Yorkshire are aiming to crank things up a gear at just the right time when they travel to face fellow high-flyers Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford on Thursday (11am).
The White Rose players and coaches have not hidden away from the fact they have been nowhere near their best this season despite remaining unbeaten in the LV= Insurance County Championship with three wins and three draws.
The 200-run win over Kent at Canterbury last month was their best performance before battling wins against Sussex at Hove and Northamptonshire at Emerald Headingley.
Those battling qualities have built confidence, but this week will provide them with their biggest test of 2021.
Lancashire are also unbeaten with three wins and three draws, sitting top of Group Three by three points from second-placed Yorkshire.
“You would say that ourselves and Lancashire are probably the two best teams in the group,” said coach Andrew Gale ahead of the Sky Sports televised fixture.
“As I’ve said to the boys, we keep finding a way to get ourselves in winning positions without stringing together anywhere near a perfect performance.
“That’s encouraging, but we can play better.
“It’s going to be a great game of cricket because we’re two evenly matched sides. Two good teams playing with confidence, and it’s a Roses game. That always adds a little bit of extra spice to it.
“Fingers crossed, we can get four days of good weather.”
At the top of Group Three, Lancashire have 101 points from six games, Yorkshire 98 from six, Glamorgan 80 from seven and Northamptonshire 76 from six.
Yorkshire will be without England players Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan and Joe Root, while Lancashire will be without Jimmy Anderson and likely Jos Buttler.
A win for either side would represent a giant step towards a top two finish.
A win for Lancashire would also be their first in Championship cricket over Yorkshire since 2011 and their first at Old Trafford since 2000 when Sourav Ganguly and Darren Lehmann were the overseas players for the Red and White Rose.
Lancashire completed the double over Yorkshire in 2011, but they are winless in nine four-day games since (Yorkshire five wins and four draws). That statistic includes last season’s rainy Bob Willis Trophy draw at Emerald Headingley.
“To go over there and win would be brilliant,” said Yorkshire captain Steve Patterson.
“It’s always a good game against Lancashire, but in the context of the season and the league table there will be some added significance to it.
“They’re a good side with some experience and good young players like we have.
“People have asked me in the past, ‘Is the Roses game the one you look forward to the most?’ And I’ve always said, ‘For myself, it’s all about playing against the best teams and trying to win those games. That’s the biggest challenge there is’.
“I love winning any four-day game. But the fact that they’re at the top and we’re second makes it more valuable. It doesn’t make it more valuable because it’s Lancashire, only because they are top at the moment.
“They’re at the top of the table, and we want to be top at the end of that game.”
A daily crowd in the region of 4,000 will be permitted in Manchester, with Patterson adding: “I’m looking forward to it. But the Scarborough one will be even more special because we will have our own crowd back.
“We always get well supported there, and our fans love to watch us against Lancs.
“Hopefully we get some good weather for both games.”
Joe Root is unavailable having now joined up with England for the upcoming Test series against New Zealand. All-rounder George Hill comes into the squad, having made 47 and 77 in last week’s Second Eleven game against Nottinghamshire.
Off-spinner Jack Shutt comes into the squad for the first time this year, whilst Dawid Malan has not been included for personal reasons, but is hoping to return for the LV= Insurance County Championship match against Sussex next week.
Matthew Fisher continues his rehabilitation from an abdominal injury.
13-MAN SQUAD TO FACE LANCASHIRE AT OLD TRAFFORD
Harry Duke (Wicketkeeper)
Steve Patterson (Captain)
The opposition – Lancashire
Coach: Glen Chapple
Captain: Dane Vilas
Last year’s performance: Third (North Group)
2020 leading run-scorer: Alex Davies (337, ave 48.14)
2020 leading wicket-taker: Tom Bailey (13, ave 21.69)
Overseas players: Dane Vilas (South Africa – full season), Jackson Bird (Australia – six Championship matches from April 22)
Key man: Saqib Mahmood – Fast bowler with devastating pace and skill, injury has stunted his development. But a full summer of cricket could see him guide Lancashire to silverware and maybe even secure Ashes and T20 World Cup selection.
Flies under the radar: Rob Jones – Home-grown 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.
Best player under 24: Josh Bohannon – Batting all-rounder, 23, elevated to number three in four-day cricket in late 2019, scoring one career hundred. A touch of class mixed with fierce determination.
The season ahead: Pre-Coronavirus, Lancashire were confident of mounting a Championship title challenge in 2020 having only just been promoted. Injury and unavailability wrecked those chances, however, when things finally did get underway and they never threatened the Bob Willis Trophy title.
But, with cricketing life seemingly more settled now, that confidence has returned. They will start the summer as favourites to qualify out of Group 3 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 Saqib Mahmood, Jackson Bird, Tom Bailey and Jimmy Anderson at stages as he builds up to England’s opening Test against New Zealand in early June.
• Lancashire have not beaten Yorkshire in a County Championship match at Old Trafford since 2000. Their only home win during this period occurred in 2011 – the year they last won the title – but that was at Aigburth, Liverpool.
• In 2014 Yorkshire scored 616 for six declared at Old Trafford but Lancashire’s best against Yorkshire at the same ground is 537 made in 2005.
• Yorkshire have never been dismissed for less than 50 at Old Trafford but Lancashire’s lowest score at the same ground in a Roses match is 39 made in 1874.
• In 2014 Adam Lyth scored 251 and this is Yorkshire’s highest individual innings at Old Trafford. Lancashire’s highest against Yorkshire at the venue is a record which was set over 100 years ago – 200 not out by Dick Spooner in 1910.
HOW TO FOLLOW
You can keep up to date with proceedings via the match blog on the website, and the clips available via the match centre. Highlights will also be available shortly following each days play.