By Rob Barnett
Durham will win LV= County Championship Division One in this week’s penultimate round of games with victory over Nottinghamshire by 21 points, or less if Yorkshire drop points versus Middlesex.
Leaders Durham, who beat Derbyshire by nine wickets in stunning fashion on Saturday, need a win with five bonus points at home to Notts for their third top-flight title in six years. Every point that the White Rose drop is one less Durham require. Should the crown elude Paul Collingwood's men this week, they have another chance at Sussex in the last round.
Durham have England’s Ben Stokes available after his involvement in the NatWest Series, which concludes with today’s day/nighter at the Ageas Bowl. Ryan Buckley therefore drops out of Durham's squad.
Notts have a doubt over Australia’s David Hussey, who has had stitches in a hand injury and may be rested ahead of Saturday’s Yorkshire Bank final against Glamorgan at Lord’s, but will take a full-strength squad to the Emirates Durham ICG where play will start at 10:15am each day to allow Notts time to travel to Lord’s if the match goes to Friday.
Yorkshire, 27.5 points behind Durham and with an unchanged squad, also have two fixtures left and need high-points victories over Middlesex at Headingley and Surrey at the Kia Oval to take the title in their 150th year. Third-placed Middlesex, who play their last game this week, will be motivated by the prospect of finishing above the White Rose.
Eoin Morgan is available to Middlesex, having led England in the NatWest Series, but they have decided not to pick him. They welcome back Corey Collymore, who missed last week’s contest for personal reasons, and Tom Helm. Gurjit Sandhu and Ravi Patel are absent, the latter with a stress fracture in his back.
This week’s other Division One contest sees bottom side Surrey desperately needing to beat holders Warwickshire at Edgbaston. Defeat for Surrey, who have announced an unchanged squad with George Edwards still suffering an ankle problem, will likely lead to relegation. The hosts have included Hong Kong wicketkeeper Jamie Atkinson in their squad.
Lancashire’s draw with Leicestershire on Saturday sealed the Red Rose’s promotion and they will be chasing the Division Two crown with a game to spare, which will be guaranteed by victory versus Gloucestershire at Bristol.
Glen Chapple has recovered from injury to lead Lancashire while Karl Brown comes in for departed overseas player Simon Katich. The hosts are led for the last time this season by Michael Klinger, who is then returning to Australia.
Just second-placed Northamptonshire, who face Kent at Wantage Road, can stop Lancashire. Northants are minus Trent Copeland, whose second stint of the campaign is over, so Lee Daggett makes a last home appearance before retiring. Kent have captain James Tredwell back from England duty while Sam Billings and Adam Ball come in for Geraint Jones and Calum Haggett, the former therefore ending a run of 115 straight championship appearances.
Essex, 21 points behind Northants from the same number of matches, are chasing promotion and meet Glamorgan at Chelmsford this week. Essex add England’s Ravi Bopara to last week’s squad while Glamorgan rest Jim Allenby for Saturday’s YB40 showpiece and Mike Reed could be replaced, with David Lloyd and John Glover in line to feature.
Gloucestershire, trailing Northants by 22 points with two games left, have an outside chance of going up although Lancashire will be tough opponents this week.
In the other fixture winless Leicestershire, who have finished bottom, complete their campaign versus Hampshire at Grace Road. Leicestershire's Matthew Hoggard, who makes his last appearance before retirement, and Shiv Thakor return from injury in place of Ollie Freckingham and Rob Taylor. Hampshire welcome Ruel Brathwaite back while Sean Ervine and Danny Briggs are also in their squad.