Durham now guaranteed promotion while Northamptonshire fall further adrift at the bottom of Division One.
With the top teams in both Divisions having a week off, the potential for movement was primarily focussed on the relegation battle in Division One.
The three counties most at risk of going down were all in action and the most interesting contest took place at Edgbaston, between Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. In a match that was badly affected by rain, including the complete loss of day three, a manufactured run chase reminiscent of the days of three day championship matches created a nail-biting finish. When play eventually got started on day one the visitors were put in and made a solid start, reaching 71/2 at lunch. Further rain interruptions did not affect the batters and they had reached 124/2 by tea, Emilio Gay on 61 and Karun Nair on 51. Warwickshire then fought back in the final session through Oliver Hannon-Dalby and by the end of play Northamptonshire had reached 200/5, Gay having made 77 and Nair 78.
Four more wickets for Hannon-Dalby on the morning of day two restricted the total to 250, Hannon-Dalby finishing with 7/46. This was not an easy pitch to bat on and Warwickshire finished day two on 142/4, Jack White taking 3/37.
With the loss of day three a result looked unlikely, but with Northamptonshire in bad need of a win they were willing to accept anything on offer. Warwickshire declared on their score from day two and then Michael Burgess and Rob Yates opened the bowling, getting through some very rapid overs in order to correct a negative over rate.
Northamptonshire declared on 72/0 and the target for Warwickshire was just 176 from 61 overs. However the pitch ensured it would not be straightforward and a hat trick from Ben Sanderson reduced Warwickshire to 24/5. A partnership of 70 between Ed Barnard (41) and Michael Burgess (74) saw the score to 94/6 and Danny Briggs also made 24, but at 124/8 Northamptonshire looked in control. However Burgess cleverly farmed the strike with the occasional aggressive shot and with the support of Hannon-Dalby, who saw out 42 balls for his nine runs, they saw their side home, putting on an undefeated 52 for the ninth wicket.
While mathematically Northamptonshire are not yet relegated, the writing is on the wall, while Warwickshire move above Lancashire into fourth place.
Kent, who are in the thick of the relegation battle, had the better of their encounter with Nottinghamshire forcing the Midlands side to follow on, but they were unable to press home their advantage and late on day four could have been on the losing side.
Choosing to bat first, Zac Crawley continued his excellent season as he reached 158. Half centuries from Daniel Bell-Drummond (60) and Jack Leaning (64) took the home side to 446, the wickets shared amongst the Nottinghamshire bowlers. In reply, a third wicket stand of 131 between Steven Mullaney (86) and Joe Clarke (62) was the mainstay of the Nottinghamshire innings as they made 265. Slow left arm spinner Aaron Nijjar took 4/67 in what was his first championship game of the season, having come across on loan from Essex for the remaining three games of the season.
Asked to follow on Nottinghamshire were in trouble at 78/5, Michael Hogan dismissing Mathew Montgomery and Tom Moores in the same over. However, Clarke again prospered, eventually making 141 not out. He and Lyndon James put on 102 for the sixth wicket before Hogan struck in consecutive balls to remove James and Calvin Harrison. At 180/7 Nottinghamshire were still one run short of making Kent bat again, but they were saved by a 148 run eighth wicket partnership between Clarke and Brett Hutton (84). Hogan finished with 5/63 in his first match in two months. The target for Kent was 168 from a minimum of 32 overs, but by the end it was Nottinghamshire who were sniffing victory. Sri Lankan seamer Asitha Fernando, in his first game for Nottinghamshire, took three quick wickets as Kent, going after the runs with a rejigged batting order, were soon 59/5, still with 19.5 overs left to bat. Ben Compton and Joey Evison dug in and despite Montgomery removing Compton, Evison and Nijjar saw out the draw.
At Old Trafford Lancashire faced Middlesex, another of the teams facing possible relegation. Electing to bat first, Middlesex’s batting woes continued as only Sam Robson (86) and Ryan Higgins (41) made any significant contribution in their total of 194. Luke Wood and Tom Bailey both took three wickets. Higgins has been the one consistent performer for Middlesex with 739 runs at 38.39. None of the remaining batters are averaging 30.
