Six rounds into the 2015 County Championship season and the predicted top two are already pulling away from the rest of the second division. Lancashire have played one game more than Surrey and the Red Rose side sit 32 points ahead of their nearest promotion rivals.
While seasonal showers are likely to disrupt two days of this game, if a team are able to force a positive outcome at the Kia Oval, it could well prove to be a title-deciding result come September.
Surrey enter the fray off the back of a hard-fought victory over Kent at Beckenham, in which Jason Roy looked to be back to last year’s form that saw him average 51.33 in first-class cricket. After a sluggish start to the season, Roy struck 140 in the draw against Northampton before a stylish unbeaten 60 on the final day, while teammates faltered around him, defeated Kent.
This time he will at least have Kevin Pietersen alongside him, who returns for what is probably his penultimate game of the season.
For Lancashire, they venture down to the capital following an impressive demolition of Derbyshire, Ashwell Prince adding further to his glut of runs with 230 in the first innings. If it is to be his last season with Lancashire, as many expect, Prince is going about making it a memorable one. He sits on top of the division run-scorers chart with 224 runs and averaging 96.37. Will he help propel the club back to the top tier?
The Kia Oval pitch continues to be an unfriendly host to seam bowlers, and while it stays that way, Zafar Ansari’s spin option will lead the county’s bowling figures. He’s racked up 20 victims already this season, just four behind his 2014 season-best tally, and has bowled more overs than anyone else for Surrey. There should be no problem for either side scoring runs in this match, even with the dubious weather forecasted, so it’ll come down to who is able to dismiss the others quickest.
With that in mind, it is Simon Kerrigan and not Division Two top wicket-taker Kyle Jarvis who could be crucial to Lancashire’s hopes of victory. The one-time England Test player enjoyed a good few days in Southport, removing Hashim Amla as he helped bowl out Derbyshire. If Kerrigan is able to take advantage of the conditions, he should cause trouble for the Surrey batsmen, especially anyone susceptible to slow left-arm tweakers.
Surrey bring three new faces into the squad that beat Kent last week, Pietersen the most notable returnee after a two-match absence with a calf injury. Ben Foakes will also experience his first stint with the gloves for the county, due to Gary Wilson’s Ireland duty, while Stuart Meaker comes in for the injured loanee Luke Fletcher.
Surrey squad: Gareth Batty, Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns, Tom Curran, Steven Davies, Matthew Dunn, Ben Foakes, Stuart Meaker, Kevin Pietersen, Jason Roy, Kumar Sangakkara, Dominic Sibley.
Lancashire squad: Paul Horton, Kyle Brown, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince, Steven Croft, Alex Davies, Jordan Clark, Arron Lilley, Tom Bailey, Simon Kerrigan, Kyle Jarvis, James Faulkner
Date: 31st May -3rd June 2015
Ground: Kia Oval, London
Umpires: Alex Wharf & Billy Taylor
Odds (SkyBet): Surrey 10/11, Lancashire 4/5
Weather and conditions
First day visitors for this match are expected to be greeted by rain, lots of it. And while day two and four should be clear with the occasional sunny spells, more of the wet stuff is predicted to arrive on Tuesday. The Oval has so far this season been a batting track, yet the conditions may make it a much more hazardous place to play on.