As the County Championship reaches its decisive stages, all eyes will be on Old Trafford this week with all to play for at opposite ends of the Division One table.
Middlesex head north on top of the pile, but just a point ahead of reigning champions Yorkshire – who are chasing a third successive Division One title.
As it has turned out, Jason Gillespie’s side will be looking across the Pennines to their old Roses rivals, hoping Lancashire can do them a favour and do the business against Middlesex.
While helping out the old enemy would stick in the throat of Lancashire supporters, the Red Rose have their own reasons to clinch a victory – as they bid to avoid a third straight relegation from the top flight. Lancashire are now nine games without a win and will be desperate to arrest their alarming slump.
With Nottinghamshire already relegated, Lancashire are just five points clear of eighth-placed Hampshire but have this game in hand on the south coast side. Durham, who also have a game in hand on Hampshire, are just a point further ahead, while Warwickshire are also in the relegation dogfight.
Ashley Giles’ side know that 20 points from their two remaining fixtures will be enough to keep them up. Since winning the Division One title in 2011, Lancashire have twice been relegated from the top flight and twice fought their way back from Division Two. Another relegation would be a huge blow to Lancashire and Giles’ aspirations – making this Middlesex clash a crucial encounter.
Middlesex, seeking a first title since 1993, are unbeaten in the Championship this season and secured a magnificent victory over Nottinghamshire last week – chasing down 235 on the final day to take the win.
They will travel up from Lord’s knowing that victory would leave their fate in their own hands – with a potentially-decisive head-to-head clash against Yorkshire as their final fixture.
Lancashire’s chances have been boosted by the availability of Jos Buttler following the conclusion of England’s series against Pakistan. Buttler will take the gloves and provide much-needed quality to the Lancashire batting line-up.
Lancashire need their big players to stand up and be counted this week, and with the pressure on, Ashley Giles will look to the experienced head of Alviro Petersen to lead the way with the bat. The South African has been impressive this season and is the third highest runs scorer in Division One – just two runs ahead of teammate Haseeb Hameed. With three centuries to his name, and an average of 51.40, Petersen is pivotal to Lancashire’s chances against Middlesex.
Old Trafford generally offers a bit for the spinners, and Middlesex’s 6ft 5in off-spinner Ollie Rayner will look to make the most of it. He has been in sensational form this campaign, with 49 wickets on the board and has taken an astonishing 23 wickets in his last three matches. Rayner is being mentioned in passing with a spot on the plane to Bangladesh with England and will want to press his claims against Lancashire.
Giles is likely to go with an opening partnership of 19-year-old Hameed and 20-year-old Rob Jones for the third game running. Buttler will slot straight back into the starting line-up while young seamer Toby Lester is pushing for inclusion once again.
Lancashire Squad: Steven Croft (c), Tom Bailey, Jos Buttler (wicket keeper), Jordan Clark, Haseeb Hameed, Kyle Jarvis, Rob Jones, Simon Kerrigan, Toby Lester, Arron Lilley, Liam Livingstone, Alviro Petersen, Luke Procter.
Middlesex are likely to be unchanged, with Steven Finn set to feature again after appearing in their victory over Nottinghamshire. Skipper James Franklin was pivotal in guiding them to that win and will lead his side once more.
Middlesex Squad: James Franklin (c), Nick Compton, Stephen Eskinazi, Steven Finn, Nick Gubbins, Ryan Higgins, Dawid Malan, Tim Murtagh, Ravi Patel, Harry Podmore, Ollie Rayner, Sam Robson, Toby Roland-Jones, John Simpson (wicketkeeper)
Weather and Conditions:
The game is set to be fine and sunny for the most part, with the odd brief shower thrown in for good measure. Old Trafford will be hard and flat, but aids spinners as the match wears on.
Date: 12th – 15th September
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 11/8, Middlesex 4/7