One final heave for Reeve's men

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The Independent Online
Warwickshire had a hard enough job trying to get all those champagne corks back into the bottles on Monday evening, but not half as tough a task as they have had attempting to finally nail down the 1995 County Championship.

Having completed their 13th win in 16 games on Monday, and totted up 41 more points than they did when they won the title last summer, the fat lady (although that's no way to talk about Mike Gatting) was about to sing when Gatting's Middlesex team declined to acknowledge that it was all over.

One more run for Leicestershire at Uxbridge would have returned the Championship to Warwickshire, but a witless slog from the visiting No 11 Alan Mulally means that they must now brace themselves for one last push against Kent at Canterbury.

Should Middlesex take the maximum 24 points from their final match against Somerset at Taunton, Warwickshire would have to win their sixth consecutive game to finish in front of them. However, 15 points is a handy cushion, and the defending champions are entitled to remain confident that this year's pennant-raising ceremony will still involve hauling it down from the Edgbaston flagpole and running it straight back up again.

The Championship pennant is not exactly a well-travelled piece of bunting in any event. Whichever one of these two sides prevails, it will have been won by only five counties - Essex, Middlesex, Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire - in the past 17 seasons.

This competition, largely in the wake of four consecutive Ashes drubbings by Australia, has earned the slightly undeserved reputation as a grand prix for old bangers, but while there might well be a few Ladas and Trabants down towards the lower end of the table, there is no doubt that one of the successes of four-day cricket has been to sort out the best teams.

Three-day cricket still has its supporters, some of whom might have forgotten that the height of tactical input largely involved haggling over declarations in the second-evening sponsored tent, but Warwickshire and Middlesex have largely won their matches without the need to barter.

Whichever of these two sides comes through to win, it will be with the heaviest ratio of victories since four day cricket reduced the programme to 17 matches. Warwickshire, in fact, have a win average to compare with Surrey's in 1955, when they won 23 of their 28 games.

That was in the days when one-day cricket did not clutter up the domestic calendar, although it is the coloured pyjama stuff which now draws the crowds. Warwickshire have several supporters' coaches booked for the Sunday League match against Kent, a competition they have no realistic chance of winning, but none for the Championship fixture.

The Championship, though, remains the most prestigious, and indeed the most lucrative with a cheque for pounds 55,000 on offer to the winners. Dermot Reeve, the Warwickshire captain, says that his county is also offering a "decent" bonus for winning it, which will, he says, give the individuals concerned a nice windfall. "It should work out to about the same as two days salary for David Platt" says Reeve.

The way the fixtures have panned out, victory for Warwickshire in the four-day game and victory for Sunday League leaders Kent in the 40-over game would suit each other rather well, and, human nature being as suspicious as it is, there may be a few eyebrows raised should champagne be dripping from both dressing room balconies over the weekend.

However, there are not many Christmas cards exchanged between these two counties, and Kent are still aggrieved at being forced into an indoor "bowl out" after Warwickshire made a pig's ear of their pitch covering in last year's Benson and Hedges match at Edgbaston. Furthermore, the difference between Warwickshire winning and losing on Sunday could be pounds 17,500 in prize-money.

Tim Munton may return for Warwickshire after a fortnight's absence through injury, although the major factor threatens to revolve less around fit players than fit conditions. This Championship may yet be in the lap of the weather gods.

HOW THE CHAMPIONSHIP HAS UNFOLDED

MIDDLESEX WARWICKSHIRE

Opponents Result Pos Opponents Result Pos

APRIL

Warwickshire L 27 Middlesex W

MAY

Hampshire W 8th 4 Surrey W 2nd

Worcestershire W 4th 11 Lancashire L 3rd

Lancashire L 8th 18 Durham W 2nd

Essex W 5th 25 Somerset W 2nd

JUNE

Derbyshire D 4th 1 -

- 8 Sussex D 2nd

Glamorgan W 2nd 15 -

- 22 Yorkshire W 2nd

Surrey W 3rd 29 Essex W 2nd

JULY

Gloucestershire W 3rd 6 Leicestershire W 2nd

- 20 Glamorgan W 1st

Sussex W 3rd 27 Northamptonshire L 1st

AUG

Nottinghamshire W 2nd 3 -

Durham W 2nd 10 Hampshire W 3rd

Kent W 1st 17 Nottinghamshire W 2nd

Yorkshire W 1st 24 Worcestershire W 2nd

Northamptonshire D 2nd 29 Gloucestershire W 1st

SEPT

Leicestershire W 2nd 7 Derbyshire W 1st

County Championship table

P W L D Bat Bowl Tot

Warwickshire 16 13 2 1 45 60 313

Middlesex 16 12 2 2 47 59 298

Northamptonshire 16 12 2 2 41 53 286

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