Match Preview: Somerset v Lancashire
Lancashire are in must win territory.
LV= Insurance County Championship
Sunday September 12 - Wednesday 15, 2021, 10.30am
The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton
Heading to the West Country for the penultimate round of fixtures, the Red Rose are second bottom in the Division One table on 31.5 points, seven behind Hampshire and Yorkshire in joint second and 17.5 behind leaders Nottinghamshire.
With the top four teams playing each other - Nottinghamshire at Hampshire and Yorkshire at home to Warwickshire - it means Dane Vilas and co have to prevail against bottom side Somerset, who have suffered back-to-back innings defeats over the last fortnight.
Of course, if Lancashire don’t manage to overhaul Notts at the top of the table and win the County Championship, another prize is on offer given who finishes second in the table qualifies for the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s at the end of the month.
Lancashire have started Division One with a draw at home to Warwickshire and, most recently, a defeat against Notts at Trent Bridge.
Set 444 to win, they were bowled out for 341 deep into the evening session on Thursday’s fourth day.
Somerset were beaten inside two days by Yorkshire at Scarborough earlier this week.
Liam Livingstone has departed today for the UAE to join up with Rajasthan Royals for the conclusion of the 2021 Indian Premier League, so will miss Lancashire's final two matches.
Fast bowler Saqib Mahmood will also miss out following the side injury he sustained in the first innings at Trent Bridge.
Seam bowling all-rounder Luke Wood is closing in on full fitness following a side injury. He was bowling in practice during the Notts game “at 90 percent” according to captain Dane Vilas.
Somerset have endured a torrid start to the season-ending Division One campaign.
Beaten by an innings at the hands of Notts at Taunton at the start of the month, they suffered the same fate against Yorkshire at Scarborough on Monday.
That game, an innings and 33-run success for the hosts, was wrapped up in only two days.
Their batting has been a particular issue.
In the last two Championship games, they haven’t reached 200 yet in four innings, while their highest individual score was fast bowler Marchant de Lange’s 36 in the second innings against Notts. He batted at 10 in that game and 11 against Yorkshire.
Captained by Tom Abell, they have employed de Lange and Pakistan Test batsman Azhar Ali as their overseas players.
At the end of this game, they will turn their attentions to Vitality Blast Finals Day on Saturday. Unfortunately they are there in Lancashire’s place having won the quarter-final between the two at Taunton late last month.
Victory in this Championship fixture would be revenge of sorts for the Red Rose.
Somerset had qualified for Division One by finishing top of Group Two ahead of Hampshire in the competition’s initial conference phase, winning four of their 10 games.
The last time these two sides met in Championship cricket, it was nothing short of remarkable.
Towards the end of the 2018 Division One campaign, at Taunton, the pair played out a low-scoring tie on a tricky, spin-friendly pitch.
Chasing 78 on the second day, Somerset slipped to 37-6 and later lost their last two wickets on 77, with South African left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj claiming 7-37 for Lancashire, including the last two wickets - Dom Bess stumped and Jack Leach caught at deep mid-wicket.
It was the first Championship match to end in a tie for 15 years - Warwickshire and Essex at Edgbaston in 2003 the last before that.
The game started with Lancashire bowled out for 99, including 20 from opener Alex Davies and 5-28 from left-arm spinner Leach.
In reply, Somerset, who had earlier been asked to field first, made 192 with Lewis Gregory’s middle order 64 their best score. Maharaj claimed 4-65 from 19 overs, while Graham Onions added 3-40 from 12.
Lancashire closed day one on 7-2 in their second innings, but Steven Croft made 51 on day two and captain Liam Livingstone 39 as Lancashire posted 170, setting that 78 target. Leach finished with 7-74.
Maharaj was clearly the hero in defence with his seven-for (match figures of 11-102), but seamer Onions was brilliant as well.
He removed Marcus Trescothick and Azhar Ali to reduce Somerset to 5-2 before striking again later and also bowling a maiden over to Jamie Overton immediately before Leach holed out to leave both sides with 11 points.
Unfortunately, it later transpired that it wasn’t enough to keep Lancashire in Division One.
What they said
Dane Vilas accepts Lancashire will now have to “do things the hard way”. But that does not mean Championship glory can’t sill be achieved.
“We go down to Somerset with both teams in a position where they need to win. I’m sure there will be a result wicket,” said the captain.
“We know we have to put a better performance in (than Notts). Hopefully we can come out on the right side of the result. Then, going into the last week, you never know - anything can happen.”
Vilas had no complains about the Notts result, saying: “They outperformed us in all facets.”
He just wants his players to start this week better than they did at Trent Bridge, with Notts posting 272 on day one having been invited to bat first.
“It was a bit disappointing the way we started,” continued Vilas. “It would have been nice having put them in to take a couple more early wickets to set things up.
“There was also no reason in the first innings why we couldn’t have got closer to their score. There were a couple of soft dismissals from our side.”
One major positive from the Notts game was the performance of young all-rounder George Balderson, who claimed three wickets in almost 41 overs of seam across the two innings and hit a superb 77 from number three in the second innings.
“Losing Saqib and only having three bowlers, George had spent a lot of time in the field and he had to bowl a lot overs,” said Vilas.
“So for him to come in and show his strength and stamina, to get us into a position where we had a chance going into the last day was incredible.
“It’s great to see him come through like that.”