Pakistan paceman Junaid Khan answers injury-hit Lancashire’s SOS in relegation showdown

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The Independent Online

Pakistan fast bowler Junaid Khan has answered an SOS call to bolster depleted Lancashire’s desperate attempt to dodge relegation when they face Middlesex at Old Trafford in the last round of County Championship matches, which begins tomorrow.

The 24-year-old left-armer, already registered as a Lancashire player after appearing in their Twenty20 Blast campaign, flew back from Pakistan yesterday as the county seek the victory by a 19-point margin that would instead consign Middlesex to Second Division cricket in 2015.

With James Anderson missing on England’s orders and injury ruling out leading wicket-taker Tom Smith, Junaid’s availability could not be more timely.

Apart from Smith, the only other Lancashire seam bowlers to take more than 20 wickets this year are veteran captain Glen Chapple, Anderson and Kyle Hogg, who has been forced to retire because of a serious back injury.  Junaid fills the overseas place vacated by batsman Usman Khawaja’s recall by his Australian club, Queensland.  

Lancashire have endured a roller-coaster recent history. After winning the Division One title in 2011, ending a 77-year wait to be champions outright, they were relegated in 2012, returned as Division Two champions in 2013 but then lost coach Peter Moores to England, struggling since.

Apart from wins home and away against whipping boys Northamptonshire, Lancashire’s only success this season has been the knife-edge victory against Durham last month that kept their survival hopes alive.  However, that was the one moment of brightness in a run of three defeats in four matches that has left the relegation trap-door poised to spring open.

Middlesex, who are without England fast bowler Steven Finn, led the table in May but have not won since. However, if they can take six bonus points they are safe regardless of the result.

Although the Old Trafford pitch will doubtless be tailored to left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan’s strengths, Middlesex will set their sights on acquiring most of those when they bat, with England’s Eoin Morgan and Sam Robson available to support captain Chris Rogers, who scored his second double century of the season against Somerset last week.

Yorkshire, already champions, complete their season against Somerset at Headingley, although the ‘racism’ charges against captain Andrew Gale continue to cast a shadow.  It emerged today that it is Khawaja, rather than Lancashire team-mate Ashwell Prince, who pushed for further action to be taken against Gale beyond the two-match ban that resulted from his using “obscene or seriously insulting language” in Yorkshire’s match at Old Trafford earlier this month.

Warwickshire and Durham, who meet at Edgbaston, could yet finish runners-up, as could Sussex, who face Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.

In Division Two, Hampshire must beat Glamorgan in Cardiff to be sure of joining Worcestershire in Division One next season ahead of Essex, who meet Worcestershire at Chelmsford, where Moeen Ali will seek to finish his season on a high note after being named Professional Sportsman of the Year at the Birmingham Sports Awards. It is  a somewhat ironic honour after being twice subjected to racist booing by members of the city’s Indian population while representing England at Edgbaston this season.