Yorkshire v Nottinghamshire: Yorkshire lookint to seize the moment in Championship title bid
THE NatWest T20 Blast is all done and dusted.
A Royal London Cup semi-final looms on the horizon but, for now, Yorkshire’s attention returns to the Specsavers County Championship.
They are second in Division One, 26 points behind Middlesex with a game in hand.
And this week’s match against Nottinghamshire at Scarborough represents that game in hand.
It comes against a side who are bottom of the league and staring down the barrel of relegation.
Mathematically, it is not a must-win fixture, for there are still four to play after this match.
But it presents an obvious opportunity for Yorkshire to close the gap on Middlesex, and to close it to just two points if they can claim the maximum 24.
Yorkshire travel to second-bottom Hampshire next week and host third-bottom Durham the following week, before ending their campaign at home to Somerset and away to Middlesex.
A hat-trick of titles is still in their hands, but you sense that they need to seize the present moment.
It will not be easy.
Not only is the weather unpredictable at this time of year, rendering victories already gained like gold dust, but sides such as Notts are scrapping for points for different reasons – namely, their First Division survival.
Trent Bridge is arguably the finest ground in the country – at least outside of Lord’s, and with all due respect to Scarborough –but it faces the unpalatable prospect of Second Division cricket.
It will be extremely tough for Notts to beat a strong Yorkshire team at Scarborough, a ground where Notts have won only once in 12 matches, indeed, but that does not mean that they will be pushovers in what has been a tight division.
Yorkshire have a good recent record in the Championship at North Marine Road, but they lost on their last outing there in early July – an innings defeat to Middlesex that they hope will not have the same look in retrospect that Durham’s win there did in 2013, when it provided the impetus for the visitors to go on and pip Jason Gillespie’s team to the title.
Yorkshire, on paper, should be too strong for Notts, and yet the visitors possess some talented players.
Stuart Broad, the England pace bowler, is out with an ankle injury, and there is no Jake Ball or Alex Hales, who are on one-day international duty along with Yorkshire’s Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid.
But Notts have plenty of seasoned campaigners – not least the evergreen Chris Read and Samit Patel.
First-team coach Gillespie is certainly not taking Notts for granted as his side go in search of their fourth win of the Championship campaign.
“It’s going to be a massive challenge,” said Gillespie.
“Notts are a very good side, and although they haven’t played the cricket they’d like in the Championship, they’re an incredibly dangerous team and they’ve got some real match-winners.
“We need to play at our best if we’re going to compete with them, and we’ve got to make sure that we tick all the boxes.
“We’ve got a good record at Scarborough in recent times, and hopefully we can build on that this week.”
A week of inactivity for Middlesex would be as good a week as any for the champions to strike, with the leaders battling problems of their own.
With pace bowler Steven Finn currently out with a hamstring injury, Middlesex have been dealt another blow with the news that former Notts batsman Adam Voges will not be returning to captain them for their last four games, with Cricket Australia wanting him to rest his own hamstring problem.
Middlesex return to action next week when they travel to Warwickshire before visiting Notts the following week.
They continue their programme away to Lancashire before the potentially key fixture with Yorkshire in late September.
Notts, who are 14 points adrift at the bottom, really need something from this week’s fixture.
Mick Newell, their coach, is considering changes to his batting line-up, with Root’s brother, Billy, among those who could come into the team along with fellow batsman Tom Moores, the 19-year-old son of former England coach Peter Moores.
Whoever he selects, Newell is conscious of the need for immediate improvement.
“We’re in a mess in the Championship,” he admitted.
“We’ve got to try and get out of the bottom two.
“This is a really big game, and I’m not sure where the pressure sits because they’re trying to get to the top and we’re obviously trying to get off the bottom.
“We’ve got to find a way of winning games.”