Two matches to go in the LV County Championship and it's anyone's title

It is one of the tightest championship races in years: five counties harbour realistic ambitions of winning the title with two rounds to play. Hampshire lead the table but have only one game left and are the outsiders unless rain severely affects today’s matches. Somerset, who host Lancashire in their final game next week, Durham, who will visit Kent, and Notts who face Surrey today, are probably the favourites. Here, Cricket Correspondent PAUL NEWMAN assesses the crucial matches...


(all 10.30am starts)
DURHAM V SUSSEX at Chester-le-Street
Durham, three points off the top, having won five games — more than anyone — could bring Liam Plunkett and Graham Onions back into their attack for their final home game to support the rampaging Steve Harmison. Outgoing champions Sussex are still not completely out of relegation danger and Chris Adams, who gives up the captaincy at the end of the season, will want to ensure their safety before handing over to Mike Yardy.

Durham cricket

Title charge: Steve Harmison and his Durham team-mates are ready for a tough title run-in

Lancashire, after going so near to that elusive championship title last year, now find themselves in a desperate scrap with their rivals Yorkshire to avoid the second relegation place and face a Kent side still in with a chance of the title after near misses in three one day competitions. Lancs will be boosted by reaching new contract agreements with 10 local products, notably Kyle Hogg, Oliver Newby and Tom Smith, but have to continue playing away from Old Trafford while the outfield is relaid.

SURREY V NOTTS at the Brit Oval
Surrey, all but relegated, may give opportunities to the younger players who shone in their Pro40 win over Leicestershire. Shoaib Akhtar, overweight, overpaid and over here for one more game, will go down as the last inexcusable mistake of one of the worst seasons in their proud history. Nottinghamshire will release AJ Harris at the end of the season and, four points off the top, will keep faith in Charlie Shreck despite a last Pro40 over against Sussex on Sunday that cost him 16 runs and his side the trophy.

Somerset are better placed than anyone to win the title — their first — a point behind surprise leaders Hampshire with a game in hand, despite being unimpressive against Durham last week and having won just three matches out of 14. Andrew Caddick is set to return at the expense of leg-spinner Michael Munday. Michael Vaughan has two matches left to make the big score that would confirm his selection for the England tour party to India.


Essex must win to keep alive their chances of pipping today’s opponents Warwickshire to the second promotion place behind Worcestershire. Ashley Giles, the Warwickshire director of cricket, has made several big-money offers to new players for next season but needs top level cricket for them to be accepted. Fascinating comparison between wicketkeepers James Foster and Tim Ambrose, both competing to join Matt Prior on the India Test tour.

Injury means Graeme Hick won’t have the opportunity to go out on a high by confirming his side’s promotion against Middlesex. The visitors will announce their new director of cricket, probably Angus Fraser, at the end of a season of upheaval rescued by their Twenty20 Cup win. Shaun Udal continues at the helm for Middlesex.

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