Lancashire have played a quarter of their Championship matches this season and although it is still certainly early there are some areas of concern. Although our record (one win, two draws, one loss) is not really dire on the face of it, both draws were losing draws. We were saved by bad light against Warwickshire (admittedly after putting up a good fight) and by rain against Sussex. The bowling has been decent so far; the problem has very much been the batting. The extent to which we have struggled with the bat is highlighted by a glance at the Division One table; we have just one batting point from four matches. That by itself has actually cost us a place; our record is better than that of Nottinghamshire, but they have managed ten batting points which is enough for them to sit in sixth whilst we are in seventh.
Paul Horton has batted well at the top of the order, but then the entire middle order has consistently struggled and the fact that we scored enough runs to beat Northamptonshire was down largely to the efforts of Jos Buttler and Tom Smith down the order. Luis Reece still has promise, but he is yet to do in the first division what he did in the second last year. Andrea Agathangelou was dropped after the first three matches, but at least against Sussex Karl Brown and Steven Croft did not fare any better. Possibly most worrying is that Ashwell Prince has done very little to follow up his century in the opening match. Even before the season started it was clear that we were going to be relying on him to stabilise an inexperienced batting order and our struggles are directly tied to his struggles.
There isn’t an easy fix to this. It is reasonable to expect that a batsman of the potential of Reece will find some form as the season goes on and the same will likely be true of Prince. Brown and Croft have only had one innings and so might improve, but at the same time there is a reason they did not play at the start of the season. The only real active step Glen Chapple and Mike Watkinson can take right now is to try to find an overseas batsman for the remainder of the season. Simon Katich did an excellent job last year in that role; right now we really need someone who can do that again. There are unfortunately no obvious options and the fact that we are five weeks into the season with no overseas signing suggests that most of the less-obvious ones are not interested either. So it looks like we will be spending most or all of the summer hoping our current batsmen remember how to bat. Our bowling is good enough and there is enough promise in the batsmen that this isn’t a disaster, but I worry it will mean a pretty nervous (not to mention frustrating) summer in the bottom half of the table.
There is some good news ahead of tomorrow’s match against Middlesex, however: Kyle Hogg has recovered from the injury that kept him out of the first four matches of the season. Although Jimmy Anderson is unavailable after playing against Scotland this weekend, it does mean a return to something close to our first choice attack against a Middlesex side whose batting has almost been as frail as ours. If we can bowl first we have a good chance to bowl them out cheaply and then we might be able to ease some of the pressure on our own middle order. Fingers crossed…
After a week off in round two of the County Championship, Lancashire are back in action this week with another home match, this time against Kent. Although there were quite a few positives to be taken from the draw against Worcestershire, Lancs could really do with a win this week. It is early yet, but the last thing we want is to have to make a late push to ensure promotion and I would much rather we get into a position of strength early on. Lancashire did win the last meeting between the two sides, back in 2010.
James Anderson returns to Lancashire’s side this week for the first of two matches allowed by the ECB this year. Not only is it good news for Lancashire that he is being allowed more time than last year, it is probably good news for Anderson as well who will have more time to find his rhythm ahead of the Test summer. Lancashire named a squad of 13 with Anderson simply added to an otherwise unchanged squad from the last match. After Wayne White had a good start to his Lancs career, my guess is that Anderson’s inclusion in the playing XI will probably come at the expense of Kyle Hogg. Given that our batting was much stronger than our bowling against Worcs, however, I would prefer him to replace Steven Croft as an extra bowler. We already had Glen Chapple coming in at nine against Worcs, so there is plenty of batting depth. That’s not to say that Croft really did anything wrong, but I think the balance of the side will be better with the extra bowling option, especially as Kent put up a total of 619 runs for only twelve wickets in their only match (admittedly against Leicestershire). Otherwise, I would name an unchanged side.
Hopefully the Old Trafford pitch has a bit more in it for the seamers this time and hopefully the weather stays away. Both were large factors in the draw two weeks ago and between them made sure there could be no positive result. Unfortunately, there is currently a moderate chance of rain on day one and decent chances over parts of the next three days, so it may be difficult once again to get a result. It’s also supposed to be generally cloudy and quite chilly, so all-in-all not great conditions.
