Match Preview: Lancashire vs Leicestershire
The opening day of the 2020 First-Class season comes tomorrow at Blackfinch New Road for the start of the Bob Willis Trophy
Here we go. After a trio of two-day friendlies, including an intra-squad friendly, the competition proper begins with the Bob Willis Trophy and the first of five group games.
Lancashire and Leicestershire are familiar foes having played each other twice in last season’s County Championship Division Two.
In fact, the Foxes were the only side who the Red Rose did not beat on the way to a landslide title-winning campaign and promotion.
This behind-closed-doors match is being played at Blackfinch New Road, Worcester, owing to a combination of challenges presented by the city of Leicester’s coronavirus-enforced lockdown and the use of Emirates Old Trafford as a bio-secure international venue.
This is the first of three Lancashire home fixtures, the other two being at Emirates Old Trafford and Liverpool.
Lancashire will be without Saqib Mahmood after his selection in England’s One-Day International squad for the ongoing Ireland series in Southampton.
Richard Gleeson and Liam Livingstone were named as reserves for that series and, as a result, are also unavailable to begin the season with their county.
Leicestershire finished bottom of the pile in 2019, winning only one of their 14 games.
That win actually came in their first game of the campaign, a seven-wicket victory over pre-season promotion favourites Sussex at Hove, so they are nearly 16 months without a four-day win to their name.
But, as Lancashire found out last year, they are by no means pushovers, with the Foxes securing a pair of draws against them.
Ex-Lancashire Championship winner Paul Horton remains part of their squad, but he has handed over the four-day captaincy to South African batsman Colin Ackermann.
They could also include Gavin Griffiths, Arron Lilley, Callum Parkinson and Harry Dearden, all players with Red Rose links.
They also recruited all-rounder George Rhodes from Worcestershire in the off-season.
These two sides played out weather affected draws at Liverpool and Grace Road last year, the latter coming in the final week of the 2019 season when twins Matthew and Callum Parkinson famously dismissed each other lbw in the first innings.
A horrible week weather wise across the country ruined any chance of victory.
Leicestershire were bowled out for 155 in the first innings, with Richard Gleeson taking a fabulous 6-43 - three of his wickets bowled.
But, in reply, Lancashire could only manage a lead of 15 as they were bowled out for 170. Steven Croft’s 44 was the feature innings, although Championship debutant Liam Hurt added 38 down the order to recover the visitors from 94-7.
In Leicester’s second innings, they solidly advanced to 191-3 to wrap up the summer. Highly-rated opener Hassan Azad finished 83 not out, and Lancashire will have to be wary of his capabilities again this weekend.
WHAT THEY SAID
Dane Vilas wants a rapid start from his Lancashire side at the home of Worcestershire this weekend.
Lancashire are using New Road as a home away from home to begin their Bob Willis Trophy North Group campaign with a meeting with Leicestershire.
It is the first of five North Group game, with only top place in the six-team pool having any chance of advancing to the early October final.
The two best placed winners from the three groups will advance to the final, meaning there is little room for manoeuvre. If you are slow out of the blocks over the next week or two, it could be effectively season over.
But confident captain Vilas does not expect that to be a problem for the Red Rose for a couple of reasons. One, the quality of their performances in four-day cricket last season. Two, the quality of their preparation over the last couple of months.
Vilas said: “Everybody was raring to go, and it was a shame we lost that momentum (from last year) after such a good pre-season.
“But we’ve been fortunate that Lancs as a club have looked after us really well, and we are desperate to get going again.
“We started training a lot earlier than most counties, so we’ve got a nice run up to it. Everybody looks like they’re in good form - hitting the ball well and bowling nicely. We are confident. Hopefully we can have another good season like we did last year.
“We played them twice and they were the only side we didn’t beat. It just shows you have to be up for every game. They are a good outfit.
“I think the way the ECB have done this competition is fantastic. It’s a great opportunity to play some competitive cricket - five games and then a final, potentially at Lord’s.
“There would be no better incentive than a final at Lord’s, and we are desperate to win the group.
“But we know it’s going to be a tough group. We need to make sure we get off to a good start because it’s only five games.”