Last week, a 24-hour period encapsulated the contrasting fortunes of Lancashire’s season.
Their Vitality Blast success on Thursday night guided them through to Finals Day and continued a T20 campaign which has been bright and strong right from the start of the competition.
It came 24 hours after a heartbreaking, agonising six-run defeat at the Oval against champions-elect Surrey which sent the Red Rose plummeting ever further towards the Division One trap door.
Six points adrift at the foot of the table – behind this week’s opponents Worcestershire – having played a game more than all other relegation candidates, only the most optimistic Lancashire supporter is not concerned about the prospect of second-flight cricket next season.
The Red Rose have won just one game all season, a meagre return for a side who finished second last year, with their batting so often the cause of their downfall. It was a much-improved effort at the Oval, coming so close to what would have been a magnificent chase.
But another defeat means that the T20 Finals Day is the shining light on a bleak season thus far.
It’s a similar story for Worcestershire, who themselves have September 15th scrawled on the calendar. The Rapids will be making their first appearance at the showpiece event but, like Lancashire, have a relegation battle on their minds.
They come into this clash however having breathed significant life into those hopes with a resounding victory against Yorkshire at Scarborough. Moeen Ali’s masterclass, notching 219 and claiming eight wickets in the match was the spark that carried the Pears to only their second win of the season and lifted them above Lancashire.
It’s a second consecutive trip to a Roses outground for Worcestershire as they swap the east coast for the west. Southport will be the venue for this crucial Championship clash.
Having played the extra game, and with this being their final home match of the season, it’s a must-win contest for Lancashire. Anything else and their chances of survival will tip into miracle-required territory.
If Lancashire are to survive, their big players are going to need to deliver. Jordan Clark’s impending move to Surrey at the end of the season has been well documented, but he’s a key element of Lancashire’s side in all formats. His efforts got them over the line against Kent in the T20, but he didn’t feature against the team he’s set to join in the Championship defeat last week. Clark brings balance to the side with bat and ball and, while he remains a Lancashire player, the Red Rose need him to step up to the plate.
Worcestershire have won only two matches in the Championship, one coming last week and the other in the reverse fixture against Lancashire. Key to both of those wins was Daryl Mitchell. The opener struck a century in both innings when these two sides last met and, although the headlines in the thumping victory over Yorkshire deservedly went to Moeen Ali, Mitchell’s 178 and his role in the 294-run partnership can’t be overlooked. He’s integral to Worcestershire’s hopes.
Keshav Maharaj joined Lancashire on Tuesday, the South Africa international adding to the abundance of spin options the Red Rose have on their books. It seems the club are intent on gathering as many spinners as possible. He joins Matt Parkinson and Stephen Parry as tweakers in this squad, but Lancashire’s batting has been their concern for much of the season. No new options are available in that regard, with the ailing Haseeb Hameed likely to get another shot at finding some semblance of form.
Lancashire Squad: Tom Bailey, Josh Bohannon, Shiv Chanderpaul, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies (wk), Haseeb Hameed, Rob Jones, Toby Lester, Keshav Maharaj, Graham Onions, Matthew Parkinson, Stephen Parry, Dane Vilas (c)
Moon’s absence due to his England Test involvement leaves a big hole in the Worcestershire ranks. His role as captain is filled by Brett D’Oliveira, while George Scrimshaw comes into the squad to add pace to the Pears’ seam attack.
Worcestershire Squad: Daryl Mitchell, Tom Fell, Joe Clarke, Alex Milton, Brett D’Oliveira (c), Ben Cox (wk), Ross Whiteley, Ed Barnard, Wayne Parnell, Josh Tongue, Dillon Pennington, Ben Twohig, George Scrimshaw
Weather and Conditions
You could have been forgiven for thinking summer was behind us but, it looks set to make something of a return on the Lancashire coast this week. It is forecast to be bright and warm with the only rain set to come on Saturday. But, if Southport plays to form, the game is unlikely to go that far. It’s a results pitch and wickets generally come in clusters.
Date: 29th August – 1st September 2018
Ground: Southport and Birkdale Cricket Club
Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 4/5, Worcestershire 1/1