The Natwest T20 Blast makes its return on Friday night and last year’s beaten finalists Lancashire kick off their bid to go one better this time around against Leicestershire at Old Trafford.
Lancashire are the most successful English county in the shortest form of the game in terms of having won the most games but, despite this, they have never lifted the trophy. By contrast, Leicestershire are the side who have won the competition the most, emerging victorious in 2004, 2006 and 2011.
This will be the first T20 game for Lancashire under new Head Coach Ashley Giles. The former England and Warwickshire coach is hoping to build upon the successes that the side has had in the past, but believes they need to be more ruthless after their recent County Championship loss to Gloucestershire.
“The side has been successful and they play a certain way,” Giles said.
“I’m not going to tell them to play any other way but go out, express themselves, have some fun and give it a good go.
“Ultimately it’s about that ruthless streak and good teams make their home ground a fortress.
“We need to improve on our pro-activeness and ruthlessness. It always hurts to lose. I’m fed up!”
Leicestershire’s form in four-day cricket continues to be dreadful and they are winless once again so far this season. They had a taster of the kind of action they might expect in T20 at The Oval this week, when Surrey chased down their 218 target in just 21.2 overs. Historically, The Foxes have been a much more successful one-day outfit and they will want to show that again. With additions such as New Zealander Grant Elliot and Australian Clint Mackay, they are not lacking the top-level experience needed and will be one of the danger teams in the competition once again this year.
In the head to head record between these two since the competition began in 2003, Lancashire have won 12 of the 19 meetings, losing just five times. They won both of last season’s encounters.
As captain, and a valuable operator in T20 with bat and ball, Lancashire will look to Steven Croft to lead them to a successful campaign once again this season. Croft has played in Lancashire’s last 102 T20s, the only Englishman to play in over 100 successive matches for a team. He has the ability to be a destructive batsman with a T20 average of 30.22 and a handy strike rate of 122.35. Croft also is often charged with bowling his brand of spin in the powerplay and is one of Lancashire’s best fielders, making him a crucial cog in this team.
When you sign up a man who played a match-winning knock in a World Cup semi-final just a matter of months ago, he is always going to be a key man. Grant Elliott is the big overseas star for Leicestershire at the start of the campaign until he is required for ODI duty with New Zealand. His innings of 84 against South Africa at Eden Park in March guided his side to the World Cup final and displayed his ability to clear the ropes as well as play a composed innings under the most intense pressure. Any repetition of such feats for Leicestershire will make him a superb addition to their ranks.
Lancashire are without a number of players who were integral to their campaign last year. Top runs scorer and opening batsman Tom Smith is sidelined through injury while experienced campaigner Paul Horton starts a two-game suspension. Kabir Ali has retired while Junaid Khan has not been re-signed. Usman Khawaja, Andrew Flintoff, Jos Buttler and James Anderson also played in the final last year – none of whom are available for selection. Youngster Liam Livingstone and batsman Karl Brown were both mentioned by Giles as being in contention. Nathan Buck should play his first T20 game for Lancashire against his former side, while it’s undecided whether Alviro Petersen will open the batting or slot into the middle order.
Leicestershire could hand T20 debuts to Mark Cosgrove, Clint Mackay, Aadil Ali and Angus Robson while Kevin O’Brien is also expected to feature for the Foxes. The O’Brien brothers will be a key cog in the side with Kevin’s brother Niall also in the squad as wicket-keeper batsman. Grant Elliott will make his bow for Leicestershire as a middle-order batsman.
Lancashire Lightning squad: Steven Croft (c), Tom Bailey, Karl Brown, Nathan Buck, Jordan Clark, Alex Davies (w), George Edwards, Arron Lilley, Liam Livingstone, Saqib Mahmood, Stephen Parry, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince
Leicestershire Foxes squad: Mark Cosgrove (c), Aadil Ali, Ned Eckersley, Grant Elliott, Clint Mckay, Jigar Naik, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien (w), Angus Robson, Ben Raine, Atif Sheikh, Rob Taylor, Tom Wells
Weather and conditions
The match could be disrupted by light, but frequent rain showers. Old Trafford is generally a batting-friendly ground and should prove so again.
Date: 15th May 2015
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Umpires: Paul Baldwin & Tim Robinson
Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 4/9, Leicestershire 7/4
Natwest T20 Blast Match Stats (in association with Opta):
Lancashire (74) have won the most matches in English domestic T20s.
The last two occasions that Leicestershire have progressed from the group stage they have gone on to win the tournament (2006 and 2011).