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Four realistic contenders in the running for £10,000 cash prize.
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The race for the 2019 PCA Overall MVP crown is set to go right down to the wire, with four realistic contenders in the running heading into the last round of County Championship fixtures next week.
Joe Denly earned the accolade at a canter last year, finishing 79 MVP points clear of second placed Rikki Clarke. This time around, however, just 50 points currently separates the new leader Simon Harmer from Ryan Higgins in fourth.
Harmer will be nervously looking over his shoulder, not least because of an historic bowling performance from Hampshire’s Kyle Abbott this week.
Facing the league leaders at home is no daunting prospect for the South African fast bowler. He picked up match figures of 17-86 – the best since Jim Laker’s famous 19-90 against Australia way back in 1956 – to help Hampshire thrash Somerset by 136 runs at the Ageas Bowl.
Unsurprisingly, those were Abbott’s career best match figures, containing his best ever innings figures of 9-40.
In terms of bowling MVP points, the seamer has been the best in the country this season, and has consistently hovered around the top 10 of the Overall MVP as a result. His very best showing of this campaign, and indeed any campaign, has now helped him surge towards the summit of the table at just the right time.
Abbott still has work to do, however, if he is to overtake off-spinner Harmer and move into first position in the Overall MVP. The Essex man, although not quite reaching the same lofty heights as his compatriot, has also been in scintillating form this week.
Despite going wicketless in the first innings, Harmer stamped his authority on the fixture against Surrey with an unbeaten 50 down the order to take the game out of the Kia Oval-based side’s reach.
The 30-year-old then returned figures of 7-58, as well as taking a catch off the bowling of Jamie Porter, to help his side to victory by an innings and 40 runs. The Eagles took advantage of Somerset’s slip up to move 12 points clear at the summit of Division One, and Harmer propelling into pole position for £10k, six MVP points clear at the top of the Overall MVP.
Harmer already has the format-specific Championship MVP all but wrapped up. Even if he was to score zero points in the season finale at Taunton, it would be a tough ask for a re-born Darren Stevens to make up the 60 MVP point deficit that currently exists between first and second.
The off-spinner will be firmly focussed on the Overall MVP, though, and has the added bonus of at least one extra appearance in the race for the coveted award – he is the only player in the current top five set to appear at Vitality Blast Finals Day on Saturday.
The Overall MVP frontrunners are proving their worth at the business end of the season. Whilst Abbott and Harmer claimed the Player of the Match awards in their fixtures, all-rounder Ryan Higgins did the same for Gloucestershire.
Higgins’ eight wickets and 42 runs in the match helped his side to victory over Worcestershire, and put them on the brink of promotion into Division One. Higgins earned 34.54 MVP points in the process, leaving him in fourth place with an outside chance of winning the Overall MVP.
Jeetan Patel, currently in third position, also remains in with a good shout. Despite having a relatively quiet game against Nottinghamshire, the man who has non-consecutively led the Overall MVP for 42 days this season will fancy his chances of snatching the award on a late season deck at Edgbaston next week.
The outstanding performance of the latest round of fixtures came from Kent veteran Darren Stevens. His barely believable career best 237 in the first innings came at more than a run per ball, and rescued his side from 39-5 to 482-8 declared.
Stevens just keeps on going, and proved that in the fixture with Yorkshire by taking 5-20 – including each of the opposition top four – in the last innings to win the game. His 91.48 MVP point haul is the best of the season in a single game so far, overtaking Ravi Ashwin’s 81.53 for Nottinghamshire back in July.
Whilst Stevens is moving towards the end of his career, Luis Reece has been busy producing similar heroics at the beginning of his.
Reece recovered from a duck in the first innings to take 5-68, before smashing 184 from 189 balls at the top of the order. He claimed 55 MVP points and moves up to sixth in the Overall MVP, but it’s most likely come too late for the all-rounder to be in with a shout of the main accolade next week.
The Derbyshire man is not the only young player to have excelled this week. Warwickshire’s Dom Sibley knocked on the England selectors’ door once again by accumulating 324 runs against Nottinghamshire whilst only being removed once.
With the Test squad for the tour to New Zealand due to be announced on Monday, Sibley has put himself firmly in the frame for a first call-up with yet another outstanding performance.
Before the Overall MVP is identified next week, there’s the small matter of Blast Finals Day on Saturday.
Only two members of the Blast MVP top 10, Wayne Madsen and Billy Godleman, will be in action on the day. The format-specific award looks more than likely to end up with Durham all-rounder D’Arcy Short, who sits 25 MVP points clear of Babar Azam at the top of the tree.
View the PCA’s MVP Rankings here.
Keep up-to-date with all the latest MVP news by following the @pcaMVP on Twitter.