It’s time to put the coloured clothing back in the drawer and pull on some whites as red-ball cricket returns across the country this week.
For Lancashire that means that the horrendous all-green Royal London One-Day Cup kit can be cast aside for another year following their elimination from the competition. Their opponents this week, Essex, do have a One-Day Cup eliminator match against Yorkshire next week to look forward to after they progressed from the South Group.
But before all that comes a County Championship clash between last season’s top two. Reigning champions Essex have already got the better of the Red Rose once this season, edging home in a closely-fought contest at Chelmsford.
The competitive and even nature of that match mirrored the matches between these two last season, which both ended in a draw – the second of which effectively sealed Essex the title and prevented Lancashire making a late push for the top spot.
So far this season the Division One table is remarkable tightly-packed. Just 22 points separate Nottinghamshire at the top of the standings from Hampshire down in seventh – with only Worcestershire appear a little cut adrift at the bottom.
Essex find themselves fourth, two places and just five points ahead of Lancashire. Both have played five matches in that early-season Championship block, with a run of three games coming up before another break for the T20 Blast.
Given how close all the sides are in the table, this small block of fixtures could go a long way to determining how these sides will fare this season. String together three positive results and you’ll find yourself battling at the top end, but a poor run will leave you looking anxiously over your shoulder at relegation worries.
It’s a quick turnaround for both these sides – Lancashire completed their One-Day Cup campaign on Tuesday while Essex were still facing the white ball on Wednesday.
Both sides have batsmen who found great form at the end of the limited-overs competition, with Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone posting four successive half-centuries and Essex’s Dan Lawrence and Ravi Bopara both hitting centuries in their final match.
Essex are also boosted by the return from England’s Test squad of Alastair Cook, who will face his opening partner at international level – Keaton Jennings.
This promises to be a very close match between two evenly-matched sides. The bookmakers can’t separate them and it could be the game of this Championship round.
Haseeb Hameed started the season in poor form and was dropped for the meeting with Somerset at Old Trafford before returning to bat at three against Nottinghamshire – only to make a duck. He wasn’t chosen for much of the One-Day Cup campaign, instead finding form in the second team before returning with a half-century against Leicestershire.
Lancashire will hope that his increased confidence can translate into better Championship form – where he has a season high score of 19 and an average of just 5.83.
As one of the most experienced heads in this Essex squad, Ravi Bopara is crucial to the team unit. His form this season didn’t quite take off in the difficult April Championship conditions, making just one half-century, but he’s had a terrific time in the One-Day Cup.
The 33-year-old has notched four half-centuries and that one hundred last time out, as well as chipping in with 11 wickets with his useful medium pacers.
There’s a first inclusion in the senior squad for seamer Liam Hurt, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul returns after sitting out the One-Day Cup matches.
Lancashire Squad: Liam Livingstone (c), Tom Bailey, Shiv Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies (wk), Haseeb Hameed, Liam Hurt, Keaton Jennings, Joe Mennie, Graham Onions, Matt Parkinson, Stephen Parry, Dane Vilas
Cook’s return strengthens a batting unit which is missing Nick Browne with his broken finger. Neil Wagner returns to face his former county in a strong pace attack alongside Jamie Porter and Sam Cook.
Essex Squad: Ryan Ten Doeschate (c), Ravi Bopara, Varun Chopra, Matt Coles, Alastair Cook, Sam Cook, Simon Harmer, Dan Lawrence, Michael Pepper, Jamie Porter, Neil Wagner, Tom Westley, Adam Wheater
Weather and Conditions
The weather is set fair for the four days and should promote strong batting conditions as well as provide assistance for the spinners. The outfield was lightning fast against Yorkshire on Tuesday, so Old Trafford gives value for your shots.
Date: June 9th – 12th 2018
Ground: Emirates Old Trafford
Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 10/11, Essex 10/11