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Lancashire’s flaws masked by rain

May 29, 2010

A familiar sight: Old Trafford with the covers on -

An hour after eleven on the opening day of the Roses clash at Headingley, the players remain cooped up inside. It’s raining again.

With heavy rain expected in Yorkshire for the rest of today and much of Tuesday (the fourth and final day), it is highly likely the match will provide Lancashire’s fourth rain-assisted draw out of the first seven games of the County Championship season. They currently sit 3rd, behind Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, but remain the only team unbeaten in Division One – the card reads won 3 drawn 3.

Yet the three matches which were affected by rain were all heading for a conclusion, one in Lancashire’s favour (Kent at home), and two likely heading for a loss (Somseset and Essex, also at home). It raining in Manchester is no surprise, but often over the last few years it has cost Lancashire rather than aiding them. The points system in the championship means that a win and two losses would have yielded more points than three draws, but of course they would have lost ground on rivals who would have benefited.

That Lancashire lie only 9 points off top is a credit to a team that has yet to score 400 in an innings. The bowlers have carried the team, along with the odd individual batting performance from Ashwell Prince, Luke Sutton, or Steven Croft, who hit half-centuries to bolster the middle order in six of his first seven championship innings this season. Saj Mahmood has also hit runs from 9 or 10.

A less familiar sight: Tom Smith on the right end of the scorecard

But too often the top order has failed – Tom Smith has yet to score more than 7, a lack of form he has taken into the one-day game, where Lancashire’s batting weaknesses have been deservedly punished. Smith has opened the batting as he did for some of last season; an odd level of responsibility to give someone who is a competent pace bowler but has shown little sign of being able to open the batting at county level. He can hit classy shots but is often out caught behind or trapped lbw before he gets the chance to. There are clear flaws that need work.

The bowling has been excellent though; fasts Glen Chapple and Saj Mahmood have started fantastically, with Smith, Kyle Hogg and Daren Powell backing up the odd cameo performance from James Anderson. The loss of spinner Gary Keedy before the season started has not caused too many problems, with 19-year-old Simon Kerrigan making an excellent start to his career with an important 5-for in the opening game against Warwickshire and 6-for in dismantling the Essex tail after almost 40 overs of toil last week.

Lancashire’s batting problems are nothing new, of course, but it is frustrating that they lose momentum and squander opportunities created after a number of overs in the field. Even the three wins have been bowler-led; that odd innings of substance are a rarity is a problem in itself when other teams regularly total impressive numbers around the country. Of course, if the bowlers do well enough the batsmen posting average scores does not much matter, but it would be nice to see the pressure taken off the bowlers every so often as the club fights for a first title in more than 70 years.

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