LONDON (Reuters) - A cricketing summer that just keeps giving culminates in Taunton this week as Somerset host Essex in a winner-takes-all clash to decide the destiny of the English County Championship.
Four-day county cricket in England has long struggled to capture the imagination, especially with the rise in popularity of the T20 Blast, and could be shunted further into the margins next year with the start of the new Hundred competition.
There is even talk of a ‘culling’ of the 18 first-class counties down to 10, but next week’s decider, starting on Monday, offers a chance for the longer format of the game to grab the spotlight.
Large crowds are expected to flock to the match Somerset must win in order to overhaul Essex.
Somerset, the cider county put on the cricketing map by Ian Botham and Viv Richards in the 1980s and more recently England batsman Marcus Trescothick, have never won the title, finishing runners-up five times.
Essex, meanwhile, are hoping to crown a memorable season with the County Championship title to go along with their maiden T20 Blast title they took on Saturday against Worcestershire.
Should they avoid defeat they will be crowned county champions for the second time in three years.
"I think we were 50 points or so adrift of Somerset at one stage, but a series of clinical performances has given us a chance to win the Championship," Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate told the club's website here
“That’s the beauty of the Championship and why you chase after it and the reason it is so important is because it is so tough.”
Somerset will be hoping the return of England spinner Jack Leach from international duty can give them the edge as they aim to bounce back from a costly defeat by Hampshire.
“We know exactly what we need to do and having that clarity helps to keep things really simple,” Somerset head coach Jason Kerr said. “It’s important that we bounce back as we have done brilliantly previously this season.
“Externally there’s a lot of expectation around at the moment but it’s important that the players concentrate on the process and the things that they can control.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris