Keedy or Kerrigan? That is the most ticklish selection question confronting Lancashire before they launch their defence of the LV= County Championship title on April 12 – and the answer, in their opening fixture against Sussex at Aigburth, could yet be both.
The two left-arm spinners – Gary Keedy, the wily old veteran who is starting his 18th summer with the county, and Simon Kerrigan, the exciting talent from Preston – combined effectively in the consecutive victories over Hampshire and Somerset with which Lancashire pinched the title last September.
But Kerrigan had only played in two of the previous 14 Championship matches, despite taking seven for 26 in the victory over Warwickshire on a raging turner at Edgbaston last May. Lancashire were mostly happy to select Keedy as a sole spinner, alongside three or four specialist seamers – and the Yorkshireman, who was one of six players to appear in all 16 Championship fixtures, was a consistent contributor to their title challenge, ending the season as the leading wicket-taker with 61 at 23.
He turned down the opportunity to join Warwickshire, showing that he is not ready to play second fiddle to Kerrigan. But Lancashire will surely be reluctant to deny Kerrigan more senior opportunities this summer, as he has already been identified by England as a man to watch, and made an impressive start to 2012 with four wickets in each innings of the victory over the MCC in Abu Dhabi.
There might be a clue to Lancashire’s approach in their selection for the three-day match against Cambridge University that begins at Fenner’s on April 6. Tom Smith’s ability to bat at number six would offer them the opportunity to go with two spinners and three seamers in the Championship opener against Sussex, with Glen Chapple and Kyle Hogg likely to take the new ball and Smith first change – although that would mean disappointment for Sajid Mahmood, Oliver Newby and new signing Naqaash Tahir.
“It is going to be tricky,” admitted Chapple, who had been keen to play at Fenner’s but will now make a late decision depending on his recovery from a bug he brought back from Abu Dhabi.
Lancashire have a third left-arm spinning option in Stephen Parry, who has bowled well enough in one-day cricket to earn a call-up from the England Lions – and is also keen to play more first-class cricket. That is likely to lead to a loan spell at another county at some stage this summer, although at the moment he is ruled out with a thumb injury, having only recently recovered from a knee operation.