All in all, that round of Championship games just finished was far from being a death knell to our lingering promotion hopes.
The current table reads:
Kent 11 6 2 0 3 0 152
Essex 13 4 3 0 6 0 146
Derbyshire 13 2 2 0 9 0 140
Northamptonshire 12 4 3 0 5 0 137
Glamorgan 12 2 2 0 8 0 134
Gloucestershire 12 4 5 0 3 0 128
(Played, Won, Lost, Tied, Drawn, Abandoned, Points)
With a couple of wins from their remaining games, any of these teams could go up. If one assumes that Kent have only to avoid an outbreak of bubonic plague to go up as champions, it's then any 5 going for one place.
Three weeks ago I suggested that Essex were our biggest rivals as they have the best bowler in Danish Kaneria. He's got through a lot of wickets on responsive tracks recently, yet despite that couldn't force a win against Leicestershire, for whom James Taylor once again batted superbly. 87 overs for 12 wickets was Kaneria's return, yet Taylor added to his recent run which has seen him score 45 and 94 against us, then 83 not out and 24, 112 not out and 62.
Nothamptonshire never looked like beating Glamorgan and they have much the same problem (both sides) as us - they cannot finish sides off with their attacks. I don't really see the Welsh side in the mix, while Northamptonshire have matches left against Middlesex, Surrey, Essex and Leicestershire. Glamorgan's best chance is if they come up against spinner's tracks, where Croft and Dalrymple might nick them more wins. Crucially, their game in hand over us could prove very useful.
Gloucestershire's erratic batting has cost them dearly this year. Kirby, Lewis and Franklin make up a good attack, but their batting, despite players of real talent, has failed far too often.
So to Derbyshire. We'll have had a week to regroup before we play Kent. What we need now is tracks like Chesterfield for our remaining games, where there will at least be a positive result. I don't think we can beat Kent - sorry, but I think we will have to settle for a draw at best against them - yet could beat Middlesex at Uxbridge.
That would mean the final match against Essex became a massive one for both sides. My honest opinion is that we have blown it, but there is still a possibility if we can get 20 wickets per game.
Given the batting order is pretty well established and the only question mark is whether John Sadler may come in for Dan Redfern after a long season for the youngster, John Morris has to decide his bowling line up.
Steffan Jones and Tim Groenewald have to be in the side and of course so does Graham Wagg, though I'd be amazed if we saw more of him this campaign. It's then a decision between Hunter, Clare and Hayward for the final seam place. For me, Hunter has been unlucky to be pushed out recently after good early season performances, while Clare has had a difficult second season, with injuries and loss of form. Hayward has been a major disappointment and I'd be loathe to select him ahead of the other two on his performances so far.
I'd go with Hunter, although I've not seen Clare's recent bowling and don't know if the rhythm has returned. Do we go with a spinner? Sorry to be blunt, but not if the spinner is Mark Lawson. I'm just not convinced the lad is a county bowler. Jake Needham hasn't had a great season, but can and has taken wickets at this level. Lawson has too, for Yorkshire, but too long ago to really count for anything.
If we're talking about decent spinners, maybe Rangana Herath of Sri Lanka could be a left-field option, although maybe short of the very top rank. At 31 he's an experienced bowler, is probably not a regular in Sri Lanka's side with Mendis and Muralitharan in it, yet has 600 career wickets at 23. A good, flighting slow left armer, he offers variety and would get wickets in this country. Could you, hand on heart however, say our batting and seam bowling is strong enough to take on board a specialist spinner? I'm not so sure. Unless we were to prepare tracks to suit, I think we'd need something more.
Still, nothing like conjecture eh? You'd have to say we're a better batting side than when we signed Venkat, so I'll cite precedence on that one!