Red Rose ready to bloom
Lancashire can end a 73-year wait to be named champions with victory over Surrey in the final round of LV County Championship matches this week.
Mark Chilton’s side and fellow title rivals Sussex and Durham put in last-minute preparations at the conclusion of one of the most exciting championships in years.
Technically, five teams could still win the trophy, but there would have to be an unusual combination of results for Yorkshire or Hampshire to triumph.
Lancashire, who are to retain the same XI that beat both Durham and Warwickshire earlier this month, are in prime position, having opened up a six-point lead at the top.
Second-placed Sussex, whose captain Chris Adams will undergo a late fitness test, host bottom-placed Worcestershire, while Durham are two-and-a-half points further back as they take on Kent at Canterbury.
If Lancashire complete a third consecutive victory, their eighth title will prove particularly sweet to captain Chilton and coach Mike Watkinson, both of whom took flak from supporters in mid-season, after the flop on Twenty20 finals day.
“You are always open to that when you are in a position of responsibility like this,” said Chilton. “Some of the comments made around that time were pretty unjust.
“At times I admit it has been difficult - I have not scored as many runs as I would have liked and sometimes it gets you down a bit - but I have been pleased with how I have captained the side.
“We have been a very solid four-day side over the last few seasons; we have not lost many games.
“In the two previous seasons we have challenged for the title, 2003 and 2006, we have had to come from behind and it is a different situation to be in, one we did not necessarily think we would be in until the set of results last week.”
Indeed, Sussex’s loss to Durham last week has left the tussle wide open, and Lancashire may find it hard to defeat a Surrey side rejuvenated in the second half of the season on what is traditionally an excellent batting surface.
“We are under no illusions as to the challenge we have ahead of us over the next four days,” Chilton added.
“They’re obviously buzzing at the minute and looking to finish on a high, so we know we will have to work hard to get 20 wickets.”