It’s all set for a grandstand finish at both ends of the table in Division 1, while in Division 2, it’s all over as the Bears and Pears clinch their promotions.
Starting with a battle at the bottom end of the table as struggling Lancashire faced Kent, who were also looking for their early season form. Kent put Lancs into bat, skittling them for just 107, extras top scoring with 32. 91 from Geraint Jones then took Kent to 233 and a substantial first innings lead. Lancs did better second time round, Stuart Law getting 79 while Glen Chapple held the tail together with 45 as they made 288. Needing just 162 to win, Chapple then came into his own with the ball, taking 6 for 40 as Kent made just 92 to lose by 70 runs. Lancs move a point ahead of Kent, and most critically five points out of the relegation zone. Both teams face title chasing teams next week and need decent points to keep themselves safe.
Suffering most from the Lancs come back were Yorkshire, who must have thought they would move above their Roses rivals after their draw with Somerset. Somerset batted first, knowing a win would take them to the top of the table. Having lost Marcus Trescothick first ball, they were indebted to an Ian Blackwell ton, with support from Peter Trego to reach 380. An Antony McGrath ton and 98 from Jacques Rudolph got Yorkshire to 414 and maximum bonus points. Somerset were then reduced to 39 for 3 as Yorkshire smelt victory. However, the time lost at the beginning of the game proved crucial and Somerset batted out to 317 for 8 and a draw. Yorks remain in the relegation zone with a trip to also struggling Sussex. Somerset entertain Lancs needing a win to stand any chance of taking the title.
Taking advantage at the top of the table were Nottinghamshire, who sent a woeful Surrey back to Division 2. Batting first Surrey made 267, by which point they knew that they had been relegated. Notts then went on to make 532, with Mark Wagh (141) and Samit Patel (135) putting on 242 for the 3rd wicket. Surrey then made just 122 second time round as they finished the season winless. Notts are in pole position and entertain in form Hampshire, who also have title ambitions.
Also in contention at the top are Durham, 380 who made against Sussex, Shiv Chanderpaul scoring a ton and Mohammed Sami taking five wickets. Chris Nash scored 96 as Sussex made 302 in reply. However, this was another game affected by the weather and Durham could only get to 125 for 2 as the game finished in a draw. Durham are 3rd, ten points behind Notts and face struggling Kent next week. Sussex play host to Yorks, knowing that a loser will almost certainly be relegated.
Prediction time: Very rarely this season has a team stayed at the top for more than a week (and most teams have topped the table at some point). I am therefore going to predict a Hants win over Notts, opening the door for Durham to take the title, whose win will relegate Kent, as Sussex and Yorks play out a draw.
The match of the week was at Chelmsford where Essex needed to beat Warwickshire to keep their promotion push going. Batting first Essex made 341, with 18 year old Jaik Mickleburgh and Ryan ten Doeschate both making 72. The Bears then took charge in the form of Tony Frost, whose unbeaten 242 was the highest score for Warwicks against Essex. The Bears declared on 514 for 9 and then bowled Essex out for 316, John Maunders and Ravi Bopara both getting tons in a stand of 241 and Ian Salisbury taking six wickets as the last nine wickets fell for 69 runs. Warwickshire then made the 144 needed for the loss of 4 wickets to confirm their promotion. Essex face another season in Division 2.
Warwickshire’s win also promoted Worcestershire, who found themselves against a Middlesex team showing the form that I thought would lead them to the title at the beginning of the season. Tim Murtagh took six wickets as Worcester struggled to 265 despite a Stephen Moore century. Andrew Strauss (101) and Owais Shah (86) then put on 129 as Middlesex made 321, Gareth Andrew taking five wickets. Dirk Nannes took six wickets second time round to reduce Worcester to 122 and leave Middlesex needing 67 to win, which they did for the loss of 2 wickets. In the end, the result was not important to Worcester as now prepare for life in Division 1 and without Graeme Hick.
At the bottom of the table, Glamorgan took on Leicestershire. Batting first the Welshmen scored 450, with Gareth Rees and Michael Powell both getting tons. In reply, Leicester struggled to 201 and following on 311, despite Paul Nixon getting an unbeaten 106. Glamorgan scored the 63 needed for victory without losing a wicket and move above Leicester in the table.
Both Leicester and Glamorgan are above Gloucestershire, who played Derbyshire, bowling the home side out for just 188, David Brown taking 5 wickets. Graeme Wagg went one wicket better as Gloucester made 222. He then scored 72 as Derby made 431, Greg Smith top scoring with 92. Four more wickets for Wagg saw Gloucester bowled out for 280 and a Derbyshire win by 117 runs. Derbyshire move above Essex in the table while Gloucester remain winless and bottom.
England Player Watch
Michael Vaughan did better than Marcus Trescothick, although neither scored many and both got injured. In contrast, Andrew Strauss, Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara all got big scores in their matches and Matt Prior scored another half century.
Three more wickets for Steve Harmison in his excellent season, while Tim Bresnan and Adil Rashid were both in the wickets for Yorkshire
Player of the Week
Some brilliant individual performances this week including Antony McGrath, Ian Blackwell, Mark Wagh and Samit Patel with the bat, Ian Salisbury with the ball and Graeme Wagg with both. In any other week, Glen Chapple would have been a shoe-in for the award. However, for an unbeaten 242 in promotion clash that saw his team promoted, the Player of the Week is Tony Frost