September is approaching and that means the final rounds of the County Championship. Surrey are in a strong position to defend their title, with Essex the only realistic challengers as things stand. To win matches you need to take 20 wickets and Surrey have managed that in seven of their 11 matches so far. Jordan Clark tops their wicket-taking with 41 at 21.39, followed by two Australians, Dan Worrall and Sean Abbott with 38 and 37 wickets respectively. Kemar Roach has rejoined the side, having taken 18 wickets in five games at the beginning of the season, with Abbott returning to Australia. Surrey can take pride in the development of 20-year-old Tom Lawes, who has taken 27 wickets at 21.55 and Gus Atkinson, who is capable of bowling at 95 mph and has taken 20 wickets at 20.20. It is no surprise that with this battery of bowlers they keep winning. The spin cupboard is less bountiful, with Will Jacks contributing five wickets, but that is unlikely to be an issue. The potency of their attack has meant that the Surrey batters have had a relatively easy ride, but when called upon they were able to chase down a target of 501 against Kent. On that occasion Jamie Smith was one of three batters to reach the 100 mark and he leads the run scoring with 669 at 41.81. The other two centurions on that occasion come next in runs amassed: Dom Sibley with 580 at 38.66 and England’s discarded keeper, Ben Foakes with 535 at 38.21. Surrey’s remaining games are at home to Warwickshire and Northamptonshire before an away trip to Southampton. Warwickshire and Hampshire still have a theoretical chance of overtaking Surrey, but Hampshire trail by 47 points and Warwickshire are 56 points behind, albeit with a game in hand. They would need to win all their matches and Surrey have a nightmare for either to have a chance. Given Northamptonshire’s season, Surrey will be expecting that game to be a banker.
Essex have been the only county that have kept up with Surrey this season and it required a rearguard action from the Surrey lower order to hold out for a draw in their one meeting of the season. Shared points was always likely with only 6.4 overs possible on day three, but Essex were keen to push for a result, setting Surrey a target of 273 in 54 overs. Ollie Pope and Jamie Smith took them to 73/3 off 20.1 overs, but Pope’s dismissal led to a clatter of wickets and Smith had to dig in. The evergreen Sir Alastair Cook continues at the top of Essex’s batting order and keeps on delivering, with 666 runs at 35.05 so far this season, including one century and four fifties. Leading the run-scoring are Tom Westley with 919 at 48.36 and Matt Critchley with 769 at 40.47. Jamie Porter is the top wicket-taker with 47 at 18.36 and Simon Harmer’s off-spin has produced 45 wickets at 29.53, 29 of them in the five games at Chelmsford. Sam Cook has 41 wickets at 18.39 and Matt Critchley has taken 14 with his leg spin. They too have games against Northamptonshire and Hampshire and a London derby against Middlesex. They have already beaten Middlesex, in the first match of the season and will be expecting at least two wins from these games, thereby maintaining the pressure on the leaders. The neutral will be hoping there is still all to play for come the final round of matches.
At the other end of Division One Northamptonshire look to be going down, despite the game in hand over Kent. Their final two matches are against Surrey and Essex, as well as facing Lancashire and Warwickshire. The second relegation spot looks to be between Middlesex and Kent. Middlesex also have a game in hand, but this will be against Essex in the next round of fixtures, so it is unlikely they will build much of a buffer going into the final three games. They then face Lancashire, Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire. Lancashire and Nottinghamshire sit just above the relegation battle and are unlikely to be at risk unless there are some very unexpected results, while Warwickshire’s title hopes may have disappeared. Kent also have games against Nottinghamshire and Lancashire as well as one against Somerset, who sit comfortably in mid-table. Middlesex’s batting has been calamitous this season, with just two batting bonus points. Only Ryan Higgins of the recognised batters is averaging over 30, with 633 runs at 39.56. This means their threatening pace attack has had nothing to work with. They did manage a surprise victory against Warwickshire in the last round, bowling them out for just 60 in the first innings, with 24-year-old Ethan Bamber taking 5/20. He leads the county’s wicket-taking with 33 at 22.33. Pieter Malan has returned to South Africa earlier than planned, although his contribution has been minimal with just 221 runs at 14.73. That leaves Middlesex currently without an overseas player, but Joe Cracknell has stuck his hand up for inclusion in the Championship side having topped the run scoring in the One-Day cup, with 290 at 41.42.
Meanwhile Kent have had problems with consistency, due in part to an extensive list of injuries, particularly to their batters. In their last Championship game against Nottinghamshire, they were missing Daniel Bell-Drummond (hamstring), Jordan Cox (calf) and Joe Denly (side), while Zak Crawley was away with England and Sam Billings was taking a break from the game. Ben Compton leads the run-scoring with 609 at 32.05 and 22-year-olkd Tawanda Muyeye, whose family came to the UK as refugees from Zimbabwe, has been making a mark with 430 runs at 39.09. The bowling has also been impacted upon by injuries to Nathan Gilchrist, Michael Hogan and Marcus O’Riordan. Arshdeep Singh has been replaced by New Zealand left arm seamer, Ben Lister as their sole overseas player, while Matt Quinn is the leading wicket-taker of those bowlers currently with the county, having taken 18 at 32.00. Much may depend on how many of the first-choice players can get back on the field.
