Old Trafford offers the enticing prospect, over the next four days, of a contest between the current County Champions and the (oh-so-close) runners-up.
Warwickshire are not finding the defence of their title easy. They will know that it seldom is. In the last twenty years, only Sussex, Durham and Yorkshire have won back-to-back titles. Warwickshire didn’t manage it after they won in 2004 and 2012; and Lancashire suffered the ultimate indignity of following their 2011 title with relegation the next season.
Lancashire have the added incentive that they will want to avenge the humiliation inflicted on them at Lord’s in the 2021 Bob Willis Trophy Final. By the light of intermittent autumnal sunshine, Warwickshire defeated the Red Rose county by an innings and 199 runs.
So far this season, Lancashire have made a good start, winning two and drawing one of their three matches. Warwickshire have had a win, a draw and a loss. The home side come into this match on the back of an even draw with Hampshire whereas the Bears are still licking their wounds after an innings defeat at the hands of Somerset.
Lancashire look to have a powerful array of batters and bowlers. Josh Bohannon, rumoured to be on the brink of England selection, is one of three top order men averaging over 50. James Anderson, Saqib Mahmood and Hasan Ali are a seam trio that other counties must envy. And then there is leg-spinner Matt Parkinson whose wicket tally is already in double figures.
Warwickshire’s batting has been inconsistent this season. The team has regularly needed Matt Lamb and Michael Burgess in the middle order to rescue them from poor starts. As for the bowling, where on earth would they be without Oliver Hannon-Dalby? The lofty Yorkshireman has taken 40% of the wickets to fall, at an average of 17.
Overall, whereas last year’s win was labelled as a team effort, so far this season, players such as Rob Yates, captain Will Rhodes and Henry Brookes have barely contributed. Add to that the less than impressive debut of Australian overseas signing Nathan McAndrew (0-100 off 25 overs) and it is clear that the Bears, whilst still a force to be reckoned with, have some problems to solve.
With three out of the four days forecast to be rain-free, let us hope that there is time enough for a clear-cut result.
Phil Salt has made a good start to his Lancashire career following his move from Sussex. He played no red ball cricket last year so he now has the opportunity to show what he can do in the longer format. Can he balance his exciting ball-striking with the need to play long, match-winning innings?
There is a similar challenge for the man that Phil Salt has replaced. Alex Davies has been slotted in as Dom Sibley’s opening partner for Warwickshire. He is the hare to Sibley’s tortoise. They batted the Bears to a ten wicket victory against Essex. But, that stand aside, they have not so far built the hoped-for strong foundations at the start of the innings. On his return to Old Trafford maybe this is the opportunity for Davies to play a really big innings.
Lancashire will be hoping to make the most of their potential England recruits – the like of James Anderson, Bohannon and Parkinson – whilst they still have them.
Lancashire squad: tbc
Warwickshire will hope to have Liam Norwell back in action after he suffered concussion and was replaced part way through the Essex game. Chris Woakes is not due to make his first appearance of the season until next week. Sadly, there is news that Olly Stone, seeking to get back to fitness, managed only seven balls in a second team game this week before retiring with yet another injury.
Warwickshire squad: tbc
Weather and Conditions
The forecast is for temperatures in the mid-teens, with the possibility of some rain on Friday. Note to Warwickshire captain Will Rhodes who put Somerset into bat at Taunton and lost by an innings – Old Trafford is definitely a bat-first pitch.
Date: 5-8 May 2022
Ground: Old TraffordOdds (SkyBet): Lancashire 8/13; Warwickshire 6/5