County Championship returns – can anyone stop Surrey?

Scott Borthwick, Rory Burns and Ollie Pope
Division One leaders Surrey are hoping to win their first title since 2018

There has been no red-ball county cricket since 28 July – but the Championship returns on Monday for an uninterrupted four-week run that will decide this season’s title.

Unbeaten Surrey are 16 points clear at the top of Division One, while Division Two leaders Notts take a 30-point advantage into their final three games.

Although the game’s powers that be have recommended a smaller top division and fewer days of cricket as part of their high-performance review, the first-class counties want the Championship to remain 14 matches per side for 2023.

And so, as things stand two teams will be relegated from Division One and two promoted from Division Two this summer.

So how will the final chapter of this summer’s Championship story play out?

  • Somerset sign Pakistan spinner for rest of season
  • India spinner Yadav joins Bears for run-in
  • Northants sign South Africa paceman Williams

Who’s in the title race?

Surrey clinched their 20th title in 2018 – 19 outright and one shared with Lancashire in 1950 – by winning nine games in a row and have been almost as impressive this season with seven victories and four draws.

Rory Burns’ side are not in action this week, so it is absolutely crucial that Hampshire and Lancashire, their only realistic challengers, do not slip up.

T20 Blast winners Hampshire were chasing a domestic treble until Darren Stevens’ batting heroics for Kent in last week’s One-Day Cup semi-final dashed their hopes.

A double, though, is still on and second-placed Hampshire have in fact won one more Championship match than Surrey this summer, including all three they played in July.

Kyle Abbott
Kyle Abbott took a hat-trick in Hampshire’s win over Gloucestershire at Cheltenham in July

A ninth victory would take them to the top of the table as they chase what would be only their third title, and first for 49 years – and in Kyle Abbott (49) and Keith Barker (43), they have two of the leading wicket-takers in the division.

Lancashire are third, and also in the hunt for a double after they beat Sussex to reach the One-Day Cup final, but have 34 points to make up on Surrey – and they can expect no favours from their opponents at Emirates Old Trafford, Roses rivals Yorkshire.

“Obviously we’re chasing Surrey and Hampshire – whenever we do well, they seem to do well, but we’ve just got to keep believing,” skipper Dane Vilas told BBC Radio Lancashire.

“We know we’ve got to win three games and, if we do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Who could go down?

Things are looking bleak for Gloucestershire in their first season in Division One since 2005.

They have yet to win a game, and have lost eight out of 11, and nothing less a victory will do against Somerset, the team immediately above them in the table.

Gloucestershire are 42 points behind third-from-bottom Warwickshire, who do not play this week, and who they meet at Bristol on 20 September.

It has been a tough season too for Somerset, who have finished as runners-up in the title race five times since 2010 and have not played in the second tier since 2007.

But they have a game in hand on the other teams in the lower half of the table and do not have to play anyone higher than Northamptonshire, currently fifth, in their four remaining fixtures.

They have signed Pakistan opener Imam ul-Haq and off-spinner Sajid Khan for the final push, with Matt Renshaw having returned home to Australia, and are also hoping to have captain Tom Abell, who has already made three hundreds this season, back in action following a hamstring injury.

Somerset director of cricket Andy Hurry told BBC Radio Bristol: “The Championship didn’t start well. We’ve put in some performances that have been really pleasing, a couple of wins against Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.

“We actually started to demonstrate some of the learning we’ve needed from a batting perspective in the last few Championship games before the break. So we go in there with a lot of optimism and a lot of confidence.”

Who could win promotion?

Nottinghamshire no doubt feel they belong in Division One having finished third last season under the revised format in place because of Covid, just five points short of winning the title.

They are equally strong in batting – Ben Duckett has scored more than 1,000 runs already – and bowling. Two of their six wins have been by an innings and two by 10 wickets, so they will be confident of making it seven at home to bottom-of-the-table and winless Leicestershire.

Duckett, though, will not be available, after being called into the England Test squad after Jonny Bairstow suffered an injury while playing golf.

The only blemish on the Notts record is a seven-wicket home defeat by Glamorgan at Trent Bridge early in the season.

They are clear favourites for one promotion spot, but the other is less clear-cut with only 10 points separating 2016 champions Middlesex in second and Derbyshire in fourth.

In between are Glamorgan, who have a chance to leapfrog Middlesex in their game against Worcestershire at Sophia Gardens – a side they defeated by three wickets at New Road in June.

Shubman Gill
Glamorgan signing Shubman Gill has scored 579 runs in 11 Tests for India

The Welsh county have signed India batter Shubman Gill and New Zealand spinner Ajaz Patel to fill the gaps left by unavailable Australians Marnus Labuschagne and Michael Neser.

Derbyshire have a home fixture against Durham – but must manage without the prolific Shan Masood, who is involved in Pakistan’s National T20 competition.

Filling the gap left by a player who has scored 1,074 runs at an average of 82 will not be easy – but they expect him back for the final two rounds of matches in what will be his farewell to the club, having agreed to join Yorkshire in 2023.

Monday’s fixtures (10:30 BST start)

Division One

Ageas Bowl: Hampshire v Northamptonshire

Canterbury: Kent v Essex

Emirates Old Trafford: Lancashire v Yorkshire

Taunton: Somerset v Gloucestershire

Division Two

Derby: Derbyshire v Durham

Cardiff: Glamorgan v Worcestershire

Trent Bridge: Nottinghamshire v Leicestershire

Leading run scorers

  • Sam Northeast (Glamorgan) 1,127
  • Ben Compton (Kent) 1,119
  • Cheteshwar Pujara (Sussex) 1,094
  • Shan Masood (Derbyshire) 1,074
  • Wayne Madsen (Derbyshire) 1,037
  • Ben Duckett (Nottinghamshire) 1,012

Leading wicket-takers

  • Kyle Abbott (Hampshire) 49
  • Toby Roland-Jones (Middlesex) 48
  • Oliver Hannon-Dalby (Warwickshire) 46
  • Simon Harmer (Essex) 46
  • Dane Paterson (Nottinghamshire) 44
  • Keith Barker (Hampshire) 43