Marcus Hook’s Surrey CCC column: Two-horse race for County Championship title – we should savour run-in

The sight of conkers hitting the ground is the surest sign the English cricket season is drawing to a close – which is why it’s so frustrating that, when Surrey line-up to take on Northants next week, the South Londoners will have seen just three days of action since August 22.

You’re welcome to quote that to anyone who tries to suggest the County Championship should be reduced to 10 four-day matches per team per summer, instead of the current 14, due to a saturated schedule.

But like when there’s just one last glass of wine left to pour, county supporters will savour what remains, at the same time as looking forward to the delivery of another bottle, as replenishment, next year. Will the vessel still be of a similar size beyond that? Time will tell.

While Surrey and their only remaining title challengers Essex were having yet another week off, the picture at the other end of the Division One table became a little clearer.

We also learned that Durham will return to the top flight in 2024, following eight seasons in Division Two that were a direct consequence of the sanctions imposed on them by the ECB, unfairly in the view of many, back in 2016, after the club slipped into financial difficulty.

So the equation is simple – it’ll be Surrey or Essex, both of whom have Hampshire and Northants left to face. Surrey know destiny lies in their own hands – a win over Northants and a draw – as seems likely – away to Hampshire will be enough. Why am I so sure the scales in the Hampshire game will be tipped in the batters’ favour?

They have just been docked points for preparing a “below average” pitch for their County Championship match against Essex in July – a game Hampshire lost inside three days as 506 runs were scored for the loss of 34 wickets.

Hampshire have also been fined £5,000 and handed a suspended 20-point penalty for the 2024 championship season, which will become active if they commit a further breach of the pitch regulations before the end of next summer.

Of course, the weather might have a say. If it rains for the next fortnight, Surrey will be champions, but that’s not their style. They want their day in the sun and they will want to finish with more championship victories than the eight they notched up last season.

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