If it’s too early in the season to describe Lancashire’s draw against Surrey last week as a rot-stopper, then it at least prevented a rot setting in.
After two defeats from their first two matches, Lancashire needed to deliver a performance at Old Trafford and they did just that. It was a draw in which they were the side in the ascendancy throughout, aside from a sticky start.
Forcing Surrey to follow-on, and missing out on an improbable victory in a match reduced to just three days by the weather by just four wickets, will have given Glen Chapple’s side plenty of confidence to carry forward.
Indeed, the head coach was delighted with their efforts.
“It was a brilliant performance, after the first half hour I thought we played magnificent cricket, as good as you will see in this division,” Chapple said.
“Anyone who has watched that game from start to finish knows that the boys are playing well and are here to fight for everything they can get in this division. We’ve shown that we are a match for anybody.
“We can take a lot of confidence from it and move on. We’ve got to look to get points and it’s a very competitive division and we have to be focused on playing good cricket every day.”
If there is to be cause for concern for Lancashire it’s at the top of the order. In their one and only innings during the match, the Red Rose found themselves 23-3, with Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings missing out once again.
There are large question marks over the form of the opening pair. Those feeling generous will suggest that April conditions are almost impossible for those at the top of the innings, those not feeling quite so charitable will point out that neither has found significant form for over a year.
Somerset haven’t had that problem so far thanks to the blistering form of Australian opener Matt Renshaw. He has notched two centuries in as many games, including a destructive 86-ball hundred against Yorkshire last week.
As if smashing an 86-ball 💯 before lunch wasn't bold enough…
— County Championship (@CountyChamp) May 2, 2018
He has been a major factor in helping Somerset to two wins from two, only missing out on top spot in the fledgling table by the fact that Notts have played a game more.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for Somerset fans is that there have been a few star performers so far, with James Hildreth, Tom Abell and Steven Davies all making important contributions.
This week’s trip to Old Trafford will be their first examination away from the home comforts of Taunton, with both victories coming on home soil.
The star name inclusion in this match will be James Anderson, who is playing in his first of two Championship matches before the Test series against Pakistan. Quite how Chapple fits him into a bowling unit that have all performed strongly, remains to be seen.
Lancashire’s selection dilemma over Anderson only increases the importance of Jordan Clark. The all-rounder plays the pivotal role of balancing the side, offering valuable lower-order runs as well as a significant threat as the side’s fourth seamer.
Clark has made back-to-back half-centuries as well as chipping in with four wickets. If Lancashire opt to omit a batsman to get Anderson in, as well as maybe a spinner, Clark’s ability to contribute with bat and ball will be crucial in balancing the line-up.
The Somerset headlines have, understandably, gone to Renshaw. But Lewis Gregory has quietly gone about winning games for Somerset with the ball. He’s picked up 12 wickets from just 63 overs bowled so far in the Championship, at an impressive average of 14.58. Gregory has starred in a seam attack which includes England’s Craig Overton and has been decisive in the two victories thus far.
Anderson’s return gives Chapple a major headache. Tom Bailey made himself undroppable with 8-67 against Surrey, while Joe Mennie has contributed with bat and ball and Graham Onions has steadily picked up wickets. Lancashire also didn’t pick a spinner last time out, but may want to squeeze Matt Parkinson into the side this week.
Keeper Alex Davies injured a thumb against Surrey, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul suffered a tight groin, but both make the squad.
Lancashire Squad: Liam Livingstone (c), James Anderson, Tom Bailey, Shiv Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies (wk), Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings, Joe Mennie, Graham Onions, Stephen Parry, Matt Parkinson, Dane Vilas
England spinner Jack Leach has had little opportunity to press his claims for the Pakistan series after his Test debut against New Zealand. He was omitted last week but may get a chance with better weather forecast this week. Somerset continue to be without Jamie Overton, Josh Davey and Eddie Byrom and so Leach may prove to be the only change.
Somerset Squad: Tom Abell (c), George Bartlett, Dom Bess, Steve Davies (wk), Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Matt Renshaw, Marcus Trescothick, Paul van Meekeren and Roelof van der Merwe
Weather and Conditions
Both matches at Old Trafford so far have seen the first day completely washed out, but this week is set to be dry throughout, with temperatures in the low 20s on Sunday and Monday! The pitch is always good to bat on, while offering enough to both seamers and spinners who bowl with discipline.
Date: 4th – 7th May 2018
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 8/11, Somerset 11/10