PREVIEW: Lancashire vs Warwickshire
Lancashire return to County Championship action tomorrow against Warwickshire with a title up for grabs as the season heads into its final stretch.
Second in the table and 41 points behind leaders Essex, the Red Rose can still overhaul the Chelmsford side given one of their five remaining fixtures is against them at Emirates Old Trafford next month.
The Bears arrive in Manchester with an entirely different goal - to stay in Division One.
They have only won one of their nine matches so far, which came against defending champions Middlesex at Lord's at the start of the month.
Lancashire are bidding for their fourth win of the campaign having beaten Somerset, Middlesex and Hampshire at home this summer. The Somerset and Hampshire wins both came at Emirates Old Trafford.
This is Lancashire's first game since the rain-affected draw against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl at the start of the month.
The Bears have had a season to forget in red ball cricket, but they will be buoyed by their 190-run success at Lord's, which followed three draws and five defeats, and also their qualification for Saturday's NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day.
They are much changed from the side which hosted Lancashire in the floodlit pink ball draw at Edgbaston at the end of June.
Ian Bell has stepped down as captain, replaced by Jonathan Trott in the Championship, linchpin all-rounder Rikki Clarke has returned to Surrey, while highly-rated young batting duo Adam Hose and Dom Sibley have arrived from Somerset and Surrey respectively.
They are both likely to make their red ball debuts for Warwickshire, although they have been playing in the Blast.
That competition has been the most productive off the three this season, with them beating Surrey in Friday's quarter-final at the Oval when they chased a target of 205.
LAST TIME OUT
Both sides would have fancied their chances of a win in the landmark pink ball fixture, the first for these two sides in Championship cricket, but rain ruined the final day at Edgbaston at the end of June.
Having won the toss, Shiv Chanderpaul's unbeaten 117 led Lancashire to a score of 273 before the hosts responded with 321 thanks to opener Andy Umeed's 113. Jordan Clark took four wickets.
Alex Davies then hit a fine 79 to lead Lancashire to 178-4 in their second innings, a lead of 130, before the rain intervened.
WHAT THEY SAID
Lancashire captain Steven Croft, recently handed a testimonial by the club for 2018, left himself out of the last match at Hampshire.
"I hadn’t scored the runs I’d wanted to, and it was a tough call between me and maybe Has (Hameed)," he explained.
"Has is an opener, and he proved it was the right decision with the runs he got. He looked back to his old self, nice and patient. But the season’s not over, and I’m sure an opportunity will come round again."
Overseas all-rounder Ryan McLaren captained Lancashire at Hampshire following some superb form this season alongside fellow South African Dane Vilas. McLaren would likely lead the side again if Croft opts to stay on the sidelines.
"They’ve been brilliant additions to the squad, and not just on the field," said Croft. "They are two great blokes with so much experience, and the lads are learning from them. Hopefully they can help us along the way in the future."
Another man who is having an impressive campaign is former West Indies batsman Shiv Chanderpaul.
"Shiv brings that calmness and relaxed approach," said Croft. "His weight of runs is what you expect, and his influence has certainly rubbed off on Has and Al (Davies)."
And on Lancashire's position in the table, he added: "We’re definitely looking on the positive side and trying to win the league or finish as high as possible in it.
"It’s a nice place to be in, and certainly better then survival mode.
"The pressure’s off, and we can look to finish as high as we can.
"We were favourites in the first Essex game and in a good position in the Hampshire game. There have been a lot of pluses in the four-day stuff, and it’s great to see that we are second in the table with a lot of cricket to play."