Cambridgeshire’s preparations for Sunday’s National Counties Championship Eastern Division One match against Staffordshire at Longton have been thrown into confusion by a positive COVID-19 test.
One member of the squad that was involved in last weekend’s National Counties Trophy semi-final against Cumbria – which was decided by a bowl-out at Keswick – tested positive and as a consequence five members of the squad have been required to self-isolate.
Two more players have subsequently returned positive PCR tests which means that Cambridgeshire have been forced to delay naming the squad that will travel to the Potteries. Despite the logistical difficulties involved, Cambridgeshire have indicated that they will fulfil the fixture.
Three weeks ago Norfolk’s Division One East match against Suffolk at Manor Park was abandoned at the start of the second day after one of their players tested positive for the Coronavirus. In June Cheshire had to pick an entirely new eleven for their Trophy match against Shropshire following a positive test after the previous week’s match against Northumberland.
This weekend’s match at Longton is likely to have a major bearing on deciding relegation to Eastern Division Two in the Championship’s new format.
Both Staffordshire and Cambridgeshire have one win and one draw from their first two games with Cambridgeshire currently bottom, four points adrift of Sunday’s hosts.
Staffordshire have made two changes to the side beaten by Norfolk two weeks ago with all-rounder Alex Coates and seamer James Cox return in place of Matthew Morris and Paul Byrne.
Lincolnshire, who are six points ahead of Staffordshire, host Suffolk at Sleaford in their final match of the season.
Lincolnshire had hoped that batsman Louis Kimber would be able to make his first Championship appearance of the campaign having impressed for Leicestershire in recent weeks.
Kimber played for Lincolnshire in their opening Trophy match against Norfolk in May but his form for the county was franked while he was on trial in Leicestershire’s Second XI.
He signed his first professional contract in May – emulating his younger brother Nick who is on Surrey’s staff - and played in nine Vitality Blast group matches and all eight of Leicestershire’s Royal London One Day group games.
Kimber was included in Lincolnshire’s initial 14-man squad for Sunday but that was before Leicestershire qualified for the quarter-finals of the Royal London Cup.
Lincolnshire are missing two more contracted Leicestershire players, Hasan Azad and Don Butchart – who played in the draw against Cambridgeshire two weeks ago. But Danny Cliffe, Jordan Cook, Jaden Fell, Sam Johnson and Ben Wright all return to the squad.
Suffolk, who will go top if they beat Lincolnshire and take 21 points, welcome back all-rounder Tom Rash and wicketkeeper Adam Mansfield from injury and recall former Warwickshire Academy batsman Alex Oxley. Ben Claydon and Essex batsman Feroz Khushi, who are unavailable this weekend, and Suffolk coach Andy Northcote , who filled in behind the stumps against Norfolk, make way.
In Western Division One Berkshire have the chance to go top against Oxfordshire at Thame.
Berkshire are currently second in the table just a point behind Dorset, who sit out this round of matches, with Oxfordshire also in contention to finish top and qualify for next month’s final at Tring.
This weekend’s match will be Berkshire’s 1,00th in the Championship with their first coincidentally also being against Oxfordshire in 1896, also at Thame, albeit at a different venue – the Oxford County School Ground rather than the current club ground at Church Meadow.
Berkshire have made three changes to the side that beat Wales NC in last weekend’s National Counties Trophy semi-final with opening batsman Toby Albert and Savin Perera and slow left-armer Luke Beaven all unavailable. Matt Rowe and Archie Carter form a new opening partnership with Stewart Davison returning behind the stumps.
Thame Town opening batsman Ollie Ebsworth-Burland will make his seasonal debut for Oxfordshire on his home club ground. Ebsworth-Burland’s only previous appearance for Oxfordshire came against Cheshire, also at Thame, in September 2019 when he made a second innings century.
Captain Jonny Cater returns to lead Oxfordshire with seamer Robbie Shurmer also recalled.
Cheshire, who are three points behind Berkshire, host Wiltshire at Alderley Edge with the visitors needing a win to have any hope of avoiding relegation. Wiltshire are 12 points adrift at the bottom and they are not in action in the final round.
Timperley seamer Jake Sandham, who played one Trophy match for Cumbria in 2017, will make his debut for Cheshire in a much-changed side.
Alex Money and Rick Moore will make their first Championship appearances of the season with spinner Simon Normanton and batsman Charles Lowen back in the side.
Wiltshire have made one change to the side beaten by Oxfordshire two weeks ago with Tahir Afridi returning in place of Josh Croom.
In Eastern Division One, leaders Bedfordshire play their final match against Northumberland at Jesmond.
Bedfordshire are six points ahead of second-placed Hertfordshire – who sit out this round - and ten points clear of Buckinghamshire, who face Cumbria at Furness.
Bedfordshire welcome back Gus Miller, who played for Northamptonshire against them in last month’s Showcase match, slow left-armer George Darlow and all-rounder Jack Fuller.
Northumberland will be without Sol Bell and Callum Fletcher who helped them to their first Championship win in five years when they beat Cumbria at Carlisle three weeks ago.
All-rounder Sean Tindale will make his first Championship appearance of the season with batsman Jack McCarthy recalled to the side.
Opening batsman Evan Williams, who plays for Sedbergh School, will make his debut for Cumbria with Wyll Stanway set to make his first Championship appearance on his home club ground along with James McGown (Keswick).
Buckinghamshire will give a debut to Buckingham Town batsman Michael Wells in place of Tring Park all-rounder Jack Rodnight.
In Western Division Two, Herefordshire face Wales NC at Eastnor in a potential promotion decider.
Wales play their final match this weekend and have a 15 points deficit to make up on Herefordshire who travel to Cornwall in the final round.
Joe Stanley, an off-spinner from Wolverhampton and a member of Worcestershire’s Academy, will make his debut for Herefordshire in place of leg-spinner Alex Russell, who took four wickets for National Counties against MCC on Monday and who is playing for Essex Second XI against Hampshire at Billericay on Monday.
Batsman Harry Friend, who has been in fine form for Monmouth School, Newport and Glamorgan’s Academy, will make his first appearance of the season for Wales.
Former Glamorgan batsman Connor Brown returns after missing the draw with Shropshire as does seamer Aneurin Norman, already Wales’ leading all-time wicket-taker, who needs four to reach his century in the Championship.
Off-spinner Tegid Phillips and seamer Sam Jardine are unavailable this weekend and Andy Gorvin and Steve Reingold are required by Glamorgan.
Sam Whitney captain Shropshire on his home club ground, Bridgnorth, against Cornwall.
Shropshire have called up Oxford University batsman George Hargrave, who has been fine form for Shrewsbury in recent weeks, for his Championship debut and first county appearance in four years.
Worcestershire Academy pair Ben Parker and Harry Cooke, both products of Shropshire’s youth system, are also available this weekend.
Cornwall, who are 18 points behind Herefordshire, have named the same side that beat Devon at Truro two weeks ago.
National Counties Championship
August 15-17 (11am)
Eastern Division One
Sleaford: Lincolnshire v Suffolk
Longton: Staffordshire v Cambridgeshire
Eastern Division Two
Furness: Cumbria v Buckinghamshire
Jesmond: Northumberland v Bedfordshire
Western Division One
Alderley Edge: Cheshire v Wiltshire
Thame: Oxfordshire v Berkshire
Western Division Two
Eastnor: Herefordshire v Wales NC
Bridgnorth: Shropshire v Cornwall