It’s been a fairly chaotic first few weeks of the 2016 County Championship. Sunshine and centuries galore in the opening round has given way to games being abandoned left, right and centre as rain and snow have swept the country. Lancashire though have rather watched the bedlam unfold from afar.
They’ve played just the one game, storming to a comprehensive victory over Nottinghamshire, and the newly-promoted side won’t have been disappointed to see so many Division One rivals dropping points at the hands of the weather.
The win against Notts at Old Trafford will have put a spring in the step of Ashley Giles’ men. There was understandable trepidation about their return to the top flight, having been relegated in their last two Division One seasons, but Lancashire outplayed the much-fancied Notts side and strolled to an eight-wicket victory on the final morning.
On Sunday, the Red Rose return to the scene of their Division One title-winning match back in 2011 as they head to Taunton to take on Somerset. Boosted by the performances of some of their younger players in their opening-match win, Lancashire will go into the game with great confidence knowing that successive victories would leave them at the upper echelons of the fledgling table in a season where they are expected to be battling relegation.
After two away games, Somerset will be treated to some home comforts with their first outing at Taunton of the new season. Back-to-back draws at Durham and Surrey has left Chris Rogers’ side struggling for early-season momentum.
Two centuries from Durham’s Keaton Jennings put Somerset’s bowlers to the sword, while things didn’t improve against Surrey where Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakkara dispatched Rogers’ attack to all parts of the Oval in a 176-ball 171. They’ll also be seeking improvements with the bat. Marcus Trescothick’s century against Surrey was impressive and guided them to a solid total, but he is the only man to pass 50 in their first two matches – a record Somerset will hope to improve on.
Since the eight-wicket win in 2011, which clinched Lancashire’s first outright County Championship title since 1934, all four meetings between the two sides have ended in a draw.
Lancashire and England seamer Anderson is under no illusions about the challenge Somerset pose.
“It will be tough, but we know what we are going to come up against,” Anderson told the club website.
“Marcus Trescothick is still a class act, and their batting is probably their strength.
“If we bowl like we did against Nottinghamshire, though, we will have a great chance of winning the game.”
Somerset need an awful lot more from their new captain Chris Rogers. New to the club this season but no stranger to county cricket, the veteran Australian has been below par by his own high standards in the opening two matches. A high score of just 24 in his three innings so far highlight his struggles and Somerset are heavily reliant on him churning out big scores from his position at either three or four. A First Class average of 49.63 proves the quality the 38-year-old Rogers possesses and it surely won’t be long before the big score comes along.
With match figures of 11/111 on debut, Neil Wagner is the obvious dangerman in the Lancashire side. But it was more than just his phenomenal figures against Nottinghamshire that made the New Zealand seamer stand out. The left-armer showed a potential to take all kinds of wickets in all kinds of conditions on a pitch that was hard work for the bowlers. Wagner bowled with pace, swing, aggression and great control to blow away the Notts batsmen and he will certainly be a man Somerset will be wary of in this contest.
Somerset are set to retain the same top order as the first two matches, with Trescothick opening alongside youngster Tom Abell while Rogers will likely come in at number three. Jim Allenby is in contention to return to the side after missing the Surrey clash and may provide an extra all-rounder option. Somerset will hope Lewis Gregory can continue his promising early-season form, having taken nine wickets so far, while Tim Groenewald will also be a threat to the Lancashire batsman having claimed a five-fer at the Oval.
Somerset Squad: tbc
Lancashire are unlikely to make any changes from their victory over Nottinghamshire. Tom Smith is nearing a first-team for the first time in a year but isn’t included in the squad. 19-year-old Hameed will continue to open the batting after impressing last time out, while Liam Livingstone is likely to retain his place at number seven. Alviro Petersen returns to Taunton for the first time since leaving Somerset in 2014 while there will certainly be no changes to the bowling line-up, with Anderson and Wagner backed up by Kyle Jarvis and Simon Kerrigan to form a fearsome unit.
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
Weather and Conditions
The game is set to be predominantly fine, with the threat of the odd scattered shower bringing a halt to the match. Monday morning is likely to see the worst of the weather. Taunton is a small ground and generally is a flat track so we wait to see whether Lancashire captain Steven Croft elects to bowl in the first match of the season on this ground.
Date: 1st – 4th May 2016
Ground: Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton
Umpires: Jeff Evans & Alex Wharf
Odds: Somerset 8/11, Lancashire 11/10