LANCASHIRE are confident that Chris Schofield will sign a new contract to stay with the club when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Mike Atherton and Ian Austin have already announced their retirement, Neil Fairbrother is considering his future and there has been speculation that Schofield will leave for another county after a disappointing 2001 summer.

But speaking on a BBC GMR phone-in yesterday, captain John Crawley and chief executive Jim Cumbes both had good news for Lancashire supporters.

"Schoey will be staying at Old Trafford, I am 100 per cent certain of that," said captain John Crawley.

And Cumbes added: "We are talking to his agent and we are confident he will be staying. Any move from Lancashire is a step down rather than a step up."

Crawley refused to give any commitment on whether he will stay on as captain beyond the end of the year, saying that he is still to make up his mind. Crawley and Schofield will be back in National League action under the Old Trafford floodlights tonight as Lancashire play the first part of a double-header against Derbyshire which will round off their season. Lightning are battling to climb out of the bottom four of the Second Division which will secure an early-round C&G Trophy tie against a Board XI or a Minor County next season, but have suffered a blow yesterday with rivals Sussex following up their victory over Lancashire at Hove last Thursday with another win against Middlesex. Atherton was unlikely to play after falling ill at a dinner in London on Friday night, apparently a reaction to some tablets he had been taking to alleviate his back trouble during his Test farewell at the Oval.