124 from Dane Vilas, in his last game for the club, and nineties from Luke Wells and George Bell then saw Lancashire to 413. Indian off-spinner Jayant Yadav, another player brought in specifically for this last set of championship games, took 5/131. With the loss of more than 100 overs from the game a result was always going to be difficult to achieve and it was just left for Middlesex to bat out the 80 overs left in the game, which they did without any trouble. Middlesex took eight points from the game, their lead over Kent now down to just two points.
In Division Two Leicestershire were playing their game in hand over second placed Worcestershire, hoping to make a significant impact on the gap for the second promotion spot. They have brought in middle order Pakistani batter, Umar Amin to replace Peter Handscomb, who has returned to Australia and travelled down to Hove to take on Sussex, a county who have also been in the promotion battle.
Sussex were put into bat and were kept in check as the Leicestershire bowlers regularly took wickets. Only Fynn Hudson-Prentice (65) passed 50 and Sussex finished on 262, Matt Salisbury taking his first fifer of the season (5/73). On a pitch still with a green tinge, Ari Karvelas then took 4/41 as Leicestershire were dismissed for just 108. Half centuries from Tom Clark (69) and James Coles (63) and another 44 runs from Hudson-Prentice then saw Sussex declare on 344/9, one over after lunch on day three, setting Leicestershire a target of 499.
At the end of the third day Leicestershire were still in the hunt at 221/3, with Colin Ackerman unbeaten on 103 alongside Amin who was 61 not out. The pair put on another 67 runs on the morning of day four, before young off-spinner, Jack Carson removed them both in the same over. Rehan Ahmed (29) and Ben Cox (58) added 44 and then Tom Scriven (78) and Cox took Leicestershire to within 30 runs of the target, still with four wickets in hand. It was then the turn of Sussex’s new overseas signing, Indian left arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat to turn the game Sussex’s way, as he took the last four wickets in 31 balls. The Foxes were finally bowled out for 483 and Sussex squeezed home by 15 runs, Unadkat finishing with 6/94. Sussex have now moved three points above Leicestershire and trail Worcestershire by 18 points, each with two games left to play.
In Cardiff, Glamorgan took on Yorkshire and it was the visitors who enjoyed much the better of the match, although their bid for maximum points was thwarted by the pitch. Choosing to bat first they took full advantage of an under strength Glamorgan bowling attack, lacking Timm van der Gugten and with no overseas signing. They were not helped by the loss of Ben Kellaway, who sustained a concussion in the field, being replaced by Dan Douthwaite who, being a seamer rather than a spinner, was not permitted to bowl. Shan Masood made 192 and Finlay Bean 93 as they posted exactly 500. In reply Glamorgan could only manage 273, Kiran Carlson top-scoring with 64, whilst vital runs were added in a 56-run last wicket stand between Andy Gorvin (47) and Jamie McIlroy (30*). Matthew Revis took 5/50.
By the time Glamorgan were asked to follow on, half way through the afternoon session on day three, the pitch had flattened out and they successfully negotiated the next 118 overs before the teams shook hands at the earliest opportunity. Eddie Byrom scored his first century of the season and Sam Northeast finished unbeaten on 166. Kiran Carlson made 52 and in so doing passed the 1000 run mark for the season. At the end Glamorgan had reached 401/5 and of note, only Shan Masood of the Yorkshire players did not have a bowl.
In the remaining game Derbyshire and Gloucestershire played out a tame draw on a very flat pitch in Bristol. Electing to bat first Gloucestershire posted 377, with 132 from Ollie Price and 78 from Graeme van Buuren, Anuj Dal taking 6/69. In reply Derbyshire reached 403, Leus du Plooy making 108 and Harry Came 68, with Zafar Gohar taking 5/122. It was then just a matter of Gloucestershire batting out the last day, which they did, declaring on 208/6.
The results this week have guaranteed Durham promotion and taken the pressure off Worcestershire for the second spot in Division Two. The most exciting battle looks to be between Kent and Middlesex to stay up in Division One, although Essex will be keen to maintain the pressure on Surrey as they both get back into action next week.
Current Championship tables:
LV County Championship Division One
LV County Championship Division Two