The toss will probably be of some importance; I don’t know how how the pitch looks, but with day one looking the driest of the four the best option is probably to bat and try to put up a big total early. Lancs are certainly capable of this and getting Anderson a chance to bowl with Kent under some scoreboard pressure is probably the best way to win the match. But Kent do have a strong looking batting order, so there certainly are no guarantees. I think a draw is probably the most likely result; Lancashire certainly can win, but I think they will need to breaks with the weather and toss to go their way to do so. Kent should certainly not be written off, but I think Lancashire are the better side and Kent would need a lot to go their way to have a decent shot at victory.
It seems like it has been ages since there has been any Championship cricket. In fact it has only been a month, but a month of only white ball cricket at both the domestic and international level is a long time. Unfortunately it ended up a fairly uneventful week with all four first division matches finishing as draws and so far two of the three second division matches have also been drawn with Northants’ match against Glamorgan only through the second day.
There has been some movement in the tables, however, with Warwickshire getting enough bonus points to move into the top spot of Division One. The Bears have managed this with a match in hand against second-placed Nottinghamshire. Middlesex also picked up enough points to become the third side to 100 in the year, despite being bowled out for an Australia-esque 98 in their first innings. Whilst still outsiders for the title; they remain in the hunt. There was no movement at the bottom of the table with Worcestershire drawing with Durham and both sides remaining in the relegation zone. Division Two leaders Derbyshire did not play this week but Yorkshire, despite a brilliant 222* from Joe Root, did not have time to significantly close the gap. Their draw against Hampshire coupled with Kent also not playing this week was enough to keep Yorkshire in the promotion zone, though they are not secure there. Kent are only seven points behind having played one fewer match and both Hampshire and Northants (who are 336-5 after two days against Glamorgan) are also within a victory of going second. That should make for a very interesting battle over the last two months of the season.
For Lancashire it was another week of disappointment. There was some worry that the month long break may have broken the good form that they had started to show, but fortunately this proved not to be the case. Lancashire put up their highest score of the season with 485-7 against Surrey at Guildford including centuries from Paul Horton and Steven Croft, the latter an unbeaten 154. Lancs made a good start to the bowling as well, with Chapple hitting Rory Burns’ off stump with the first ball of the innings. But with Surrey on 49-2, Lancs ran into Kevin Pietersen. With a fairly flat pitch and small boundaries he hit an absolutely staggering 234* off only 190 deliveries. Whilst Lancashire have had some trouble finishing sides off this year, this time it was not something that can be put at the feet of the bowlers; Pietersen was simply in unbelievable form. It is still a bit troubling for Lancashire, however, that we have now been in very good positions in each of our last four matches and have only managed to win one of them. The weather has been a factor, but our bowling has been surprisingly flat and it has cost us a good chance to move up the table. We still have some good opportunities coming up, but there are now only six matches left in the season and we still sit sixth in the table (and have played more matches than every other team).
KP’s knock was, of course, the highlight of the week, but it was a good round overall for England players. Andrew Strauss scored exactly fifty of Middlesex’s 98 all out in the first innings (the only other double digit score was Gareth Berg’s 32) and 127 not out in the second. Certainly worrying form for the South Africans ahead of the first Test. Ian Bell also scored 57 for Warwickshire.
It rained. I could list the results of every match and give summaries, but there was not a single positive result in the country this week. Two matches, Surrey v Durham and Gloucestershire v Glamorgan, were abandoned without a ball bowled over four days. It’s very difficult to have 32 scheduled days of cricket with nothing of note happening, however.
In this round, Lancashire looked much improved. They had the benefit of facing a below-par Somerset attack, but it was still very nice to see a solid performance from the Red Rose. Had the rains stayed away a bit longer there was a good chance that they would have got full bonus points. As it was we only had time to get one bowling point, but a lovely 113 from Steven Croft saw us get full batting points. We’ve still not won a match, but we have shown that we can compete well and that will be important ahead of an important match against Notts next week.
Speaking of Notts, they once again had a difficult time with the bat, but a better one with the ball. Twenty-six batsmen took guard in their match against Worcs (the highest of any match this round) and none of them passed fifty.
Yorkshire are still looking off the boil, they had already conceded a large first innings lead to Kent before the rain came in that match. They have now drawn all of their matches and only really played well in one of them. The fact that Kent got ten points from the match (the most of any side this round) means that they stay on top of the second division.