Frizzell County Championship Division One - 26-29 June Preview
Lancashire v Kent - Liverpool
Both of these sides have had mixed seasons so far, each registering two wins from five outings, and both would almost certainly have gone down to defeat had Surrey enforced the follow-on at Old Trafford in round six.
Lancashire's record against sides other than the leaders is good and they will be seeking to take the opportunity of a week off for Surrey, Leicestershire and Hants to make up ground - which they will certainly do if they maintain their points average.
Lancashire's weakness is that they have the second worst batting record in the division, of the available players only the exemplary Stuart Law averages over 40 - indeed he registers once again in the high fifties - and he is the only centurion.
Too high a proportion of the runs Lancashire have scored in big Freddie's absence come from bits and pieces scores by players to whom the county look for bigger contributions. Even the three sides in the drop slots look better equipped in many ways with the bat. Given Lancashire's ambitions, they should be trying to compete with the records of those above them rather than those below.
The Red Rose bowling has been on a surer footing, with Martin and Hogg leading the way. The supporting cast is strong too, with ten players contributing wickets from just five county games.
Kent, whose batting was perhaps the highlight of last season, have also had troubles with the willow, with only Robert Key going on to make big scores. With the ball Kent need to find someone to help Martin Saggers take wickets; if 21-year-old Dane Amjad Khan's first innings opening spell against Surrey is anything to go by, he may be emerging as the man to do it. Fleming and Patel also offer intelligence and economy with the ball.
In Warren Hegg and Paul Nixon this match features two of the country's best keepers, both of whom are able lower order batsmen.
Sussex v Yorkshire - Arundel
Sussex secured their first victory of the season against the troubled Tykes at Leeds in round seven. In another unfortunate double header the sides meet again in round eight, but they do so at the divinely beautiful Arundel ground. This time Sussex will be without a top bowler, as James Kirtley has secured a place in the England one-day squad. The loss of Kirtley is compensated by the return of skipper Chris Adams, whose batting form in the early part of the season was nothing short of spectacular, with more runs in three appearances than the south coast side's second top scorer, Richard Montgomerie, has achieved in six.
The hosts' current position, fourth in the table, disguises their low points average - which is seventh place. Jason Lewry and Robin Martin-Jenkins will have to make an impression if they are to win the contest with Yorkshire's suspect batting.
Yorkshire need to halt their slide, and like the home team welcome back their captain and leading batsman. The return of Darren Lehmann from international duties is key - their batting without him left much to be desired. Craig White and Richard Blakey continue to impress with the bat, but it takes more than three batsmen to win matches in the top flight of the championship.
As ever, Yorkshire will hope for their seam trio to return to the destructive form which powered them to the championship in 2001. It is certainly too late for a championship charge, but if they don't start bowling sides out more cheaply it will be too late to stay up as well.
Warwickshire v Somerset - Birmingham
Like Sussex, Warwickshire come into this on the back of their first championship victory, but unlike their fellow promoted sides their bonus points record is a concern. Five per game and a losing record are highly unlikely to result in a top six finish. The last B&H champions will need to bring some of their one-day form to the longer game if they are to remain in the top flight. With both Knight and Giles on international duty, Shaun Pollock' s form and the run-making ability of young Jamie Troughton are vital - they will also look to veteran Trevor Penney and upcoming star Ian Bell to step forward and make some runs.
For Somerset, as for Lancashire, this is an opportunity to capitalise on the fact that the three leaders have a week off. As one of only two undefeated sides in Division One, and as last season's runners-up, they will see this game as a chance to move forwards. Somerset have both talented batsmen and a strong bowling attack. But they suffer from the west country weather, which adds importance to these visits to weaker counties. Bulbeck and Johnson make an able opening pair. With Bowler at the top of the order and the likes of Turner (yet another able keeper/batsman), Blackwell, Dutch and Johnson lower down, the Cidermen are an able team.