The two sides promoted from Division Two last season meet at Old Trafford this week, having had contrasting fortunes at the start of the new season on their top-flight return.
Lancashire remain the only Division One side to have won twice this season and are just five points behind leaders Warwickshire, despite having played a game fewer than the Bears and most other top flight sides. In contrast, Surrey are winless thus far. Two defeats and three draws from their five fixtures have left the side struggling in the lower reaches of the table.
Ashley Giles’ Lancashire will be delighted to return to the green, green grass of home against Surrey, as they attempt to preserve their 100% record at Old Trafford this season. Having suffered their first defeat of the year at Durham last time out, it will offer Giles the chance to see how his side respond to disappointment.
In truth, they shouldn’t be feeling too sorry for themselves, as the Head Coach himself was keen to point out. A century in both innings from Durham’s Scott Borthwick was the defining contribution in the match, but Lancashire weren’t too far away from winning it. Set a victory target of 325 on the final day, the Red Rose batted doggedly but ultimately fell 73 runs short to hand Durham their first victory of the season.
James Anderson’s departure to join England clearly had an impact on Lancashire’s performance, though mainly in terms of economy rather than wickets. His replacement Tom Bailey took a five-fer in the first innings, but overall Lancashire will have been disappointed with the rate at which Durham were allowed to score. Giles will be looking for more control on home turf against Surrey.
Weather has played its part in Surrey’s below-par start to the season, contributing to those three draws, including last time out against Middlesex. Prior to that they suffered a bruising innings defeat to reigning champions Yorkshire, and have shown areas of weakness on their Division One return.
A glance at the stats show they’ve fared ok in both batting and bowling departments, but have lost out in key areas of the matches so far. There is a reliance, probably too much so, on the imperious Kumar Sangakkara with the bat. The Sri Lankan already has a century and four half-centuries to his name this season at an average of 60.55. And with the ball, Surrey have needed to offer more support to Ravi Rampaul, who has racked up 18 wickets in four matches as the leader of the attack.
Victory over Essex in their opening T20 Blast game of the season on Friday will give the team a little boost heading into this fixture, where they enter as underdogs to clinch a victory at Old Trafford.
Lancashire have placed faith in their younger players this season and have so far been rewarded handsomely, none more so than by Liam Livingstone who has made a brilliant start to the campaign. Having made his first class debut in the first game of the season, the right-hander already has one century and two half-centuries to his name at a mighty average of 80.66.
Lancashire have been a little reliant on him adding valuable runs from his position at number seven. But against Durham he showed another string his bow, picking up a wicket with his part-time leg spin and displaying a real ability to turn the ball. Livingstone has become a key part of this Lancashire side.
While Surrey can rely on Sangakkara to consistently score runs, he needs some support from the other end. Arun Harinath has made a solid start to the season, opening against the new ball and looks like a player who can form big partnerships with the Sri Lankan number three. Harinath has a 137 to his name this season and is averaging 42.55. He has shown an ability to get himself in and Surrey will be looking to the opener to convert good starts in to big scores more often.
It’s very unlikely Lancashire will make any changes to the side that lost in Durham. Bailey impressed on his return to the side and will again keep out the promising Saqib Mahmood. The batting order has performed well, though Lancashire will look for bigger scores from top-order dasher Karl Brown. Alex Davies will continue as wicket-keeper while Jos Buttler is away at the IPL.
Lancashire squad: tbc after Saturday’s T20 Blast fixture
Surrey are going to be without top wicket-taker Rampaul who sustained a hamstring injury against Middlesex. Stuart Meaker is included in the Championship squad for the first time this season and could take Rampaul’s place in the side. Rory Burns will again open the batting, while Jason Roy will be hoping to prove his four-day credentials in the middle order.
Surrey squad: Gareth Batty (c), James Burke, Rory Burns, Tom Curran, Steven Davies, Matthew Dunn, Ben Foakes (wk), Arun Harinath, Stuart Meaker, Mathew Pillans, Jason Roy, Kumar Sangakkara, Gary Wilson
Weather and Conditions
The game is set to be predominantly dry and will experience large spells of sunshine on the first two days, before clouding over on days three and four. Old Trafford will provide a good pitch for batting, but will offer early movement for the seamers and will aid spin as the match goes on.
Date: 22nd – 25th May 2016
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Umpires: Russell Evans & Tim Robinson
Odds: Lancashire 8/11, Surrey 11/10