JASON GILLESPIE believes the County Championship title race could go down to the final hour of the season.
The Yorkshire first-team coach feels it is too close to call and does not think one club will pull away from the pack.
Eight of the nine teams in Division One are theoretically in contention, with only bottom club Northamptonshire out of the running.
Just 42 points separate first-placed Nottinghamshire from eighth-placed Sussex, with the challengers each having between five and seven games left to play.
As Yorkshire prepared to face champions Durham at Headingley today, Gillespie predicted a nail-biting finale.
“Chances are it’s going to go down to the final hour of the final day of the season,” said the former Australia fast bowler, whose side are second in the table, eight points behind Nottinghamshire with a game in hand.
“Everyone’s beating everyone and it’s just incredible; it’s amazingly wide open in Division One this year.
“Obviously we would love to perform really strongly and boss the rest of the season, but we’ve got some important games coming up against teams that are in pretty good nick and we’re under no illusions.
“It’s incredibly tight and I think it will stay that way; it’s been really good for the competition and I see it as a real positive for cricket in this country.”
Nottinghamshire may be top, but they surrendered the initiative to Yorkshire with their defeat last week against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
Mick Newell’s men blew a good chance to pull away at the summit against a side that Yorkshire thrashed the week before.
“Notts will certainly be bitterly disappointed,” acknowledged Gillespie.
“They would have backed themselves to knock Warwickshire over, and they had their chances to win that match.
“But Warwickshire are dangerous when they click, and they’re right up there now as well.
“It just shows again how wide open the Championship race is this year.”
Although Yorkshire are second in the league, they are effectively in the box seat as they chase their first title since 2001. However, after being pipped by Durham last year, they know they cannot afford to take anything for granted.
“We know how close it is,” said Gillespie, “and we know how tough it is.
“We know that we can’t let our foot off the gas at any stage because, if we do, it will come back to bite us.
“We’ve spoken a lot about hammering home our processes, winning each hour, winning each session, and we hope that the end result will take care of itself.
“There’s not a lot in it between first place and eighth, and we just have to try to keep playing the attacking cricket we’ve been playing all season, looking to drive the game forward and put pressure on our opponents.”
The unpredictable nature of the title battle is further evidenced by Durham’s recent renaissance.
Paul Collingwood’s men drew six and lost one of their opening seven games, but back-to-back victories against Lancashire and Sussex have reignited their chances, with Durham now sixth in the table – 37 points off top but with two games in hand.
“It just goes to prove that you’re never out of it,” said Gillespie. “You’re only a win or two away from being in the mix.
“Durham were sitting near the bottom a couple of games ago and now they’re rapidly moving up the league.
“They’re a very good side, as they showed last year, of course, and we will have to play well to get another win.”
Australian batsman Aaron Finch is set to play his last Championship match for Yorkshire, with New Zealander Kane Williamson due to return to the club tomorrow following his country’s tour of the West Indies.
Finch scored his maiden Championship century in the last game at Warwickshire and will still be available until the conclusion of the T20 Blast knockout stages at the end of the month, but Williamson is Yorkshire’s preferred four-day overseas player.
“When Kane is available to play, he is our preferred overseas option in Championship cricket,” confirmed Gillespie, with teams only allowed to field one overseas star in the Championship.
“He’s done really well in his time with the club and has performed extremely well in the West Indies too, scoring 161 not out in the last Test match.
“Aaron has been brilliant on and off the field and contributed very strongly in the dressing room.
“I’m delighted with what he’s done for us and hopefully he can continue to do well before he leaves us at the end of the month.”
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who missed the last Championship match through paternity leave, returns at the expense of Karl Carver.
Tim Bresnan is also back after sitting out the Warwickshire fixture to undergo an injection in his elbow.