The opening day of the Uxbridge clash between Middlesex and Hampshire marks exactly a year since the hosts found themselves just 28 points away from winning the Specsavers County Championship title.
This year, that return from the final three matches may not even see them survive in Division One.
Had one suggested that the three contenders for last year’s title – Middlesex, Yorkshire, and Somerset – would this year be attempting to stave off relegation at the same stage of the season, the response would have likely been something between a wry scoff and cackling laughter.
And yet that is exactly where things stand, with seventh-placed Somerset 13 points behind both other counties; a two-point deduction because of slow over-rate at The Oval two weeks ago hindered the champions even further.
Even Hampshire, in third, are just 26 points clear of the relegation spots and with two of Somerset’s remaining fixtures at Taunton, it would be premature to suggest even they are guaranteed a Division One spot next season.
With that in mind, neither side will look fondly upon Uxbridge’s recent history: eight of the 11 Championship matches there since the turn of the millennium have been draws.
Middlesex will be bolstered by Toby Roland-Jones, returning following his time in the England squad this summer. His omission for the second Test against West Indies brought him back for Middlesex’s trip to Surrey where he took his best Championship figures of the season. With 17 Test wickets to his name and a spot on the Ashes tour virtually certain, Roland-Jones will want to give his all to keep his county afloat in Division One.
Tom Alsop has drifted in and out of the Hampshire side this season. Picked as a specialist batsmen all but last week when he featured as wicketkeeper, he has failed to make the substantial runs that would secure him a regular spot. The final few weeks of the season, in which he is all but guaranteed to feature largely through a lack of competition for the spot – Calvin Dickinson is likely to keep wicket here, leaving Alsop as a batsman with no one to replace him – is his chance to grab his season by the scruff of the neck and fight for a permanent place next year.
Middlesex remain without Dawid Malan, who is in England’s T20I squad, but Toby Roland-Jones is back in contention after impressing in his first Test summer.
Middlesex squad: TBC
Liam Dawson is absent on international duty but Mason Crane, an unused member of the Test squad against West Indies, comes back for Hampshire. George Bailey is with the World XI for their T20I series with Pakistan. Calvin Dickinson comes into the squad in place of Bailey with James Vince skippering the side.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Calvin Dickinson (wk), Kyle Abbott, Jimmy Adams, Tom Alsop, Gareth Berg, Mason Crane, Fidel Edwards, Sean Ervine, Ian Holland, Joe Weatherley, Brad Wheal
Weather and Conditions
Largely dry with the odd patch of rain late on Thursday afternoon. If the wicket prepared at Uxbridge is much like it has been in relatively recent history, then neither side will emerge with a result.
Date: 12th-15th September 2017
Odds (SkyBet): Middlesex 4/5, Hampshire 1/1