In Division Two the battle is for the second promotion spot, with Durham 40 points ahead of second placed Worcestershire. These two teams have set themselves apart from the rest by virtue of being able to take the wickets needed to win matches. Wins have been hard to come by for the other counties and overall, in Division Two only 33% of matches have ended in a positive result compared to 68% in Division One. Given that the only endpoint for Division Two sides is promotion, while Division One counties have the threat of relegation, the incentive to go for maximum points should be greater. However, it seems that the batting resources in Division Two squads are significantly greater than the bowling ones and other than these top two sides, there is not the fire power to take 20 wickets.
Durham’s strong batting line up has scored enough runs to put the opposition batters under pressure and the bowlers have taken advantage. 41 batting bonus points is 14 more than anyone else in either Division. Alex Lees is the Championship’s top run-scorer with 1152 at 72.00. David Bedingham has made 815 runs at 58.21 and Ollie Robinson has taken advantage of his move north with 764 at 58.76. Chester-le-Street seems to have lost some of its seamer friendly reputation. Ben Raine and Matty Potts are in the top four Championship wicket takers, with 52 and 46 respectively and Durham have certainly benefited from Potts’ fall down the England pecking order.
Worcestershire moved up the table on the back of wins in their last two games against Leicestershire and Gloucestershire. Against Gloucestershire Jake Libby scored his third century of the season to take his runs tally to 909 at 56.81. They have an effective seam attack led by Joe Leach, who has captured 41 wickets at 28.41 this season. He is supported by 23-year-old Adam Finch with 28 wickets, as well as Matthew Waite and Dillon Pennington. They will be hit by the potential absence of captain Brett D’Oliveira, who suffered a shoulder dislocation during training, but will enter the final stages of the season on the back of a successful One-Day cup competition. They have games against fellow promotion contender Glamorgan, Durham and Yorkshire, who have been putting in stronger performances as the season has progressed.
The chasing pack is currently led by Glamorgan, although Sussex and Leicestershire both have a game in hand. Glamorgan and Sussex are the only two teams in either Division who remain undefeated, but both have only managed one win. Glamorgan have been heavily reliant on Michael Neser as a pace threat, especially this season following the departure of Michael Hogan. Timm van der Gugten has stepped up and taken 37 wickets at 26.40, but despite announcements that an overseas bowlers would be signed for the remainder of the season, nothing has yet been confirmed. Last year Glamorgan brought in slow left arm spinner Ajaz Patel, but it has not been as hot and dry this summer and though they have no recognised red ball spinner, a quick bowler would be a better option. They have to play Worcestershire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire.
Sussex have a young side, led by the experienced Cheteshwar Pujara and were seeming to be coming of age this season. However, they looked to be lacking in confidence during a disappointing One-Day cup campaign for which they did not have any significant loss of personnel to the Hundred. Nathan McAndrew is their leading wicket-taker, but he is back in Australia, and they have recruited left arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat, who has 382 first class wickets at 22.58 and has made four Test appearances for India. There is no news of when Ollie Robinson will be back playing, his last appearance being when he limped of with a back spasm during the third Ashes Test. Shortly after he was reported as being fit for the fourth Test, but he had had back problems prior to the start of the season and has not played since. Obviously, he would make a significant impact should he return. Aristides Karvelas has 28 wickets at 22.71, while 22-year-old off-spinner Jack Carson has taken 18 wickets, albeit at 52.44 and will be hoping for some helpful pitches. The batting is strengthened by the return of Pujara, who was with the Indian team for the last four rounds of the Championship. Tom Alsop currently leads the run scoring with 604 at 46.46, while Fynn Hudson-Prentice has 581 at 48.41 to go with his 17 wickets. Sussex’s next game is a tough one against Durham, but then they have matches against Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Gloucestershire from which they would hope to get some reward.
Leicestershire also have a game in hand and have been something of a surprise entity, kicking off the season with a three wicket win against Yorkshire. They had a further victory over Gloucestershire, but have suffered two defeats to Worcestershire, the most recent in the last round of fixtures. Behind the scenes upsets with the sacking of head coach Paul Nixon and the announcements of the departures of club stalwarts Colin Ackermann, Chris Wright and Callum Parkinson following a poor T20 competition, might have been expected to sink their season, but they have bounced back in the One-Day cup, topping their group and beating Gloucestershire to earn a place in the final against Hampshire. Much credit should go to Alfonso Thomas and James Taylor who have jointly stepped into the head coach role. Rishi Patel is fulfilling the promise he has shown by converting starts into big scores, with four centuries in his 890 runs at 52.35 and they have the experience of Colin Ackerman and Peter Handscomb in the middle order. Chris Wright is the top wicket-taker with 36 at 26.88, while Wiann Mulder has 20 at 17.85. The disappointment for Leicestershire fans is the lack of productivity with the bat for Mulder this season, averaging just 24.15 compared to 49.21 in 2022. They meet Gloucestershire, Sussex, Yorkshire and Durham in their remaining four games. The bottom three counties in Division Two comprise Derbyshire, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire, each of which are out of contention, Yorkshire not helped by a 48 points deduction.
In summary, the County Championship title is for Surrey to lose, although they have tough games against Hampshire and Warwickshire. Essex have the benefit of playing two of their three remaining games against counties in the bottom three. Northamptonshire will go down with a close battle between Kent and Middlesex for the other relegation spot. Kent would be favourites to survive if they can get more of their first-choice players onto the field. In Division Two Durham look secure as Champions with Worcestershire favourites to join them in Division One. Glamorgan, Sussex and Leicestershire do not seem to have the bowling resources to secure the wins needed to overtake the Pears, but that might change if Sussex can get Ollie Robinson back.
Current Championship tables:
LV County Championship Division One
LV County Championship Division Two