Lancashire at Lord’s

Lancashire probably do not quite have everything to play for in these next two days against Middlesex at Lord’s, but they are not far from it. Coming into the match they sit 17 points behind Surrey and safety with a head-to-head match to close out the season next week. But for that match to matter they must stay in touch with Surrey this week and the more they can close the gap now the easier the task will be at Aigburth. Which makes it all the more disappointing that they conceded 446 in the first innings. That’s very much been the story of the season this year, but the match is not over yet. After 77 overs of their reply, Lancs are 236-3 at stumps on day two.

This sets things up all rather interestingly. Lancashire already have four bonus points from the match (three bowling and now one batting) and have almost exactly until lunch tomorrow to see what else they can get. Another two points should be on the cards and a third one (fourth overall) should be just about within reach. One hundred and fourteen runs in a session is certainly possible. But the match is not a guaranteed draw. Lancashire could still certainly lose it and there is even a (very) outside chance of winning. Meantime Surrey have a first innings lead over Notts, but only got five bonus points from that match. So how should Lancs approach things this morning?

My natural instinct is to play it safe. Lancs probably could get to a seventh bonus point tomorrow, but the risk is that they would find themselves 350-8 instead of 325-5 and in a position to lose the match rather than draw it. And there’s little use getting a seventh bonus point if it costs three points that would be earned in a draw. But there is one huge caveat: the second new ball. Twice in this match the new ball has wreaked havoc in the early morning. On day one Middlesex found themselves 39-3 after 11.2 overs with the new ball and on the second morning they went from 389-6 to 427-9 in 12.3 overs against a slightly older ball. Given the way Lancashire have batted this year, there is then every chance that a cautious approach may leave us 325-8 and in the worst of both worlds without both the extra point and the strong batting position.

So I would actually go against my instinct and advise the batsmen to play themselves in facing the three overs of the old ball and then try to get plenty off the new one. One of the advantages of the new ball is that it goes to the boundary easier and by all accounts the pitch is a road. There’s no need to go slogging, of course, but intelligent play and going for runs wherever possible should see Lancashire up past 350 and to a competitive total. Even if we are bowled out shortly thereafter (and even if we are seven or eight down there’s a decent chance the tail will put on a few) we will be within a hundred runs and still have another innings in which to bat. If the bowlers do their job it could yet be game on. More than anything else, however, Lancs must hope that Surrey do not beat Nottinghamshire as that would surely spell the end.

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