Who Will Win The County Championship?
England's summer of international cricket is now long finished; Sussex have won the pro-40, Essex have taken the Friends Provident Trophy and the Twenty20 cup happened.
Now, before the ludicrous shambles that will be the Stanford Super Series kicks off, we have the much more important (and more exciting) climax to the LV County Championship.
This article intends to determine exactly who will win the prestigous county title by running through all of the contenders.
So who are the contenders?
Dimitri Mascaenhas' Hants side have snuck into poll position in the league almost unnoticed it seems.
A crushing victory over bottom club Surrey saw them pick up the maximum 22 points and shoot to the top of the league.
Hants have done little to catch the imagination with the bat this year: Michael Brown has top scored with 818 runs at an acceptable average of 38.
They're success has been based on a formidable bowling attack, of Tahir, Tomlinson, Tremlett and the captain himself.
44 of their 160 total points have come from bowling bonus points - the most in the league by a distance.
The biggest problem they face in their quest to win the league is that they have played a game more than the other contenders, but only lead by a single point.
The second biggest problem is that they're not as good as any of the other contenders.
Furthermore, their final tie is away to what is, in my opinion, a stronger Notts side. I see them having little joy there and can't see them having enough to hold on to top spot.
Somerset were my tip from the start of the season, and have impressed following promotion last year.
With two of the best opening batsmen of our generation opening in Justin Langer and Marcus Trescothick they were guaranteed to be in the reckoning.
Trescothick's 1238 runs leads the league, Langer has 1013, and the likes of Trego, de Bruyn and Ian Blackwell have all added runs over the course of the season.
The problem has been that as Taunton is such a batting paradise, it has been hard to notch up wins - they have only lost once, a league low, but drawn 10 times.
However, as their two remaining fixtures are against Yorkshire and Lancashire, two of the leagues weaker performers this year, I feel they have every chance of picking up enough points to claim the first title in their history.
I was at Taunton to watch Durham play Somerset last week. I expected to see a batting masterclass from Trescothick and co.
Instead I saw a destructive bowling display from Stephen Harmison and the Durham attack.
Harmison has been key to Durham's success this season - his 50 wickets is the most in the team, and was good enough even to earn him a recall to all of the England sides.
However, Mark Davies and Callum Thorpe have taken their fair share, and Liam Plunkett, Graham Onions and Ben Harmison have contributed on the rare occassions they have been asked to.
I would say they have the best pace attack in the league.
Their batting line up isn't shy of top performers either, Dale Benkenstein and di Venuto are proven class acts, and they also boast the prescense of world player of the year, Shiv Chanderpaul.
Whilst Shiv has delivered little this year so far, his season best score of 93 against Somerset last week showed his class, and shows that he could be a factor in the run in.
They certainly have enough talent to give themselves a good shot at winning the title.
Durham's final game of the season is a tough tie at Canterbury, and before that they take on a buoyant Sussex. I don't expect them to pick up as many points as Somerset.
Workman like is how I'd describe Nottinghamshire.
Their biggest stars, Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom don't play because of England commitments.
Instead a group of very good professionals, led by Chris Read, quietly go about their business.
Mark Wagh's 836 at 45 leads the team with the bat, but Read, Bilal Shafayat and Samit Patel also average over 40.
It's consistancy over explosiveness.
Despite being derailed somewhat by his shock England call up, Darren Pattinson has, by and large, bowled excellently this year, taking 41 wickets at 23. The excellent Charlie Shreck leads the team however with 52 at 27.
Their remaining ties see them take on Surrey at the Oval, and Hampshire at home, two games they could get a lot of points from.
I can see them winning the league this year, BUT I want Somerset to win it so I'm going to say...
An excellent team. Martin van Jaarsevld has been the stand out performer this year, with an impressive 1110 runs at 55.
The bowling has also been excellent, Robbie Joseph leading the team with 50 wickets at 25, but good support too from Ryan McLaren, Azhar Mahmood and Yasir Arafat.
However, they seem to have struggled for consistency. They've been liable to collapsing in the batting at times and the averages reflect this - quality players like Denly and Key average just 35 and 33 respectively.
They still have a chance of winning the league, but, though I'd like to see them do it, I can't see them picking up enough points against Lancashire and Durham to finish above Notts, Somerset, or Durham.
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