When two teams out of eight get relegated, a couple of successive defeats to start the season are bound to make a side a little twitchy.
Lancashire have lost their opening two matches, at home to newly-promoted Nottinghamshire and away at reigning-champions Essex. There’s no cause for panic, but if it were to become three losses in succession this week against Surrey, that anxiety is likely to grow.
In their two matches, Lancashire have been undone by below-par batting displays, especially in their first innings. They bowled Essex out for a fairly-cheap 150 – only to be dismissed for 144 themselves. Ultimately the Red Rose made a mighty fist of their chase of 320, falling just 31 runs short despite a brilliant half-century from number nine Joe Mennie.
Heart will be taken from the performances of their bowling unit, all of whom have impressed at different stages of the opening games. In particular, Australian Mennie has hit the ground running as overseas signing and Lancashire will be confident about their bowling attack that may also be bolstered by James Anderson for the upcoming matches against Somerset and Nottinghamshire.
For Surrey it’s a case of so far, so good. Having not played in the opening round, they picked up a 131-run victory over Hampshire at the Oval. It’s a victory they were ultimately made to work hard for, Sam Northeast’s century delaying the victory that looked inevitable heading into day four.
Ollie Pope was the star of the show during that match, making a sensational 145 in the second innings to put Surrey in a dominant position. It was the perfect start then for new captain Rory Burns, who will hope to continue to justify Surrey’s position as potential title-contenders with another win this week.
This much-lauded Lancashire batting line-up is yet to fire and this week would be a good time to prove it’s as capable in practice as it appears on paper. That especially applies to opener Haseeb Hameed. His wretched run throughout last season removed him from England’s Test plans following his excellent 2016 and three Test appearances in India.
A strong pre-season this time around saw him enter the season with confidence, but scores of 3, 19, 8 and 1 in the two matches so far are not what he’s looking for. These April matches are nightmare conditions for batsmen but Hameed will want to notch a bigger total.
England’s incumbent Test opener Mark Stoneman returned to the Surrey ranks last week with the pressure on to retain his spot. Average tours of Australia and New Zealand, which featured four 50s and a high-score of 60 have left question marks over his place at the top of the order. He made just 4 and 24 in his two innings against Hampshire last week, so Stoneman will be looking for a better return at Old Trafford.
Saqib Mahmood returns to the Lancashire squad after a niggle kept him out of the opening two fixtures. He may add extra pace to the Red Rose bowling unit. Steven Croft offers a different batting option if Glen Chapple opts to make a change.
Lancashire Squad: Liam Livingstone (C), Tom Bailey, Shiv Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies, Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings, Saqib Mahmood, Joe Mennie, Graham Onions, Stephen Parry, Matt Parkinson, Dane Vilas
Ryan Patel and Stuart Meaker join the eleven that took to the field last week, with Michael Di Venuto likely to name an unchanged side for their trip north. Ben Foakes, who was an unused member of England’s Test party over the winter, started the new season well last week – with scores of 46 and 81 helping to push the keeper-batsman’s claim for a starting spot in the upcoming Pakistan series.
Surrey Squad: Rory Burns (C), Scott Borthwick, Rikki Clarke, Sam Curran, Jade Dernbach, Matt Dunn, Dean Elgar, Ben Foakes, Stuart Meaker, Ravi Patel, Ollie Pope, Mark Stoneman, Amar Virdi
Weather and Conditions
This will be a three-day match, with the opening day on Friday forecast for rain from dusk til dawn. As has been the case across the country, the pitch will likely favour bowling. The 12 wickets that fell in 90 minutes on the final day of the last match at Old Trafford will attest to that.
Date: 27th-30th April 2018
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 11/10, Surrey 8/11