Injury to Essex’s Alastair Cook has unfortunately removed the fascinating subplot of England’s all-time leading Test runs scorer facing England’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker, Lancashire’s James Anderson, in the opening round of the County Championship season.
This is a game, though, that shouldn’t be short of interest or talking points. Lancashire narrowly avoided relegation from Division One last season, after an alarming slump that left them teetering on the brink. Essex meanwhile were the only side promoted from Division Two, so this promises to be a close-fought encounter.
Lancashire head into the new season under fresh leadership. Ashley Giles’ decision to leave Old Trafford and head back to Warwickshire means club legend Glen Chapple has stepped up from Assistant Coach to be the main man.
The Red Rose also lost top batsman Alviro Petersen, while all-rounder Tom Smith has had to retire due to injury. Kolpak signings Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dane Vilas have bolstered the ranks, while Ryan McLaren has joined as overseas player.
Despite the upheaval over the winter, Chapple is confident in his squad while acknowledging how tight and competitive the eight-team Division One will be.
“I think we’ve strengthened with the players we’ve brought in, but also the players who got experience last year and did well,” Chapple said.
“There’s no guarantees that will continue but we’ve got plenty of potential. We have a lot of talent in the team and a lot of people who want to be international cricketers.
“The teams that were deemed to be a bit weaker last year have strengthened. Only one team came up, Essex, and they’ve strengthened their squad quite a lot. With one team less in the division it means there’s less scope for poor performances. I think that if you’re not competing at one end you’ll be looking over your shoulder.”
Essex have brought in New Zealander Neil Wagner, who was instrumental for Lancashire at the start of last season, as well as Hampshire’s Adam Wheater.
The Chelmsford club returned to Division One at the sixth time of asking, and it’s 25 years since they last lifted the County Championship crown.
Lancashire have history on their side, having only ever lost once at Chelmsford in the Championship, and are unbeaten against Essex since 1997. The Red Rose last won at Chelmsford in 2013, when they bowled Essex out for just 20.
Lancashire won three of their first five matches last season, and didn’t win any more after that. A huge reason for that was Neil Wagner’s Test call-up and the decision not to replace him.
This year he is in Essex’s ranks and Lancashire will be very aware of the threat he poses. The left-arm seamer offers pace and swing and can be a real weapon for Essex in early season conditions.
Overseas signings are always crucial, and in Ryan McLaren, Lancashire are hoping they have the pivotal all-rounder to boost their chances. McLaren was instrumental for Hampshire last season, scoring 832 runs and taking 32 wickets.
With the loss of runs with the departure of Petersen, and the retirement of all-rounder Smith, McLaren’s potential to deliver with bat and ball makes him a vital player. He will be keen to start well.
Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate leads a squad not lacking experience, with Ravi Bopara and Varun Chopra seasoned county performers. Wagner is set for his debut while Tom Westley will want to repeat the volume of runs he scored in Division Two last season.
Essex squad: Ryan ten Doeschate (c), Aaron Beard, Ravi Bopara, Nick Browne, Varun Chopra, Matt Dixon, Simon Harmer, Dan Lwarence, Jamie Porter, Callum Taylor, Neil Wagner, Tom Westley, Adam Wheater (wk)
Lancashire’s attack will be spearheaded by Anderson, with able support from Kyle Jarvis. Shiv Chanderpaul is set to make his second debut for Lancashire and Kolpak signing, keeper-batsman Dane Vilas, will take up a place in the batting order despite Alex Davies having the gloves. Stephen Parry, not Simon Kerrigan, provides the spin option.
Lancashire squad: Steven Croft (c), James Anderson, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Alex Davies, Haseeb Hameed, Kyle Jarvis, Toby Lester, Liam Livingstone, Ryan McLaren, Stephen Parry, Luke Procter, Dane Vilas
Weather and conditions
The weather is set to be fair for this one. A bit of cloud around on Friday could interest the bowlers, but that gives way to a bright, sunny weekend which should see this game last the four days. The pitch is likely to offer a little support for the seamers early on.
Date: 7th – 10th April 2017
Ground: The CloudFM County Ground, Chelmsford
Odds (SkyBet): Essex 1/1, Lancashire 4/5