By Matt Somerford
Yorkshire will aim to end a 12-year hoodoo against cross-border rivals Lancashire when they clash in a key LV= County Championship match at Emirates Old Trafford from tomorrow.
With ramifications at both ends of the table for both sides, the Roses clash looms as pivotal as the season enters the final straight.
Yorkshire head into the final three games six points clear of nearest rivals Nottinghamshire, but must first attempt to end their Roses jinx.
The White Rose county have not beaten Lancashire in their past 15 four-day games - dating back to August 2002 - and they could hardly afford yet another slip if they are to lift the Division One trophy for the first time since 2001.
Lancashire will, however, be just as motivated with just a six-point gap over struggling champions Durham, who have a game in hand, in the relegation zone.
With Durham hosting Nottinghamshire at the Emirates Durham ICG this week, the possibility of significant movement in the title and relegation races looms large.
Ballance played a central role in helping Yorkshire make a fast start to the campaign and, with the possibility he could yet feature in the run-in, admits he will retain a keen interest in matter around the country.
“Since being away, I’ve followed it a lot,” he told Yorkshire’s official website.
“This game will be no different. I’m sure if the lads play like they have done over the last few months, they will put themselves in a good position to win the game.
“If we play like we have been doing in the championship for the last three games, get a few wins, I think we’ll win it.”
In the absence of their England players, Yorkshire have called up 16-year-old Matthew Fisher and fellow teenager Karl Carver to their 14-man squad.
Nottinghamshire have also turned to youth for their match at Durham with England Under-19s seamer Luke Wood drafted in.
Wood was a key part of the 5-0 series whitewash against South Africa Under-19s earlier this month and has impressed for Notts’ second XI this term.
“He’s got good control and swings the ball and offers us something completely different to what we already have,” team director Mick Newell said.
“He’ll travel to Durham with us and we’ll consider playing him if we think that the conditions are right.”
Gary Keedy, Brett Hutton and Sam Kelsall are also included in a 14-man squad and, with Yorkshire set to visit Trent Bridge next, Newell knows the importance of a positive result.
“Durham aren’t tearing up any trees in the championship but they’re not losing many games either,” said Newell.
“We have to try to get into a position to put them under pressure and to make sure that we get to the Yorkshire game in firm contention.”
Warwickshire can keep the pressure on the top two when they meet Middlesex at Lord’s.
The Bears are in good spirits after their limited-overs exploits and include 10 players in their 15-man squad who were involved in either the NatWest T20 Blast success or their Royal London Cup quarter-final win.
Middlesex welcome back England Test opener Sam Robson while James Harris has returned from a loan spell at Glamorgan.
Somerset will play their first match since it was announced that director of cricket Dave Nosworthy would leave the club at the end of the season.
Nosworthy is set to return to his native South Africa with his family after two seasons in charge at Taunton.
Somerset do still retain an outside hope in the title race – they sit fourth with a 35-point gap behind Yorkshire – and welcome winless Northamptonshire.
The visitors confirmed in midweek that Adam Rossington would remain at Wantage Road until the end of the season after extending his loan from Middlesex.
LV= County Championship facts
* Twelve of the last 15 Roses championship fixtures have been drawn. Lancashire have won the other three.
* Durham have won three and drawn one of their last four championship games against Nottinghamshire.
* Somerset have won four and drawn three of their last seven home championship matches against Northamptonshire.
* Warwickshire’s win at Edgbaston this season extended their unbeaten championship run against Middlesex to 16 matches (won seven, drawn nine).
* Three bowlers have taken more than 150 championship wickets since the start of the 2012 season: Steve Magoffin, Tim Murtagh and Jeetan Patel.
* Steven Patterson (82.3%) has the highest dot ball percentage in championship cricket this season, (500-plus balls bowled).