Lancashire came in to the 2017 County Championship season on a winless run of 11 games. Their first two matches of the new season has extended that streak to 13, but the two away draws at Essex and Surrey have brought plenty of positives and optimism.
That’s despite the fact that the Red Rose could have won both of those matches. In the opener at Chelmsford, Lancashire required eight Essex wickets on the final day to clinch victory, but failed to take them. At The Oval last week, they managed to force much-fancied Surrey to follow-on but were unable to kick on to launch a victory push.
But the performances of some of their individuals over the opening two matches are cause for real hope around Old Trafford. Alex Davies and Jordan Clark have both notched maiden first-class centuries, spinners Stephen Parry and Simon Kerrigan both performed well at The Oval, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul underlined his continued class – even at 42 – to become the oldest first-class centurion since Graham Gooch back in 1996.
His mammoth knock of 182, including a 243-run seventh-wicket stand with Jordan Clark, helped Lancashire fight back from their precarious position of 67-5.
So there’s reason to be cheerful, despite the fact that final-day centuries from Dan Lawrence of Essex, and Kumar Sangakkara and Scott Borthwick of Surrey, have ultimately denied them victories.
Somerset, who lost out on their first Championship title so agonisingly on the last day of the 2016 season, lost their opening match this time around as they succumbed to Alastair Cook and Essex.
The hosts were on top at Taunton having bowled Essex out for just 129 in the first innings, but Cook’s century helped his side chase down 255 to claim the win.
Such is the nature of Division One this season, with two out of eight relegated, Somerset will be very keen to avoid a second successive defeat to kick off the campaign.
We are also set for a rare and intriguing battle between two of the greats of English cricket, as James Anderson and Marcus Trescothick do battle at Old Trafford.
Having come into the season as the most talked-about batsman in county cricket and, in the eyes of many, the man in possession of the England openers spot, the pressure has been on 20-year-old Haseeb Hameed. So far, it’s not gone as well as he would surely have liked. He batted nicely in the first match at Chelmsford, but only made 47 & 45, before bagging a second-ball duck in his only innings against Surrey. With the man who is currently his main rival for an England shirt, Keaton Jennings, notching a century for Durham, Hameed will be keen to remind everyone of his quality.
Four Somerset batsmen amassed over 1000 runs last season, forming a crucial part of their title tilt. With one of them, Chris Rogers, having retired the onus falls even more on the other three and, in particular, James Hildreth. At 32, Hildreth has bags of experience and has been a consistent performer for Somerset across a number of years. It’s something of a bewilderment among county cricket followers that he has never received full England honours, but his value to his club has never been higher. Scores of 36 and 35 last week were a solid start, but Somerset need Hildreth to deliver big numbers.
Anderson returns to the Lancashire squad at the expense of Saqib Mahmood, and will slot straight back in, giving Glen Chapple a decision to make over who to leave out. He played two spinners at The Oval, but if he wants to revert to one spinner, a decision will have to be made between Simon Kerrigan and Stephen Parry. Luke Procter is likely to play as Steven Croft remains sidelined with an injury.
Lancashire squad: Liam Livingstone (c), James Anderson, Tom Bailey, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Alex Davies, Haseeb Hameed, Kyle Jarvis, Simon Kerrigan, Ryan McLaren, Stephen Parry, Luke Procter, Rob Jones, Dave Vilas
Somerset squad: Tom Abell (c), Marcus Trescothick, Dean Elgar, James Hildreth, Steve Davies (wk), Pete Trego, Lewis Gregory, Roelof van der Merwe, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Jack Leach, Tim Groeneveld, Josh Davey
Weather and conditions
The game is likely to begin under cloudy skies with the potential for rain on Friday. The weekend is set fair, with plenty of sunshine around, before a chance of rain again on Monday. Old Trafford usually provides a good surface for batting, with virtually no chance of the Somerset skipper electing to bowl first, but there is something there for the seamers who bend their backs.
Date: 21st – 24th April 2017
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Umpires: Rob Bailey & Michael Burns
Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 4/5, Somerset 1/1