After six months of action, the battle to win the County Championship has come down to the final round of games, which begin on Tuesday.
Middlesex, Yorkshire and Somerset still have hopes of lifting the trophy and the first two will go head-to-head in a potential title decider.
But if the result at Lord’s goes in their favour, Somerset could pip both of them at the post and claim the first title in their history by beating Nottinghamshire at Taunton.
Middlesex are aiming to finish top of the table for the first time since 1993, while Yorkshire hope to be the first team to become champions for a third successive year since the 1960s.
How it stands – and the permutations
- If Middlesex beat Yorkshire, they will be champions, regardless of the result of Somerset’s match.
- If Yorkshire beat Middlesex, they will win the title provided they at least match the number of points Somerset take.
- If Middlesex and Yorkshire draw, then Somerset will win the title if they win with at least 23 points.
- Somerset can win the title with fewer than 23 points if Middlesex do not earn maximum bonus points in a draw with Yorkshire.
- Should any teams finish level on points, most wins determines placing, then fewest defeats. All three have won five games. Somerset would have fewer defeats than Yorkshire if they both win and Somerset would also have more wins than Middlesex if they win and Middlesex draw.
Remaining fixture: Yorkshire (H)
Record: W5, D10
Unbeaten Middlesex finished second in the table last season and their challenge in 2016 has been based on a team effort.
Nick Gubbins has been the stand-out performer with the bat, scoring 1,191 runs at an average of 56.71, but Sam Robson and John Simpson have also made strong contributions.
Spinner Ollie Rayner has been the pick of the bowlers, with his 50 wickets coming at at average of 22, while Toby Roland-Jones, Tim Murtagh and Steve Finn have formed a dangerous pace-bowling attack.
“Everyone has contributed which is why we are in the position we are in,” skipper James Franklin told BBC Radio London.
“We have one more hurdle to get over and a massive week ahead. It is dangerous to go out with the mindset of wanting or needing a draw.
“Nothing changes just because it is the last game of the season and there is the potential for nice things at the end of it.
“It is funny how it has all panned out, with three teams vying for it, and it will be a nice week of cricket to watch for neutrals.”
Remaining fixture: Middlesex (A)
Record: W5, D8, L2
Defending champions Yorkshire began season bidding to become the first team to win three successive County Championships since they managed the feat in 1968.
And they were bolstered by the arrival of England and former Northamptonshire all-rounder David Willey.
However, they will have to do it without wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow after the England Wales Cricket Board (ECB) refused their request for him to play against Middlesex ahead of the tour to Bangladesh, while spinner Adil Rashid asked to be rested.
Following a heavy defeat to Somerset last week, their final game sees them return to the ground where they secured the title in 2015, in what will be head coach Jason Gillespie’s final game in charge of the White Rose before returning to Australia.
“I think it’s a great advert for county cricket, going into the last week of the season with three sides potentially challenging for the title,” Gillespie told BBC Sport.
“We’ve got a really good chance, we’ve got a strong squad of 13 players that we’re taking down to Lord’s and they’re all chomping at the bit.
“There will be a couple of disappointed lads who won’t make the final XI but we’ll look at the conditions and the pitch and make a decision.
On Bairstow’s absence, he added: “We put in a request on the back of Jonny saying he wanted to play. To be fair to England, they thought long and hard about it, they took our consideration seriously but they felt that they wanted to stick to their original plan.”
Remaining fixture: Nottinghamshire (H)
Record: W5, D9, L1
Somerset’s wait for a first title looked likely to continue for yet another year after a rain-hit draw at Lancashire earlier this month left them fourth in the table, but impressive wins over Warwickshire and Yorkshire have brought them into contention.
“What happens at Lord’s happens at Lord’s – we can’t control that,” Somerset director of cricket Matthew Maynard told BBC Somerset.
“We need to make sure we can get a positive result. All we can do is try our best to pick up as many points up as we can against Nottinghamshire.
“We’ve got a chance. That’s all we need. If we play well, we could well win it.”
Should they miss out, Somerset may look back on their dramatic last-over home loss against Middlesex in July as a key moment in the season.
Captain Chris Rogers said he “had no regrets” about his declaration against Middlesex, who successfully chased down 302 from 46 overs at Taunton, winning by two wickets with two balls to spare.
Who will win the title?
BBC Radio London’s Middlesex commentator Kevin Hand: “Middlesex, because they are deservedly unbeaten going into the final round and would have won it already but for Lord’s pitches and losing more than 1,000 overs to the weather this summer.”
BBC Somerset’s Anthony Gibson: “Somerset’s fate is not in their own hands, but they are in great form, on home ground, against a Notts side already relegated, and will enjoy passionate support from a big crowd desperate for championship success. If the match at Lord’s ends in a draw, Somerset might just do it.”
BBC Sport’s Stephan Shemilt: “Middlesex. Somerset have all the momentum, but I think they are just too far behind. Something doesn’t seem quite right with Yorkshire. I think that Middlesex, at Lord’s, will be able to do enough.”
BBC WM’s Richard Wilford: “I find it hard to believe that Middlesex will let this opportunity slip after a season that has seen them become the model of consistency. They have batted deep throughout, and with the emergence of Ollie Rayner as a wicket-taker they have a tremendously balanced attack. But if neither Middlesex or Yorkshire can force a result at Lord’s, Somerset will surely do what they need to do to keep the pressure on. Amazing week in prospect.”
BBC Radio Newcastle’s Martin Emmerson: “I will go with Yorkshire out of sheer devilment. I think it would be quite ironic that having lost at home for the first time this season in such poor fashion to Somerset last week, Yorkshire could now go and inflict Middlesex’ first defeat at home this season. However, if Middlesex hang on it would be a refreshing change.”
BBC Radio Northampton’s Alex Winter: “I think (and hope) Middlesex will win the County Championship – they have been there or thereabouts for the last few seasons, their squad is well tuned for four-day cricket, they appear to have every base covered in their XI and know that this is their chance to end their wait for silverware.”
Compiled by BBC Sport’s Tom Garry, Josh Hunt and Rob Stevens.
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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/37373001