generally done badly. Of the top five sides in the competition's history, four (Yorkshire, Surrey, Middlesex and Kent) are from the east with just Lancashire for west-coast company. Warwickshire, despite a huge population to draw from, have won just six pennants, which is one more than Worcestershire. Overall, the picture looks even grimmer: 80 outright titles for counties in the eastern half of the country, 21 for the west.

Of course, there are fewer first-class counties in the west (and some, notably the West Country sides, with smaller populations) but rain may have been a factor. Between 1864 and 2004, Lancashire drew more matches than any other county (1,170). Rain must have played a part in that: there's no reason to believe they would have drawn more than Yorkshire, for example, had it just been a matter of cricketing culture. A tough, unrelenting approach to the game is equally prevalent on both sides of the Pennines.

They will need plenty of that over the next few weeks, and forget about the weather. Actually, with their three rivals either in the west (Somerset, Warwickshire) or the far north (Durham) they are not at such a disadvantage as they would be if their rivals were Sussex, for example, as in 2007. Perhaps the clouds are lifting for the red-rose county.

Today, Worcestershire are the opponents, at Blackpool. Despite the Pears' admirable refusal to accept what seemed an inevitable relegation (they lie one place out of the drop zone having beaten Sussex last week), it's a perfect chance for Lancs to get their stuttering challenge back on the rails, especially given Blackpool's Stanley Park has been a welcoming home-from-home over the past 10 years.

Somerset, meanwhile, welcome Nottinghamshire to Taunton. Having started the season in dismal form, their campaign has gathered pace and they find themselves in a similar situation to 12 months ago, when they finished second in all three competitions. Three of their last four Championship games this year, though, will be played at home, with Lancashire the final visitors on 12 September. It could prove to be a crucial advantage.

Durham do not play this week and, although they lead the table, they've played one more match. Warwickshire's game against Hampshire at Edgbaston begins tomorrow and they have at least a game in hand on their rivals. Despite being fourth, they might just be favourites – that's if the weather gods decide to smile on them, of course.

Rain days per county

Durham//Lancashire/Somerset/Warks/England average

April 10.5/10.9/10/10/10.1

May 10.1/10.8/10.1/9.6/9.8

June 10.4/11.7/9.3/9.5/9.8

July 9.4/10.7/8/7.8/8.5

August 10.4/12.4 /9.5/8.7/9.4

Sept 10.4/12.9/10.7/9.3/10.2

Total 61.2/69.4/57.6/54.9/57.8

Figures shown long-term averages. A rain day is when over 1mm of rain falls