With the one day competitions beginning to draw to a close this season the eyes start to turn to the County Championship for the run in across that competition and with plenty of issues still to be resolved it promises to be quite a conclusion.
We have a full set of matches in both Division One and Division Two in the County Championship beginning on Saturday which means there are eight matches to go through.
The four matches in the top flight see leaders Middlesex hosting Durham at Lord’s, Warwickshire facing Surrey at Edgbaston, the Roses clash between Lancashire and Yorkshire at Old Trafford and the basement battle between Nottinghamshire and Hampshire at Trent Bridge.
Durham have a bit of momentum about them at the minute after their excellent win over Gloucestershire in the NatWest T20 Blast but any enthusiasm I have about backing them is crushed when I remember how they did me over last week at Somerset. Middlesex are missing one or two too many to take them.
I would expect Yorkshire to come past Lancashire at Old Trafford but they are missing a few as well and those Roses matches don’t always follow the logic and the form so I’ll sit that out while Warwickshire are my outright bet and that is enough interest in that match.
I will take on the basement battle. Quite simply the loser of the Nottinghamshire vs Hampshire match can get prepared for life in Division Two next season and that might not be a good thing for the home side for whom Hampshire are a real bogey team.
Hampshire have previous in great escapes and they generally involved beating Nottinghamshire along the way and they will be hoping they have saved another such escape for this week. I actually think they are in with every chance here.
Nottinghamshire are very much all or nothing with the bat at the minute but four of their last six innings in this competition being less than 200 runs is not the sort of record they would be looking for. Contrast that to Hampshire who having struggled early doors have now put up well over 400 in their last three first innings and scoreboard pressure in huge matches can be key as we saw throughout the week in the T20 quarter finals.
Hampshire have an attack which can take wickets so with the form of the two sets of batsmen combined with the fantastic record Hampshire have over Nottinghamshire the visitors look great value to me in this one.
All eyes will be on Derby as the leaders Essex look to open up a lead on second placed Kent who aren’t playing this week. Essex face Derbyshire. Sussex host Gloucestershire at Hove while Glamorgan head to Worcester to play Worcestershire. Northamptonshire warm up for next week’s T20 finals day with a home match against Leicestershire who are still right in the title picture themselves.
Essex are heavy favourites to see off a struggling Derbyshire side and that is how I see it as well but having invested in them before the season I don’t need to go chasing the smaller prices this week. The same applies to Worcestershire, price wise at least, where they are very short against Glamorgan for whom this season has faded miserably.
Sussex vs Gloucestershire is a big match for both sides if they harbour feint hopes of winning the title. If they do they can’t afford anything but a win here but really I think they are playing for prize money and mid-table position. I’m tempted by Sussex but not enough to back them.
I have to take on Northants though. In fairness I’m not someone who takes on Northants too often. I respect their spirit as well as their ability massively but at the end of the day there are two things that really matter to them in the next seven days and with all respect to this competition it isn’t this match. Their attention will be on their Royal London One Day Cup quarter final in midweek and the big day at Edgbaston next Saturday.
Helpfully in terms of taking on Northants they face a side with something to play for here. Leicestershire go into the round of matches just 11pts behind leaders Essex and ready to pounce if there is a slip up from the Chelmsford based men.
They have played some good cricket in this competition this season, their best cricket of the campaign actually and given that they will be at full strength and taking this 100% seriously and desperate to win I like them here against a Northants side for whom it is only human nature to look at what is to come beyond this match.
WON – Back Hampshire to beat Nottinghamshire for a 4/10 stake at 2.50 with Paddy Power
Back them here:
PUSH – Back Leicestershire to beat Northamptonshire for a 4/10 stake at 1.91 with Ladbrokes