Lancashire get chance to avenge final-day Oval defeat

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Any idea that Lancashire will be haunted by memories of last season's final-day defeat at The Oval when they open their LV County Championship season against Surrey on 16 April was dismissed by the county's cricket manager, Mike Watkinson, yesterday.

On an agonising last day, his side saw their hopes of a first outright title win for 73 years vanish after they fell 25 runs short of chasing down a 489-run victory target in a dramatic end to the 2007 domestic season. Their defeat handed Sussex the Championship and left the Lancashire players "broken", in the words of the then captain, Mark Chilton, who was replaced yesterday by Stuart Law.

Watkinson, speaking after the announcement of the year's first-class fixtures, said: "They are all tough games. Yes, it's hard to come straight back to where the last game of the season was, but everybody is built up and looking forward to the first game.

"We have a lot of self-belief as a side and when the disappointment drifted away there was a real feelgood factor about what we nearly achieved. We need to capture those moments in a positive way."

This season's fixtures include changes to two limited-overs competitions, with the Friends Provident Trophy and the hugely popular Twenty20 Cup both being revamped. The new Trophy format will feature zonal groups, reminiscent of the old Benson and Hedges Cup and comprising home-and-away fixtures for four sets of five teams – including Scotland and Ireland – with the top two in each table qualifying for quarter-finals and the Lord's final scheduled for Saturday 16 August.

The new-look Twenty20 Cup begins on 11 June, with last year's winners, Kent, taking on their neighbours Sussex at Canterbury. Each side will now play 10 matches, five home and five away, instead of eight. Quarter-finals are scheduled between 7 and 9 July, with finals day at The Rose Bowl on Saturday 26 July.

Watkinson believes the pressures of such a busy schedule are starting to take their toll and says teams now need up to 17 front-line players. "Your rest days are limited and your quality coaching time is limited," he said. "We could have four very tough days of cricket at Old Trafford, get on a coach to the other end of the country and then play in a very important 50-over match. It's a long, hard season."

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