Trio target top spot
Lancashire, Somerset and Warwickshire all have the opportunity to overhaul Division One leaders Durham in this week’s round of LV= County Championship fixtures.
The north-east county slumped to a damaging defeat against struggling Hampshire at the Emirates Durham ICG last week and must now hope their title rivals suffer similar struggles in their respective home matches.
Fourth-placed Warwickshire, who have played two games fewer than Durham, are not in action until Thursday, when they welcome Hampshire to Edgbaston. Hampshire, who shocked Durham last week, have named an unchanged squad.
Lancashire and Somerset will begin their matches tomorrow, with the Red Rose - currently eight points off top spot - taking on Worcestershire at Blackpool and Marcus Trescothick’s men - a further six points back in third - welcoming last year’s champions Nottinghamshire to Taunton.
West Indies paceman Kemar Roach is expected to make his Worcestershire debut after he was signed as a replacement for Saeed Ajmal.
However, Lancashire head coach Peter Moores told his club’s official website: “It doesn't make too much difference whether it's Ajmal or Kemar Roach, should he play. A lot of what we've done throughout the season has been about us. It's all about us doing things right over the four days."
Moores refuses to underestimate the midlands county, who recorded victory over Sussex last week to boost their survival hopes.
He continued: “They've gained some momentum from getting promoted last year. That gets a group together because they've known how to win.
“They had a really tough start. They got beat six in six. But they picked up during the Twenty20s, and we expect it to be a tough game.
“Looking on paper, you could say that we've got a good run-in. But whoever you're playing against, if you play good cricket, you've got a great chance of winning games providing it doesn't rain. All those sides will be wanting the same thing - just to get out and play some cricket.”
Lancashire have named a 13-man squad, with Farveez Maharoof available for four-day duty once again following his return from Sri Lanka.
Notts’ Darren Bravo will make his championship debut, batting at number three with Karl Turner and England Lion Alex Hales opening. Graeme White, Luke Fletcher and Charlie Shreck will compete for blowing places but Sam Kelsall misses out.
Director of cricket Mick Newell said: "Beating Somerset in the CB40 match (yesterday) was pleasing but it is completely irrelevant to our prospects in this game and we need to apply ourselves from the outset to try and force a positive result.
"The game provides an opportunity for us to put any fears of being dragged towards the relegation battle behind us and we are strengthened by the return of Alex Hales and Samit Patel."
Second-bottom Yorkshire are without captain Andrew Gale for their crucial match against Sussex at Scarborough.
Gale will miss the rest of the season after a delivery from Oliver Hannon-Dalby in the nets left him with a broken arm. South African batsman Jacques Rudolph takes over as skipper.
Yorkshire are boosted by the return of England paceman Ajmal Shahzad as they look to climb out of the relegation places and narrow the gap to their opponents, which currently stands at 25 points.
Joe Root and Jonathan Bairstow are also available after completing their commitments with England Lions, along with Sussex batsman Chris Nash.
However, the visitors must continue to cope without Luke Wright, who remains on the sidelines with a knee injury.
In Division Two, leaders Northamptonshire, who were held to a draw by nearest rivals Middlesex last time out, travel to Chesterfield to take on third-placed Derbyshire.
Middlesex face Kent at Canterbury, while Gloucestershire head to Colchester to play Essex.
Essex head coach Paul Grayson, whose side are 31 points behind second-placed Middlesex, said: “We still have everything to play for at this stage of the season both in the championship and the 40-overs competition.
“Our four-day cricket has been excellent recently and we haven’t lost a four-day game since we played Middlesex at Lord’s back in mid-April, and we’ve only been defeated twice in the competition this season.
“We know that we are probably going to have to win three of our last four championship games to have a good chance of going up and possibly all four, but there will be some result pitches around the country over the next few weeks I’m sure.
“If we play the sort of four-day cricket that we have been doing in the past few weeks, then there is a good chance that we can beat Gloucestershire this week and keep the momentum going.”
Another member of the Lions squad, seamer James Harris, returns to Glamorgan’s squad for their home game against rock-bottom Leicestershire at Colwyn Bay.
Harris and batsman Nick James are added to the XI that drew with Essex two weeks ago.
Leicestershire welcome back Lions skipper James Taylor, who today recorded his second century in five days against Sri Lanka A.