March 31, 2013

County Championship, Division Two

Performances needed to match sparkling venue

Rana Malook
Lancashire will need more from their batsmen to achieve a return to Division One  © Getty Images
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By heck it's gorgeous, but cricket sure can be a cruel mistress at times. With one hand she giveth, the other she taketh away. After the jubilation of reaching dizzy heights as county champions in 2011, Lancashire convincingly fell back down to earth last year after being relegated. Will they bounce back this summer?

Come rain or no sunshine Lancashire's faithful had la la laa'd their way through the wilderness for 77 years without a Championship before the sweet taste of red rose success eventually materialized in 2011. With the county on a shoestring budget and one of the smallest squads on the circuit, no one could have predicted the success they achieved. It was incredible and a fitting send off for the chief executive, Jim Cumbes, a truly historic achievement.

With that in mind, perhaps the disappointments of the 2012 Championship campaign were not that depressing. All the rain-delayed matches allowed fans plenty of beer time to reminisce over cricketing euphoria from the previous year. In 2013, the Ashes will return to Manchester after an eight-year absence but spirits were really lifted by more recent good news, with Lancashire signing a lucrative 10-year sponsorship deal, reportedly worth a whopping £10million with Emirates. The "Emirates Old Trafford" as it will now be known boasts a host of new features including a brand new media centre. The state of the art stadium that awaits the Australians this time will therefore be a far cry from the one in 2005 and, with the club's financial future looking rosy, not all is doom and gloom, despite relegation.

That's not to say Lancashire's head coach, Peter Moores, didn't spend the entire winter meticulously dissecting every performance from the previous year. Lancashire managed only a single Championship victory in the entire season. Despite bad weather affecting numerous games, Moores was hesitant in assigning blame to that. Despite the blip, Lancashire believe in Moores and have shown faith in him by extending his contract until the end of 2014. A speedy return to the top division will be a good way for him to repay that faith.

Retirement rumours surrounding Glen Chapple were quashed by the announcement that he will continue as captain for another season. Judging by his exploits last year, that comes as no surprise. He is now 39 but to be still bowling so well must surely be an inspiration to new recruit Kabir Ali, seven years Chapple's junior. Although an injury will cause him to miss the start of the season, Ali will look to rediscover the form he showed a decade or so ago for Worcestershire, which brought him 138 first-class wickets in two seasons and a Test call up.

The arrival of experienced Australian Simon Katich at the top of the order might allow the rest of the batsmen to express themselves more freely than in 2012. Meanwhile, another new recruit hoping to make an impact will be former Derbyshire and Leicestershire allrounder Wayne White. His arrival adds strength and depth to a squad that already includes allrounders Kyle Hogg, Luke Procter and Tom Smith.

Promising young wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Davies will deputise for Gareth Cross (I'm told they are not related despite bearing a canny resemblance). The spin duties will be shared between Stephen Parry, Stephen Croft and Simon Kerrigan. The latter has emerged as a possible contender for international recognition after some exceptional performances over the last couple of years. Procter's awkward action should continue to bamboozle batsmen around the circuit once more and he will also look to continue with some solid batting displays. Back-up in the seam department will again be provided by Hogg and Oliver Newby. The former will want to put right his disappointing return of wickets last year and could feature more in the limited-over competitions.

Likely Championship side
Katich
Horton
Moore
Brown
Croft
Cross (wk)
Kerrigan
Proctor
White
Chapple (capt)
Ali

What I love The new Old Trafford. It's a completely different ground to the one I first came to in the late '90s and must now rank as one of the best cricket stadiums in the world. People who come to the Ashes Test will know what I'm talking about when they see it. The facilities on site are incredible.

What I'd change Build a retractable roof. It's a no-brainer. T20 games I've attended at Old Trafford have suffered an alarming 70% rained-off rate. We don't have a beach in Manchester but we get plenty of H2O all year round that's for sure. I'm surprised Hollywood don't have a studio here. They could've saved millions of dollars on production costs for filming the Perfect Storm!

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Rana Malook writes about cricket and music and once harboured dreams of appearing on ESPNcricinfo as a player until his back folded like warm laundry at the age of 19. He tweets here

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rana Malook
Rana Malook harboured dreams of appearing on ESPNcricinfo as a player. Alas, being a fast bowler at a time without spell restrictions, his back folded like warm laundry at the tender age of 19. But his passion for cricket remains undiminished and challenged only by an unhealthy obsession with Luc Besson films. His cricketing achievements include breaking Mike Atherton's wicket-taking record at Manchester Grammar School. Writes for HITC, deepextracover.com and 4Q Magazine. @rararana

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