Match Preview: Leicestershire vs Lancashire
The final match of 2019 begins tomorrow at the Fischer County Ground, with Lancashire looking to go unbeaten throughout the entire First-Class season
Lancashire’s primary goal was achieved last week, winning the Specsavers County Championship Division Two title.
Already promoted, the Red Rose went into their penultimate round clash with Middlesex at Emirates Old Trafford last week needing a maximum of five points to secure the title, something which was achieved on Monday’s first day.
They then went and beat Stuart Law’s side for good measure, battling back from conceding a first-innings lead.
Now, they will head to Grace Road searching for win number nine and bidding to end the season as the only county in the country - in either division - to go through 2019 unbeaten.
They would be only the seventh county across either division to go through a season unbeaten since the split to two divisions in 2000 and only the third in Division Two.
Yorkshire did it 2012 and were promoted, although were pipped to the title by Derbyshire. Warwickshire won the title in 2008. The Bears also went through 2005 unbeaten when they won Division One, something achieved by Durham (2009), Middlesex (2016) and Essex (2017) as they all won the top flight crown.
Leicestershire currently sit bottom of Division Two having only won once from 13 games, losing six and drawing six. They haven’t won since the opening week of the season when they beat Sussex at Hove at the start of April.
Glen Chapple and Dane Vilas may opt to rest and rotate their seamers, or they may even opt to look at some of their talented youngsters who have yet to make their Championship bow. Georges Balderson and Lavelle spring to mind.
It has been somewhat of a chastening season for captain Paul Horton and company after such a promising start with a win against promotion contenders Sussex at Hove (April 5-8).
Lancashire and Leicestershire drew at Liverpool in early June, with the Red Rose dominating a rain-affected clash, only for the Foxes to impressively bat out the final day to ensure a stalemate.
A team with many Lancashire links, not least captain Paul Horton, who won the County Championship with his home county in 2011 and seamer Gavin Griffiths and spinner Arron Lilley, who won the Vitality Blast in a Lightning shirt in 2015. Ex-captain Tom Smith is also on their coaching staff.
Leicestershire were beaten by 291 runs by Glamorgan at Cardiff last week.
In Pakistan-born Hassan Azad, they have one of the form batsmen in county cricket at present. Horton’s opening partner, the 25-year-old has scored 1,097 runs.
He is one of only five batsmen to have reached that mark in either division, with Warwickshire’s Dom Sibley leading the way on 1,324 runs. If you were picking a composite Championship team of the year, those two would be the leading contenders to open the batting.
Horton has posted 714 runs and has had a solid year, while experienced pair Mark Cosgrove and Colin Ackermann have both topped 600.
Seamer Chris Wright is their leading wicket-taker with 45, while the Foxes, like Lancashire, are finishing the season without an overseas player duo to Muhammad Abbas’s departure back to Pakistan.
In early June at Liverpool’s Aigburth ground, with the ICC Cricket World Cup now in full swing at the international venues around the country, Lancashire racked up 449 after Leicestershire elected to bowl first.
Liam Livingstone led the way with 114, while Josh Bohannon’s unbeaten 98 meant he missed out on a maiden first-century, something he would make up for later in the summer.
After a full first day, rain came along and hampered the home side’s bid for another victory to continue their excellent start to the four-day campaign.
Richard Gleeson claimed four wickets to bowl the Foxes out for 288, while the other wickets were equally shared between Tom Bailey, Graham Onions and Livingstone.
But Leicester, forced to follow-on, only started their second innings four overs before close on day three, reaching 5-1. Horton led the way with 49 in over three hours, while Azad, coming in at four behind two nightwatchmen, made 39 in just short of three hours.
Lancashire only struck four times on day four and had to settle for 13 points.
WHAT THEY SAID
Lancashire have celebrated their success in Division Two this season. Now they are looking ahead to achieving bigger and better things in Division One in 2020.
Red Rose coach Glen Chapple admitted he was relieved to see his side achieve promotion in a tough league which has seen the likes of Middlesex and Sussex miss out on promotion, both counties who have won Division One since the split to two divisions in 2000.
“Every time Lancashire have been in Division Two, we’ve managed to get out of it,” said the 2011 Championship-winning captain.
“But the distance by which we’ve managed to achieve that is a big plus.
“It should stand us in good stead for next year, which will obviously be a massive challenge for us.
“Given the level of cricket we’ve played this year and the commitment and the ambition of the boys, we should go in (to Division One) with confidence.
“We’ll quickly start looking forward at how we can compete with the best teams in Division One. That’s ultimately where we need to be.
“We can look forward to playing good cricket next year.”
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