A new round of the LV County Championship Div One begins Wednesday, with key matches at Trent Bridge and Horsham.
The former venue sees surprise leaders Nottinghamshire take on a Durham side seeking their first ever title. The East Midlanders come into this game following a fine win against a much-fancied but underperforming Yorkshire outfit, with seamers Charlie Shreck and Mark Eahlam showing auspicious form.
With Yorkshire dismissed for 161 in the first innings, Durham's notoriously variable top order must remain resolute to provide their own dangerous pacemen a decent total to bowl at. In particular, Durham will be hoping that Will Smith can build on the brilliant double-century he posted at Guildford a fortnight ago.
Denied the chance of defending their Friend's Providence title and missing out on the (lucrative) 20/20 final, Durham's hope for this season rests on the county championship, and win would take them back to the top of the table.
Both Sussex and Somerset come into the clash at Horsham on the back of huge wins and with title hopes very much alive. Although a game-in-boot, the current title holders have historically been strong performers in the later months of the season and a win would put them right back in the mix.
With the summer sun starting to exert itself, Sussex probably regret no longer having the devastating leg spin of Mushtaq Ahmed to call upon, and their bowlers may struggle against a classy batting lineup that includes Justin Langer and Markus Trescothick.
Somerset, who could go top if they win and score two more points than Durham, are boosted by the return of Andy Caddick to their bowling attack, though they too lack a threatening spinner. By all accounts this should be a close and intriguing contest.
In the other two ties, relegation threatened Hampshire desperately need a win at Canterbury, and Kent could be vulnerable having been thrashed by Somerset.
Likewise, bottom side Surrey will be looking to score a win against a flaky Yorkshire side at Headingley, themselves increasingly embroiled in the relegation scrap. It seems as if the Tykes' morale hasn't recovered from their ejection from the 20/20 cup, but they remain one of the strongest teams on paper and shouldn't be written off just yet.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!