Match Preview: Lancashire vs Middlesex
Lancashire's final match of the season at Emirates Old Trafford comes against Middlesex in the Specsavers County Championship
Lancashire are nearly there, but not quite. Promotion has been secured, but the Red Rose squad always wanted to do it in style. And that means winning the title.
A maximum of five points is all that is needed from the remaining two rounds for a side who could yet go the season unbeaten.
They have currently won seven and drawn five of their 12 games.
Stuart Law’s Middlesex are not mathematically out of the promotion race, but it would take something remarkable for them to be joining Lancashire in Division One in 2020.
They sit seventh in the table on 120 points, which is 27 behind Durham in third with only 48 more to play for. They simply have to win their last two games and hope.
Lancashire must make at least one change from last week’s Derbyshire win, with Glenn Maxwell having returned to Australia.
Steven Croft is the obvious like for like replacement for the all-rounder, although if it is decided more seam is required then Danny Lamb comes into contention.
Then it remains to be seen whether Glen Chapple and Dane Vilas opt to rotate their seamers, as they have regularly done throughout 2019.
Eoin Morgan, England’s limited overs captain, has not played a Championship match since the opening round of the summer when Middlesex were beaten by Lancashire at Lord’s.
It hasn’t been the season Middlesex were hoping for.
They reached the knockouts of both white ball competitions without going on.
They were knocked out by the Red Rose at quarter-final stage of the Royal London One-Day Cup and eliminated at the same stage in the Vitality Blast by Nottinghamshire a week and a half ago.
But they have rarely looked like achieving promotion.
County champions in 2016, it has been some fall from grace for a side who looked to have all bases covered, only to be relegated the summer after.
They have won only three of their 12 games so far. While they are not mathematically out of the promotion race with two rounds remaining, they have a mountain to climb. Even two victories may not be enough.
They have endured issues with both bat and ball this year.
A failure to bowl sides out cost them in the first half of the season, while batting failures have also hurt them.
Take last week’s defeat to Durham at Lord’s as an example. They bowled their visitors out for 147 in their first innings only to slip to 143 all out in reply.
They then had a second chance. Durham were bowled out for 191, meaning a victory target of 196. In the chase, they fell from 31-0 to 99-4 and then 151 all out.
Captain Dawid Malan (933 runs) and Ireland seamer Tim Murtagh (42 wickets) have been their standout performers.
They signed West Indian fast bowler Miguel Cummins as their short-term overseas for the final three games, and he claimed two wickets on debut against Durham.
Former Lancashire favourite Stuart Law is coming to the end of his first season as coach.
Tom Bailey and debutant Glenn Maxwell both claimed five-wicket hauls and Haseeb Hameed and Rob Jones both hit first-innings centuries as Lancashire won by seven wickets at Lord’s to get their season off to a flying start in early April
The Red Rose ended up chasing a target of only 39 on day four.
Jimmy Anderson added three wickets to Bailey’s five - the latter came on first change after an uncontested toss - as the hosts were bowled out for 265.
Hameed (117) and Jones (122) then underpinned Lancashire’s excellent response, with them racking up 427, a lead of 162.
In their second innings, Middlesex crumbled from 116-2 to 200 all out, with Australian overseas Maxwell returning career best figures of 5-40 with his off-spinners.
Lancashire picked up 22 points from their first game of the season and haven’t looked back.
WHAT THEY SAID
Coach Glen Chapple has hailed his players’ ability to perform under pressure after achieving promotion with two rounds remaining.
Promotion was always Lancashire’s chief target this year after the disappointment of relegation last year.
They started the summer as white hot favourites to claim one of the three places on offer. But the job still had to be done.
Chapple said: “You're under quite a lot of pressure when you’re favourites.
“And while we knew we had the squad that should achieve promotion, the lads have got to go out there and put the performances together.
“It puts you under pressure as a big club, but they've done well.
“I'm not going to change my opinion of last year. I thought we fought hard and played OK.
“It was a very tough league last year. But, at the end of the day, you are looking at trying to help the team develop over time. If you have to face a year like this, you have to do it.
“Now we’ve achieved promotion, we’re still looking to build and become the best side we can be.”
The message has been clear for some time now. Promotion is one thing, doing it in style is another. The title simply has to be claimed or some of the gloss will be taken off the campaign.
A maximum of five points are all that are required for the Division Two title, while they remain on course to go through the summer unbeaten in Championship cricket.
"I would like to win the league by as many points as we possibly can,” said Chapple. “But, more importantly, I would like our performances to reflect the work that has gone on during the previous 12 games.
"I don't think it takes anything to motivate them at this stage - you just have to try and make sure we are all focused on what we are trying to achieve.
“We know they are going to be motivated, but that doesn't mean there isn't a risk of complacency or being over confident.
“It’s important we get the detail right and go out and apply ourselves in the same way we have been doing.
"I always think it’s important to put in your best performance, and it does get more difficult when things have been achieved. But every time you go out there, you have to show what you’re about.”
Chapple has also hailed in-form captain Dane Vilas for his contributions. He topped 1,000 Championship runs for the season against Derbyshire and is averaging more than 100.
The former all-rounder added: "Dane has kept the lads fighting all year, shouldered all the pressure in all three formats and averaged over 100 with the bat. Enough said.
“Good players always have seasons when you think 'that's amazing', and Dane's normal seasons are excellent.
“If he does that again next season, it will be amazing. But he should remember this season as something to be proud of.”
The Club would like to thank matchday sponsors C&C Insurance for their continued support.
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