Somerset travel to Old Trafford this week for their third match in this year’s County Championship. Buoyed by victory over the “White Rose” Somerset will be looking to inflict similar damage to the Red Rose over the bank holiday weekend.
Lancashire have made a mediocre start to this year’s campaign, losing their opening two games to Notts and Essex but they showed signs of the form that saw them finish an almost unnoticed 2nd last season dominating a draw against Surrey who they forced to follow on. Lancashire find themselves second bottom with 18 points from their three games.
Somerset’s four-pronged seam attack has rightly been receiving much praise in the early part of the season, but Lancashire could argue that they have an equally potent attack, especially as Jimmy Anderson is expected to make one of his rare appearances for his home county in this game.
Adding Graham Onions who moved from Durham over the winter, to two of last season’s underrated performers – Tom Bailey and Jordan Clark – and top it off with Aussie Joe Mennie and you can see why Lancashire believe they have the bowling depth to sustain a title challenge this year.
Ironically this bowling depth will give them a real selection dilemma on Friday morning especially when you add in all-rounder Steven Croft and leggie Matt Parkinson who coach Glen Chapple is keen to play.
Lancashire’s batting has been their weakness so far this term. Even allowing for the early season bowler friendly conditions scores of 158, 73, 144 and 288 points to issues with their upper order. The audition for England places between openers Keaton Jennings (who has also made the transition from Durham), Haseeb Hameed and Lancashire captain Liam Livingstone has hardly been full of runs in the opening games. In 5 innings their aggregate totals are 79, 35 and 125 respectively with the top score being Livingstone’s 48 against Surrey last week.
The Surrey game saw Lancashire rack up 439-9 declared, completely bucking the trend of the first two games, but this was on an exceptionally benign pitch for this early in the season. At one point Lancs were 128 for 5 before Croft, Clark, Bailey and Mennie saw them to full batting points all scoring over 60.
The one major fitness doubt for Lancashire is diminutive opener/keeper Alex Davies who injured a thumb in the game against Surrey and couldn’t keep in the second innings.
A word about the venue – I’m not a fan! Old Trafford has lost much of its soul as a result of its redevelopment and for Championship games it is a cavernous empty stadium with little character. The pitch was turned 90 degrees in 2011 which to me makes everything a little incongruous and the two huge red blotches of the new pavilion and “The Point” – Lancashire’s conferencing and hospitality venue – plus the addition of a hotel have taken the charm away from a venerable ground.
The pitches have, in recent times, matched the surrounds being pretty lifeless and not conducive to entertaining cricket. Lancashire’s title success in 2011 was achieved in the year that Old Trafford was unavailable due to its redevelopment. The majority of home games were hosted at Aigburth in south Liverpool which is both a far lovelier ground but also has a pitch which typically produces better four day cricket.
But, sadly Somerset have to go to Manchester rather than Liverpool. They will be hoping to do better than their last two visits to Old Trafford. In September 2016 they were frustrated by a very bland pitch and the loss of the final day to rain. Somerset 553 (Abell 135, Trego 154) & Lancs 422 for 9. Last year Lancashire were victorious on the final afternoon despite being bowled out for 109 in their first innings and conceding a lead of 169. Liam Livingstone’s 168 led the hosts to 463 and Somerset crumbled to 130 all out from 78 for 2. In the reverse fixture Somerset won by 7 wickets in mid-September to set up the final game drama against Middlesex. Lancashire’s victory handed the title to Essex.
For the first time this season, Captain Tom will have to decide whether to contest the toss or not. I’m wondering, if the forecasted good weather in Manchester arrives, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lancashire prepare another bland one, hope to bat first and put 4th innings pressure on Somerset. Their concern will be the prospect of Jack Leach and perhaps Dom Bess getting use of that surface later in the game. I suspect there have been some interesting discussions with the Old Trafford groundsmen this week!
Whatever the conditions you would hope that Somerset have the bowling weapons to put Lancashire’s top order under pressure and then exert control if necessary on the lower order. Tom Abell’s bowling on Monday afternoon may be a key to selection giving Somerset a fourth seam option and allowing them to play at least one spinner, and perhaps both.
On the injury front this game will come too soon for Jamie Overton who isn’t playing in the seconds this week while Ed Byrom’s fitness is still unknown. Jack Leach is expected to have fully recovered from the ailment that kept him out last week while it is unlikely Josh Davey will be risked.
This is a game where I think the first day, and especially first session, will be pivotal. If Lancashire do bat first Somerset will be hopeful of blowing away the Lancashire top order, if they don’t it might be a long hard slog.
Finally, if Shiv Chanderpaul plays in this game (he sustained a groin injury last time out) it will be one of the few times Marcus isn’t the oldest player in the game. Chanderpaul was born in August 1974, 16 months before Tres.