Title contenders ready for next round
The key protagonists in the LV= County Championship title race return to action this week – with both insisting it is a long way from being decided.
Durham and Lancashire have not played since their top-of-the-table meeting at Liverpool late last month, since when their minds have been occupied by one-day matters.
Durham’s five-wicket victory in what was billed in some quarters, ludicrously prematurely, as a title-decider, extended their lead at the summit to 23 points.
However, the fact Lancashire have a game in hand – one of seven to play before the season finishes – has not gone unnoticed by either party. As Lancashire coach Peter Moores points out, “there’s a lot of cricket to go”.
Lancashire return to four-day duty with the small matter of a Roses clash against Yorkshire at Headingley Carnegie starting tomorrow, while Durham meet Somerset at Taunton from Thursday.
“It’s still tight; if you win the game in hand then you’re back to within a few points,” said Moores, whose summation of the title run-in is notable for its simplicity.
“It’s going to be about how well you play in the next two months. We’ve got some big games. If we win some of those games we’re going to be right in the mix to win it. If we don’t, then we won’t. We’ve got to knuckle down.”
Mark Chilton, Lancashire’s captain at Aigburth but likely to return to the ranks this week given Glen Chapple’s recovery from a trapped nerve in his neck, is optimistic they will do so.
He takes great heart from the manner in which they made Durham – whom he describes as “the top team” – work for their victory.
“That game’s not a season-defining moment for me,” he claimed. “We’re still well in the hunt.
“We’ve got a game in hand; we’re six (wins) from nine; we’re still in good shape. We’ve got to keep winning games to make sure Durham keep winning games.
“Our collective effort (at Liverpool) was exceptional. If we continue to show that, and if we keep playing how we’re playing then we’re going to get some good results.”
Paul Collingwood, whose 45 helped ease Durham’s nerves during their occasionally fraught pursuit of 181 for victory over Lancashire, sounds a warning note to any of his team-mates whose minds may be drifting towards any potential silverware.
“We haven’t won anything yet,” the England all-rounder stressed. “We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
“Lancashire look a very solid side – a good side. But we play a very good brand of attacking cricket and hopefully that will be good enough to beat most sides.”
Words of praise for Lancashire – and the threat they pose in the title race – also came from Dale Benkenstein, man of the match at Liverpool and Durham’s leading run-scorer this season.
“They've been bowling sides out, winning matches and playing well as a team,” he said. “It shows they’re never going to give up and that’s their strength.”