Lancashire 'strong and fit as ever' for County Championship campaign says captain Dane Vilas
Lancashire captain Dane Vilas is raring to go as the County Championship season gets under way this week.
The Red Rose host Sussex in the opening game from Thursday and the skipper says their build-up could not have gone better.
It’s the first of 10 games for Lancashire in their initial six-team group to be completed by mid-July.
And Vilas is happy with his side’s preparation in matches against Essex and Derbyshire, who played out a four-day game at Emirates Old Trafford last week.
He said: “We’ve had a great prep, really. With everything that’s gone on I don’t think it could have been any better.
“We’ve had two excellent practice games – one down in Essex and one here at Old Trafford – which were fantastic. The weather played its part on both occasions.
“Everyone is fit and firing and ready to go. The batters got a good hit, the bowlers got a good run around outside and got their overs under their belt, so the medical staff are happy with them.
“It’s gone according to plan and there have been eight days of good, hard cricket, which is excellent.
“Everybody is 100 per cent. They’re very strong off the back of the great pre-season.
“We’re as strong and fit as we’ve ever been, so we’re ready to go barring the two guys away at the IPL (Liam Livingstone and Jos Buttler).
“It’s good to have Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson back from their stint away. I’m excited and really ready.”
Jimmy Anderson is not expected to feature this week but Vilas is hopeful that England’s greatest Test bowler will be available for selection on a couple of occasions.
Vilas said: “We’ve had Jimmy come back in for the last couple of days just to bowl and be a part of the squad again. It’s fantastic to see him and he’s looking in great shape.
“We’ll have a chat with the ECB to see how many games we can get him for.
“Hopefully we can get as many as possible.
“I don’t know at this stage – probably two or three and then they’ll wrap him up.
“He’s always keen to play, which is fantastic and we’ll take what we can get from him.”
The former Australia Test seamer Jackson Bird will join the Red Rose ranks later this month for six matches but the key weapon in Lancashire’s armoury is the pace of fast bowler Saqib Mahmood.
Injury has slowed his development but a full summer of cricket could see Mahmood guide Lancashire to silverware and maybe even secure Ashes and T20 World Cup selection.
Leg-spinner Parkinson should be fresh despite being on the plane for England’s recent Test assignments against Sri Lanka and India, and being in contention for the white-ball matches against India last month.
Despite not playing on the sub-continent, Parkinson said: “I really enjoyed Sri Lanka and thought I might have been close to playing at some stage, but I think I probably got an insight when I only bowled five overs in the warm-up.
“I just sort of cracked on with it. There’s a great group of lads to socialise with, we had a card school that kept me going most nights.
“I didn’t manage to pick up a Big Bash League deal or Pakistan Super League gig, so if there had been cricket out there it might have been a different story, but there were no offers on the table.
“It was either train with England in glorious conditions with the best players in the country and watch the best players in the world, or train in an indoor school. It was a pretty easy decision.”
One who flies under the radar for Lancashire is perhaps Rob Jones, the former England Under-19s batsman who has two hundreds in 30 first-class matches.
A crucial part of the Red Rose’s middle order, Jones is infectiously enthusiastic.
It could also be a big year for Josh Bohannon, the batting all-rounder who was elevated to number three in four-day cricket in late 2019, scoring one career hundred.
Pre-coronavirus, Lancashire were confident of mounting a Championship title challenge in 2020 following promotion.
Injury and unavailability wrecked those chances, however, when play finally did get under way and they never threatened the Bob Willis Trophy title.
But that confidence has returned and Lancashire will start the summer as favourites to qualify out of group three alongside Roses rivals Yorkshire.
If the Red Rose batting can click, including new signing Luke Wells from Sussex, they should live up to that tag given the obvious seam bowling strength led by Mahmood, Bird and Tom Bailey.