Vitality County Championship Match Preview: Essex v Lancashire

Vitality County Championship Match Preview: Essex v Lancashire

A North v South contest awaits us in round three of the Vitality County Championship as Essex host Lancashire at fortress Chelmsford. Essex are fresh off a closely fought draw with Kent at Chelmsford, falling just three wickets short of forcing the win and surprisingly, they are still the only team with a win in the first two rounds, across both divisions. Meanwhile, the visitors from the north played out another rain-affected draw at the Utilita Bowl against Hampshire. This round will see a huge sigh of relief from most bowlers as the Dukes ball returns to use.

The hosts have named their squad, with only one change due to Paul Walter’s toe injury; Ben Allison coming into the 13. New signings Dean Elgar and Jordan Cox both made hundreds against Kent, with Matt Critchley making it a trio of centurions with a career-best 151. Cox demonstrated his white ball prowess with a scintillating 89-ball hundred to set an imposing fourth-innings target for his old county. The main concern in the Essex batting will be the form of opener Feroze Khushi, who has struggled for runs in the more batter-friendly conditions on offer. Michael Pepper took the gloves from the injured Adam Rossington and retains them for this game after contributing some handy runs. Sam Cook is likely to come back into the side after the injury, with Aaron Beard being the most likely to make way.

The visitors also look to be unchanged for this fixture, and like most batting line-ups in the country, they are full of runs and confidence. Captain Keaton Jennings scored another ‘daddy’ hundred with 172, with George Bell contributing an excellent 99, running himself out going for the single which would have brought up his maiden first-class hundred. Josh Bohannon has also made a solid start to the season, but overseas batter Tom Bruce, who made his debut against Hampshire in the previous game, was out first ball in Lancashire’s only innings of the game, so the only way is up for him. Australian legend Nathan Lyon will be a huge threat with the ball on a ground where Simon Harmer has run roughshod over many an opposition batting lineup. Additionally, in Tom Bailey and Will Williams, they possess a handy yet underrated new ball pairing who may prove a handful.

This should be a hard-fought contest as Lancashire are a tough team to beat, having lost only once in red-ball cricket since the start of the 2023 season. The teams are evenly matched, especially in the batting department, but Essex should be slight favourites, with the return of Sam Cook giving them the edge in the seam bowling department. For once, Simon Harmer will be playing a game at Chelmsford where he is probably not considered the best spinner on display, and the man the Aussies affectionally call ‘Garry’ should be a huge threat, potentially bringing England’s Tom Hartley back into consideration as well.

Key Players

Sam Cook and Jamie Porter are among the best new ball pairings in the country, the absence of Sam Cook perhaps being crucial in not being able to force the win against Kent. The experiment with the Kookaburra ball for four rounds of the County Championship has divided opinion, with one win produced in the first two rounds of games. However, the weather was also an important factor in a significant proportion of those turning into draws. Still, it is not just to prepare the current England players for overseas tours, but to identify future England bowlers who have the skills to perform at the international level. Sam Cook was often dismissed as a good county-level bowler who lacked the skillset for the next level, but he has made important people in the selection group at the ECB sit up and take notice.

In this modern age, it is not often that a county can attract a bowler with over 500 test crickets to play red-ball cricket. Nathan Lyon‘s signing caused controversy in some quarters as he pushed out Tom Hartley as Lancashire’s first-choice spinner. Still, the long-term impact of his stint, now down to seven matches from the originally planned full season, on the orders of Cricket Australia, has the potential to put Hartley’s development on a huge upward curve by being able to work with someone like Lyon. The pitches at Chelmsford have, in recent times, given reasonable assistance to the spinners, so expect him to be a handful for the Essex batters in this game.

Team news:

Essex squad: Tom Westley (c), Ben Allison, Aaron Beard, Sam Cook, Jordan Cox, Matt Critchley, Dean Elgar, Simon Harmer, Feroze Khushi, Michael Pepper, Jamie Porter, Shane Snater, Noah Thain.

Lancashire squad: Keaton Jennings (c), Tom Aspinwall, Tom Bailey, George Balderson, George Bell, Jack Blatherwick, Josh Bohannon, Tom Bruce, Tom Hartley, Matthew Hurst, George Lavelle, Nathan Lyon, Luke Wells, Will Williams.

Weather and conditions:

Day one will likely be rain-affected (shock horror I know), but days two and three look dry. Fielders will need hand warmers with maximum temperatures expected of 11°C and 12°C over the two days. Day four also offers the prospect of rain, but there should be enough time in this game to force a result, especially now the bowlers will have the Dukes ball back in their hands.  

Date: 19th – 22nd April 2024

Time: 11am

Ground: Cloud County Ground, Chelmsford

Odds (Sky Bet):  Essex 8/11;  Lancashire 11/10


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