Durham take on Lancashire at Chester-le-street
The two Division One sides to have only played three fixtures have had rather contrasting fortunes in the opening weeks of the new County Championship season. Durham have done alright, but have drawn all three of their matches. Lancashire meanwhile are the only side to have won twice this season and are riding high in the upper echelons of the Division One table.
Head Coach Ashley Giles was quick to praise the ‘relentless’ nature of his Lancashire side after their comprehensive innings victory over Hampshire at Old Trafford, which leaves them just a point adrift of leaders and back-to-back champions Yorkshire having played a game fewer.
That game saw the only players who hadn’t really contributed in the first two games come to the fore. 19-year-old opener Haseeb Hameed notched an impressive half-century while number three Luke Procter took 3-14 in the first innings before posting a career-best 137 to put his side in command. Those performances mean that every player has made a contribution to the excellent start to the season and there is a real buzz around the Lancashire squad.
The upcoming Test series against Sri Lanka has stripped the counties of their England stars for this next round of fixtures and Lancashire will certainly miss the influence of James Anderson leading their attack. While England’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker hasn’t taken bundles of wickets in the first three games, he has bowled with incredible control and constant threat which has allowed Lancashire to build pressure in the field.
Durham will also lose a star man to the Test squad, with all-rounder Ben Stokes heading off to join the England set-up for the first time since bowling the crucial final over as they lost the World T20 final.
Paul Collingwood’s side didn’t play in the last round of fixtures, but will be desperately hoping to get their first win on the board. Their last match was a run-fest at the Oval, where Surrey amassed 701 from two innings, while Durham racked up 607 in just one. Weather has played its part in their other two draws, meaning that the North East side head into this clash with Lancashire struggling a little at the wrong end of the table.
Runs haven’t been a problem for Durham so far this season with four centurions in just three matches, including two for Keaton Jennings, but wickets have been harder to come by. Stokes is the leading wicket-taker, leaving behind Graham Onions who has has taken just eight wickets as the next best bowler.
In contrast, Lancashire have fired on both suits and will head into this game with momentum and confidence behind them – looking to extend an unbeaten Championship run to 16 matches. But Chester-le-Street is a very difficult place to go and win, so Durham will be hopeful of challenging for their first victory in this match. It promises to be a tight contest, so tight in fact that the bookies can’t separate the two sides.
With Ben Stokes’ departure, extra emphasis is placed on the other Durham bowlers who have struggled somewhat this season. In particular Collingwood will be looking for more from the usually deadly Chris Rushworth. He’s done ok so far, taking seven wickets from four innings, but an average of 32.14 and a strike rate of 55.7 is below what Durham have come to expect from a bowler mentioned in dispatches with an England call up in the past. Last season for instance, the seamer finished with an average of 20.61, showing there is room for improvement on his performances so far.
Lancashire skipper Steven Croft is losing a key voice in the dressing room with Anderson’s removal, but he has shown his ability to lead the side brilliantly in the opening weeks of the season. On the opening day against Hampshire, Croft’s sensational run out of James Vince was backed up by a brilliant catch to dismiss Ryan McLaren. It’s the kind of performance that lifts the whole dressing room and the positivity Croft is portraying is infectious. An average of 40.33 shows he’s pulling his weight with the bat as well. Croft is integral to everything Lancashire do and will want to lead his side to another victory.
James Weighell and Barry McCarthy have been included in the Durham squad after impressive displays for the second XI. Both are contenders to replace Stokes in the lineup. The in-form pairing of Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings will continue to open the batting.
Durham squad: Paul Collingwood (c), Scott Borthwick, Jack Burnham, Brydon Carse, Keaton Jennings, Barry McCarthy, Gordon Muchall, Graham Onions, Ryan Pringle, Michael Richardson (wk), Chris Rushworth, Mark Stoneman, James Weighell
Lancashire have a choice to make over Anderson’s replacement, with Tom Bailey and Saqib Mahmood named in the squad. Bailey is likely to get the nod having been in every squad, but Anderson himself has lauded the talent of Mahmood. Neil Wagner will take over as the leader of the attack, with Simon Kerrigan looking to build on the five-wicket haul that spun Lancashire to victory against Hampshire.
Lancashire squad: Steven Croft (c), Tom Bailey, Karl Brown, Alex Davies (wk), Haseeb Hameed, Kyle Jarvis, Simon Kerrigan, Liam Livingstone, Saqib Mahmood, Alviro Petersen, Luke Procter, Neil Wagner.
Date: 15th – 18th May 2016
Ground: Emirates Riverside, Chester-le-Street
Umpires: Steve Gale & Richard Kettleborough
Odds (SkyBet): Durham 10/11, Lancashire 10/11