Match Preview: Lancashire v Middlesex
Lancashire are setting the pace in Group A and are ideally placed to reach the knockouts
Royal London Cup, Group A
Tuesday August 3, 2021, 11am
Emirates Old Trafford
Mark Chilton and co have won three of their opening four games, including against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl yesterday in a rain-affected game, and sit top of the table with seven points from four games.
The unbeaten Red Rose won by 51 runs on Duckworth Lewis Stern against the 2018 champions, who they bowled out for just 162 inside 44 overs and were on a commanding 115-2 in the 26th when rain arrived.
Tom Bailey, George Balderson both returned career best three-wicket hauls before Luke Wells anchored the chase with an unbeaten 66 - also his best score in this format.
Now it is back home to Emirates Old Trafford to face Middlesex, who claimed their first win defending 303 in a 41-over game against Worcestershire on Sunday.
Should Lancashire hold onto top spot at the end of the group phase, they would advance directly to a home semi-final on Tuesday August 17 ahead of the final at Trent Bridge two days later.
A second or third-placed finish in the group would see them play an effective quarter-final on Saturday August 14.
Three of Lancashire’s remaining four games will be played at Emirates Old Trafford, so it may be that spin and pace off bowling comes more into the reckoning, as we have seen so often in Vitality Blast cricket in the past.
While unavailability makes options limited for Mark Chilton and stand-in captain Tom Bailey, it is likely that spin options such as Steven Croft, Luke Wells and Rob Jones are used to supplement frontline left-armer Jack Morley.
A Red Rose favourite returns in the form of Middlesex coach Stuart Law.
The Australian lit up Emirates Old Trafford in the early 2000s with his exhilarating style of batting.
He and his current side are having a tough season across all formats, winning only seven times across 28 games.
They will end the summer in the bottom group of the LV= Insurance County Championship and missed out on quarter-final qualification in the Vitality Blast.
Law and co did, however, claim a morale boosting RL50 victory over Worcestershire at New Road on Sunday when they racked up 302-5 in 41 overs and defended it to win by 13 runs.
That was their first win in four Group A games, added to two defeats and a No Result.
It is somewhat of a surprise that they are not up there challenging in this competition given the first-team regulars and senior figures available to them.
Sam Robson, Max Holden, Stevie Eskinazi, captain Peter Handscomb, Martin Andersson, James Harris and Ethan Bamber were all in Sunday’s team against Worcester when opener Eskinazi starred with a superb 130.
Australian batsman Handscomb has been their overseas player and skipper throughout the summer.
Mike Atherton’s son, the fledgling batsman Josh de Caires, has played two Championship games and a T20 for Middlesex this summer. But he has not featured in the RL50 to date.
Lancashire have won the last three one-day meetings with Middlesex, dating back to 2012, including a Royal London quarter-final at Lord’s in 2019 when Saqib Mahmood starred with four wickets in a feverish defence of a 305 target.
In a mid-May fixture at the Home of Cricket, Keaton Jennings opened and made 96, Steven Croft added 68 and captain Dane Vilas 70 not out in 304-4 having been inserted.
In reply, Mahmood opened the bowling with Jimmy Anderson and claimed three of the first five wickets to fall as Middlesex crumbled to 24-5 in front of the Sky TV cameras.
In that new ball burst, Mahmood removed New Zealand stalwart Ross Taylor as one of his victims to perhaps catch the eye of the wider cricketing public for the first time.
Bowling all-rounder James Harris hit a brilliant 117 and shared a recovery partnership of 197 for the sixth wicket with John Simpson (74) to reignite the contest.
But both fell in the 41st over, Harris stumped off Matthew Parkinson and Simpson run out, as the score fell to 221-7.
From there, Middlesex had too much to do and fell to 284 all out in the penultimate over, giving Lancashire a semi-final meeting with Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl a couple of days later.
Unfortunately, it was a fixture they went on to lose.
What they said:
George Balderson starred in his third career List A appearance with three wickets at Hampshire on Sunday and has his eyes on the prize.
The young all-rounder has helped the Red Rose into pole position to qualify for the knockouts, thus keeping them on course for the Trent Bridge final on August 19.
The Red Rose are searching for their first major piece of List A silverware since the Sunday League in 1999.
“This competition is a great chance to win a trophy and for players to step up, so it’s a massive thing for us,” said the former England Under 19s captain.
“It’s been a good mix of players stepping up and putting in performances, which shows the depth in the squad we have at the moment.”
With thanks to match sponsors, David Lloyd Clubs.