MATCH PREVIEW: Lancashire Lightning v Worcestershire Rapids
Lancashire v Worcestershire, Vitality Blast, North Group
Thursday July 5, 2018
Emirates Old Trafford, 6.30pm.
The Lightning versus the Rapids. It’s Blast off!
Lancashire’s quest for a second T20 crown begins against an emerging white ball side, who will be confident having reached the semi-finals in each of their last two Royal London one-day Cup campaigns.
Liam Livingstone makes his captaincy debut in this format and returns to county action having been with the England Lions on one-day duty for the last fortnight alongside Matthew Parkinson, who the skipper believes will be key to their hopes.
Since winning the Blast in 2015, Livingstone’s breakthrough summer in the first team, Lancashire have failed to make it out of the group stage.
But, with James Faulkner back as overseas for the first year a new two-year contract alongside fellow Australian Joe Mennie, hopes are high of success, despite Jos Buttler being available for much of the Blast.
While seamer Mennie is in line for his Red Rose T20 debut having recovered from a bout of concussion, Faulkner makes a welcome return to Red Rose colours having been warming up in the second team recently.
Another paceman Saqib Mahmood will have to wait for his first first-team appearance of 2018. He had the first half of his summer wrecked by injury and has unfortunately suffered a recurrence of a recent side injury. He has been ordered to rest for the next four weeks.
Worcestershire will have one-time Lancashire T20 overseas batsman Martin Guptill as one of their overseas players. The powerful New Zealander will line up alongside experienced Australian batsman Callum Ferguson, who had a particularly good RL50.
Unfortunately for the Rapids, they will be without club captain and key all-rounder Joe Leach for the rest of the season having suffered a stress fracture in his back last month. Ferguson and leg-spinning all-rounder have both captained in his absence.
Worcestershire finished second-bottom in the North last year with only three wins from 14.
The Rapids are one of only two counties never to have reached Finals Day alongside Derbyshire.
Former Yorkshire batsman Kevin Sharp replaced Steve Rhodes as head coach, stepping up from his role as batting coach.
Sharp was Joe Root’s first coach when he arrived at Headingley in his early teens.
Batsman Joe Clarke is one to keep an eye on, with him having represented the England Lions at home and abroad since 2015.
The 21-year-old from Shrewsbury was Worcester’s leading Blast run-scorer last year with 381 runs from 13 matches, including a best of 124 not out against Durham at New Road last June. Clarke opened the batting and hammered 12 fours and eight sixes in 53 balls.
The Lightning won the penultimate match of last year’s group stage at Emirates Old Trafford by seven wickets on the back of a strong bowling performance.
Invited to bat, the Rapids posted only 127-8 as Junaid Khan and Arron Lilley struck twice apiece, with Lilley’s fellow spinners Matt Parkinson and Stephen Parry bowling miserly spells.
In reply, Jos Buttler’s composed unbeaten 52 off 40 balls anchored the chase. Liam Livingstone and Lilley added 36 and 33 respectively.
The win kept Lancashire’s chances of quarter-final qualification alive. Unfortunately, however, they fell short in the end.
WHAT THEY SAID:
James Faulkner is ready and raring to go ahead of his second spell with Lancashire.
The Australian has not played a competitive fixture since late January at the end of the Big Bash.
Having managed a knee injury over the last couple of years, he feels fit and refreshed ahead of this summer’s Blast.
“I haven’t played cricket for about five months, and it’s probably been a bit of a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I got flogged for a bit, about three or four years, on the road, and my body struggled.
“But the last 12 months, I’ve had some serious time to put the bat and ball down, hit the gym and get away from the game a bit. I feel like I’m in a good place, and it’s good to kick things off again here.
“The pain factor of my knee also affected me mentally as well as physically, not being able to perform at 100 percent or close to it. But I’m as good as I’ve been, and I’m really excited about the next 14 games, and hopefully we can play some finals cricket again.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity of winning some silverware here.”