The final round of matches in the LV= County Championship prior to the break for the Vitality Blast begins on Thursday with the 16 teams in action all looking for as many points as they can get to set themselves up for when the competition returns later in the campaign.
There are eight matches in total taking place over the week but with the Test match getting the TV treatment we are reduced to the streams of the home counties in order to be able to watch the action. They are a perfectly acceptable second prize though.
This group has been fascinating throughout the competition and just 19 points separates first and fifth going into this set of matches so there really is everything to play for this week. The top two meet in the biggest match of the three when leaders Essex welcome Nottinghamshire to Chelmsford. Warwickshire in third will know that someone above them will drop points so they will be looking to take full advantage of that when they host bottom of the pile Derbyshire. Worcestershire and Durham are both still in contention for a top two finish but both need to win their encounter at New Road to keep those hopes alive.
Things are no less interesting in this group either with just 13 points separating the top four sides in this one which means that it is a big week for the leaders Gloucestershire and second placed Somerset. The former travel to Grace Road to face a Leicestershire side who will be buoyant from their incredible run chase against Middlesex last week. The other match sees Somerset hosting Hampshire in a clash which will see the winner end the week in the top two and in control of their own destiny later in the campaign.
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Things are a little clearer in Group 3 with Lancashire running away with things at the top of the table. It is possible for them to qualify for Division 1 with a full point win when they head to Cardiff to take on Glamorgan. The battle is very much on for second place in the group though. Yorkshire for all their troubles off the field currently sit in second position but they could be sitting ducks with Northamptonshire clicking into form at the right time. Yorkshire host Sussex in a game they can’t afford to lose while Northamptonshire head to Kent knowing they could very well come out of the week in the top two should they win the match.
I’m a Hampshire fan through and through but I’ve read this script so many times with them through the years that I have to take Somerset here. When Hampshire’s batting goes into a rut it needs a serious break to come out of it and it is in a slump at the minute. You have to go back to their third game of the season for the last time they scored 300 and while the weather hasn’t been great it hasn’t been that bad for that long. Ultimately, this is a Hampshire side who have only beaten Middlesex and Leicestershire this term and the table tells you everything you need to know about this two sides.
Somerset are missing Craig Overton and Jack Leach for this match. I’m not sure the latter will be missed too much having only taken nine wickets all season and Roelof van der Merwe probably makes up for the Overton shortcomings with the bat. Marchant de Lange is back to take the new ball and he is more than capable as are this Somerset squad. They have a chance to show they are not all about one man here and when you consider only the leaders Gloucestershire have beaten Somerset this season, and in the reverse fixture the Taunton outfit had them 27-6 when the rain came, it has been a good season for Somerset. They now play in front of fans for the first time in 21 months which will further boost them and I expect them to beat a Hampshire side who have been two batsmen light for about five years and still remain in that position.
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