When Leicestershire and Lancashire shook hands on 26th September, following a rain affected draw to close out the 2019 season, they were preparing to once again play in different divisions of the County Championship.
Lancashire had romped to the second division title, winning eight of their 14 matches and finishing 45 points clear of second placed Northants, while for the Foxes it was a familiar story in 2019 as they collected the wooden spoon for a fourth time in six seasons.
However, the rearranged 2020 county schedule means these two collide in the opening round of the Bob Willis Trophy and it will be played on a neutral venue. Concerns over Leicester’s local lockdown meant that the match, which was due to be a home game for the Foxes, is now a home game for Lancashire and, with Old Trafford hosting international cricket, Worcestershire have stepped up to hold this fixture at New Road.
Along with Roses rivals Yorkshire, Lancashire will start as one of the favourites to top the North division and give themselves a chance of making it to the final of this competition, which is set to take place at Lord’s.
Lancashire have played two warm up fixtures, the first of which saw Matt Lamb impress with the bat at Headingley, making 76. There were also runs for Josh Bohannon and Keaton Jennings. This week at Chester Broughton Hall, Derbyshire were the opponents and one of the positives was the return to the crease of Stephen Croft who made 37.
Leicestershire will be keen to build on some of the positives from a disappointing 2019 campaign. One area of weakness last summer was the batting, with the Foxes collecting the lowest number of batting bonus points in Division Two. Paul Nixon will be encouraged by contributions of 97 from Harry Dearden and 63 from Hasan Azad this week.
Even at the age of 37, Graham Onions remains absolutely crucial to Lancashire’s bowling attack. The former England international took 66 wickets with the red ball last season, at an average of 19.57.
With Saqib Mahmood in the international bubble in Southampton, Lancashire will be hoping Onions can hit the heights of last summer.
After a golden breakthrough summer in 2019, the challenge for Hassan Azad will be to back that up in this shortened season. Azad’s total of 1,189 runs was topped only by Dominic Sibley, and Leicestershire looked to have unearthed a gem of an opening batsman.
Lancashire supporters will remember Azad’s stubbornness when he dug out a vital 39 from 156 balls to earn the Foxes a draw at Liverpool last season.
Lancashire squad: TBA
Leicestershire squad: Hassan Azad, Ben Slater, Harry Dearden, Colin Ackermann (C), George Rhodes, Harry Swindells (wk), Tom Taylor, Ben Mike, Callum Parkinson, Arron Lilley, Dieter Klein, Will Davis, Chris Wright
Weather and Conditions
The first two days of this match look set to be played in very pleasant conditions, which makes it such a shame no spectators will be present. 23C is forecast for Worcester on Saturday. There is a possibility of some interruption on Monday, with showers forecast, but Tuesday looks like it should be dry.
Date: 1st-4th August
Venue: Blackfinch New Road
Tournament winner odds (SkyBet): Lancashire: 10-1; Leicestershire: 33-1