MATCH PREVIEW: Lancashire v Somerset
It is a crucial month in the Championship title race, in which Lancashire are right in the thick of.
The Red Rose side are third in Division One after eight games, five points behind Hampshire in second place and 21 behind leaders Surrey. It is a wide open race when you consider the two teams directly below Lancashire, Essex and Yorkshire on 96 points apiece, both have a game in hand on the leading trio.
Lancashire, who will celebrate Steven Croft’s 200th first-class appearance, head into match number nine on the back of a high-scoring draw against Gloucestershire at Bristol late last month, a fixture in which the visitors held sway only to see the hosts hold on with a degree of comfort.
Somerset head to Southport deep in relegation trouble. They are second bottom having lost five and won two of seven games so far, 20 points adrift of third bottom Northamptonshire.
Lancashire, who will field seamer Will Williams as a domestic player after the New Zealander signed a long-term contract at Emirates Old Trafford earlier this week, have won their last two Championship fixtures at Southport.
That was Middlesex in 2017 and Worcestershire in 2018.
Jason Kerr, the Lancashire-born coach at Taunton, and his side are having a disappointing season in red ball cricket.
They head into this fixture following back-to-back home Championship defeats against the top two sides in the division, Surrey and Hampshire, dating back to late May.
While the majority of counties across both divisions have been dealing with a plethora of draws and good batting pitches, Somerset are yet to draw in 2022.
After losing their first three games, they beat champions Warwickshire at Taunton and then Gloucestershire at Bristol.
Australian duo Matt Renshaw, the left-handed batter, and Peter Siddle, the one-time Lancashire seamer, have both represented Somerset as overseas players this summer.
Renshaw is due to return home at the end of August for domestic duty, but the Cidermen have signed Imam Ul Haq to finish off the campaign in September.
Captain and England Lions man Tom Abell is their leading run-scorer with 497 from seven appearances, including two hundreds. But he is unavailable for this match, along with Tom Banton, due to Lions duty.
All-rounder Lewis Gregory is a potential replacement to lead the side.
Opener Renshaw has also had a solid campaign with 371 runs from five games.
Seamers Craig Overton (26) and Siddle (24) lead the way in terms of wickets.
First-innings runs have been an issue for Somerset. On four occasions, they have failed to pass 220 in their first innings, including three below 200.
Opposing player to watch
Somerset will have England left-arm spinner Jack Leach available for this fixture following recent Test Match duties against New Zealand and then India.
Leach claimed 14 wickets in four matches, including a career best 10-wicket haul - five in each innings - in a victory over New Zealand at Headingley last month.
The 31-year-old is 18 wickets short of 400 in his first-class career.
If Southport continues to be useful for spinners, as it has been in the past, Leach will be a real threat.
Lancashire beat Somerset by 10 wickets inside three days at Taunton last September (12-14) to keep their Championship title hopes alive heading into the final week against Hampshire at Liverpool.
Luke Wells hit a superb 103 from number three - his first Lancashire century having moved from Sussex - to underpin a first-innings 373 all out, achieved during the early stages of day two in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Josh Bohannon, Steven Croft and Tom Bailey all contributed half-centuries.
In reply, Somerset were skittled for just 90 during the second afternoon, with seamer Jack Blatherwick claiming a pacy 4-28 from 10 overs in only his second Lancashire Championship appearance.
Somerset fared much better second time around, but it was merely delaying the inevitable following their first-innings collapse.
They had reached the end of day two at 226-4, though struggled again on day three, losing their last six wickets for 81 to fall to 314 all out.
Opener Tom Lammonby made 100, though he was one of three wickets to standout Wells, who excelled with his leg-spinners (3-8 in seven overs). Two of them came in one over.
It left just a target of 32, which was knocked off by openers George Balderson and Alex Davies in six overs, ensuring a 23-point haul.
What they said:
Steven Croft is relishing a huge week in Lancashire’s season and in his career.
Croft will play his 200th match before taking part in his seventh T20 Blast Finals Day on Saturday. But, as ever with Croft, it is not about him, it is the team which comes first.
“It’s a massive week for us,” he said. “We’ve ticked half of it off by extending our T20 season.
“But a positive result at Southport is going to put us right up there in the table and give us some great momentum going into the back end of the season.
“There’s still a lot to play for. I feel like there’s going to be some result games on result pitches, and it’s very exciting and all to play for still.”
Steven Croft has played 199 first-class matches, starting with a debut against Oxford University at the Parks in early 2005.
He has played 191 of those for Lancashire and eight for Auckland (2008/9).