Three games to go, four points in it – but the conclusion to the Specsavers County Championship campaign promises to be much more than a two-horse race.
Middlesex or Yorkshire?
Lord’s has been looming for some time as the venue for a September title showdown between Division One leaders Middlesex, aiming to be crowned champions for the first time since 1993 when their cricket director Angus Fraser was leading the seam attack, and Yorkshire – bidding to send their inspirational coach Jason Gillespie back to Australia with a hat-trick of titles, and now only those four points behind.
But Somerset, for whom a first County Championship title has long been the Holy Grail, aren’t out of it yet, only 17 points behind Yorkshire with the chance to wipe off that deficit when they go to Headingley for their penultimate fixture.
And there are plenty more issues still to be resolved over the next three weeks.
Jostling for position
There’s the jostling for prize money at the top end of Division One, with the champions earning a total of more than £580,000, counting down to £27,000 to be shared by the county finishing fifth. Surrey are currently sitting third, which would be worth around £115,000, and would represent a fine achievement for Gareth Batty’s team in their first season back in the top flight – although the famously and ferociously competitive Batty won’t yet have given up completely on the chances of the 2016 Champions’ pennant flying at the Kia Oval next season, if they can win their last two matches against Hampshire and Durham.
Hampshire will have pressing priorities of their own when they face Surrey this week, as they aim to pull off a Great Escape from relegation for the second straight September. It will be a tall order, but they are within 14 points of Durham, with Warwickshire and Lancashire only three more ahead and therefore still looking anxiously over their shoulders. For Nottinghamshire, 33 points shy of safety with only two matches remaining, time has almost certainly run out.
The promotion race
Essex are warm favourites to replace them in an eight-team top tier in 2017, with a 24-point lead at the top of the Division Two table. But Kent are also on an excellent run, and have the chance to build the pressure on their rivals from the other side of the Dartford Crossing this week, when they face Northamptonshire in Beckenham while Essex don’t have a game.
Intriguingly, the rivals for the single promotion place meet at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence in the last round of matches starting on September 20. So Lord’s, and that Middlesex-Yorkshire showdown, may not be the only title decider – the 2016 Specsavers County Championship season really is promising to go down to the wire.