Victories have been thin on the ground in the top flight of county cricket so far this season. Lancashire are one of only two sides to register a win, triumphing over Nottinghamshire – the only other side to win a game – in their first match of the season. Hampshire meanwhile are one of six Division One sides to have drawn all three games. With only nine points separating top from bottom heading into the fourth round of fixtures, the competition couldn’t be more open.
On their return to the top flight, things have been going rather well for Ashley Giles’ Lancashire. A resounding victory over Notts at Old Trafford was backed up by an impressive draw at Taunton, where they forced Somerset to follow on but couldn’t take the 20 wickets needed to force a win on a flat pitch at a ground James Anderson labelled a ‘bowlers graveyard’. It leaves Lancashire fourth, just three points off the top of the table having played a game fewer than every other side.
In a season where the Red Rose are expected to be fending off relegation, there have been a series of standout performances in the opening matches which will give the side cause for optimism. Neil Wagner’s 11/111 on debut, Alviro Petersen and Steven Croft hitting half-centuries against Somerset and 22-year-old Liam Livingstone posting scores of 70 and 108* in his first two first class innings have shown Lancashire’s ability to make the step up and compete with the best Division One sides.
Hampshire have had their own noteworthy individual displays. Centuries from James Vince and Sean Ervine helped secure a superb draw with Yorkshire at Headingley while a Michael Carberry hundred and an 89 from Liam Dawson saw them take 11 points against Middlesex at the Ageas Bowl.
But injury has dominated thoughts in the early weeks of the season, with Hampshire currently missing bowlers Fidel Edwards, Reece Topley, Gareth Berg and Ryan Stevenson. West Indies seamer Tino Best was drafted in on a short-term deal and took his place in the side for the clash with Middlesex.
Lancashire have history on their side in this clash, having lost just one of their last 25 meetings with Hampshire. They are also looking to extend an unbeaten run of 14 County Championship matches. But Giles’ men will be aware of the quality Hampshire possess, especially in the batting department and won’t be taking the game lightly.
Perhaps as a consequence of the change of rules regarding the toss, the pitches at the start of the season have been exceptionally flat and very dry. With that in mind, increasing onus may fall on the counties’ spinners. Simon Kerrigan has made a strong start to the new season, bowling with great control and taking a few wickets as well. He claimed 3/63 in Somerset’s first innings at Taunton and has an outstanding economy rate this season of just 2.13. Lancashire and England teammate James Anderson has backed Kerrigan to compete for an England call-up this winter and the left-arm spinner will hope to continue to press his claims to be the best English spinner in the country.
Talking of England call-ups, Hampshire captain James Vince is widely tipped to be in the squad for the Test series against Sri Lanka at the end of the month. That century against Yorkshire underlined the right-hander’s class but Hampshire will hope he can find similar form at Old Trafford. His other four scores this season are 25, 21, 25 and 38, indicating that Vince is getting in but failing to go on to make a meaningful contribution often enough. The 25-year-old will be looking to change that against Lancashire to clinch a place in that Test squad.
Lancashire are unlikely to make changes to their side having started the season so strongly. But the option to freshen up the bowling attack after a gruelling match at Taunton is available to Ashley Giles with Tom Bailey waiting in the wings to come into the side. Luke Procter will continue at number three but, with the return of Tom Smith from injury on the horizon, Procter will know he is the man most vulnerable to the all-rounders return and needs to deliver more than he has so far this season. James Anderson will again lead the attack before leaving the club to join up with England’s Test squad.
Lancashire squad: Steven Croft (c), James Anderson, Tom Bailey, Karl Brown, Alex Davies (wk), Haseeb Hameed, Kyle Jarvis, Simon Kerrigan, Liam Livingstone, Alviro Petersen, Luke Procter, Neil Wagner
Hampshire have limited options to rotate their bowlers given the injury situation at the club, so Tino Best will again feature to supplement the attack. Former Worcestershire bowler Gareth Andrew has joined the club on a match by match basis. Chris Wood misses out with a knee problem while Sean Ervine is again sidelined with a hand injury. Michael Carberry and Jimmy Adams will open the batting again with Liam Dawson, looking to build on his half-century against Middlesex, coming in at number five.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Jimmy Adams, Tom Alsop, Gareth Andrew, Tino Best, Michael Carberry, Mason Crane, Liam Dawson, Ryan McLaren, Will Smith, James Tomlinson, Brad Wheal, Adam Wheater (wk)
Weather and Conditions
The opening two days are set to be positively balmy, with temperatures in Manchester set to reach highs of 23 degrees. Overall the game is set to be largely sunny with the chance of the occasional shower and possibly a thunderstorm on Sunday. The Old Trafford pitch always makes for an even contest between bat and ball, providing a consistent track but offering something for seamers who bend their backs and aiding spin as the game wears on.
Date: 8th – 11th May
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Umpires: Michael Gough & Nigel Llong
Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 4/6, Hampshire 6/5