Lancashire have their third home match in four games this week as they play Essex at Old Trafford starting on Tuesday. Both teams got their first win of the season last week and both in fairly dramatic fashion, so both will be looking to continue their momentum.
Lancashire will have two enforced changes from the attack that managed to defend 154 at Colwyn Bay last week. Jimmy Anderson will return to England duty ahead of next week’s first Test against New Zealand and Simon Kerrigan will be with the England Lions as they play a New Zealand XI starting on the ninth. I expect Wayne White will return to the side after he made a good start to his Lancashire career against Worcestershire and Stephen Parry looks likely to replace Kerrigan. Although this is an obviously weaker attack, it is still one capable of taking wickets. The main spearheads of Glen Chapple and Kyle Hogg will still be present and White certainly poses an attacking threat. Those three will be backed up by Parry, who has generally been playing in the shorter forms, and Luke Procter whose bowling has been getting more incisive. Although it has been a bit difficult to take wickets at Old Trafford so far this season, I don’t think this attack will struggle any more than the others have done.
Lancashire’s top six should be unchanged; although they had a poor match at Colwyn Bay, they have been very good in the other two matches and twice put Lancashire into winning positions. Lancashire bat very deep, as Hogg showed at Colwyn Bay, but the upper and middle order have generally done well enough that this has not been needed. Ashwell Prince and Simon Katich in particular have been excellent. The only criticism that could be levelled is that they have not scored particularly quickly. Whilst there is no one who would prefer a quick 200 all out to a slow 450-7, it has hampered Lancashire’s ability to get batting bonus points and meant that when it has rained there has not been enough time left to force a result. Getting runs on the board is paramount, but if Lancashire can do it a little bit quicker in this match they will be better off than they have been.
Lancashire will be disappointed to see that Alastair Cook will be bolstering the Essex ranks. The visitors’ batting has been suspect at times this year, but having Cook at the top of the order will relieve a lot of the pressure on the middle order and Graham Napier has shown in each of their last two matches that they can recover from a pretty dire position. But at the same time that means that they have been in dire positions a lot and the Lancashire bowlers will be eying up the Essex middle order very keenly. There are a lot of single figure scores there and a lot of very quick collapses in the last couple of matches. The key for Lancashire will not only be to get into that position of strength, but to actually finish Essex off from there.
Lancashire may have to fight the weather again as well as Essex. The forecast for the first day is excellent; there is very little chance of rain and the temperature is supposed to get all the way up to 20°C. From there, however, there is a distinct chance of rain on the second and third days and it is supposed to get much colder as well. Lancashire’s best chance to win is probably to bat first, then try to score a bit quicker than they have done and get a good total on the board before spending the rest of the match trying to put the Essex batsmen under pressure. It is a tough ask, as it always is when overs are lost due to weather, and they have to get through Alastair Cook. But if they can get past Cook and Napier then the rest of Essex’s batting is flimsy enough that Lancs should have a very good chance to win even with the rain.
It’s very close, but I think Lancashire will win with a draw being the next most likely outcome. That’s not to rule out Essex who did well to bowl a solid Hampshire batting order out fairly cheaply last week, but much like when Lancashire played Kent I think a lot more will have to go Essex’s way for them to get into a winning position then it would for Lancs to do the same.