June 19, 2013

Lancashire building up a head of steam

Glen Chapple got the Red Rose up and running and now more players are finding form as Lancashire move in the right direction

It was a dull Thursday morning, June was a mere 13 days old and the year was 2013. The cricketing twitter-verse was gleefully engaging in a healthy round of Warner bashing after he had failed to land a punch on Joe Root's tiny face. But out in the middle at Chelmsford on the second day of Lancashire's County Championship Division Two match against Essex, Kyle Hogg was about to bowl the fifth over of the morning with the score at 272 for 9. It was in this over that occurred a comedy moment to rival Samit Patel's banana skin episode earlier in the season.

David Masters was the batsman as Hogg sent a rather loose early morning delivery harmlessly down the legside. Masters showed remarkably quick hands looking to pounce, only to go through the shot too early. By the time the ball actually arrived, the bat was staring at fine leg and the shoulder duly obliged and ejected the ball straight up in the air much like an RAF pilot aborting a fighter jet in an emergency. As the ball parachuted down towards the middle of the wicket, Hogg began performing what can only be described as some sort of a tap dance. As the ball got closer to earth and him, he proceeded to then re-enact a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, catching the descending ball like a bride before hoisting it over his shoulder in a celebratory manner. The Essex supporters were understandably amused, not for long. Hogg scored a half century and took 6 for 58 in the match as Lancashire bowled out Essex for 20 in the second innings to win by an innings and 105 runs.

Now, in my previous blogs I have thrown superlatives at Glen Chapple ranging from Iron man and the terminator to Liam Neeson. But simultaneously, I have also longed to find an alternative target. Well this time it's Kyle Hogg's turn. In the Championship Hogg has taken 13 wickets since my last blog and scored a handy 133 runs. Crucially 58 of those came at Chelmsford which not only helped Lancashire recover from 190 for 6 in the 57th over to a total of 398, but also kept the home side out in the field for another 61 overs. This arguably had a demoralising and fatiguing impact on the opposition and contributed to their resulting capitulation.

Hogg has answered my calls for a seamer to shoulder some of that burden away from Chapple. With Kabir Ali waiting in the wings, Hogg's performances in the last four weeks have done him no harm in keeping his place in the side. He's been that exceptional.

The remarkable performance against Essex is unlikely to be forgotten for a very long time. Lancashire are beginning to show why they were one of the promotion favourites at the start of the season. An injury to Paul Horton probably came as a relief for Peter Moores given his lack of form but the players who have been given the opportunity in his absence have far from disappointed.

Lancashire's very own Cypriot version of Alistair Cook (Andrea Agathangelou) grabbed his chance when picked and notched up an impressive century against Hampshire. When a player comes into the squad and scores a century in the way Agathangelou did, the positive impact on team performance reverberates in numerous ways. Not only does it erode complacency of existing players, it encourages healthy competition and increases performance levels. Thus rather unsurprisingly, Steven Croft and Gareth Cross both followed Agathangelou with their own respective first tons of the season. Add all this to the ridiculously good form Simon Katich has been enjoying in the last four weeks ably supported by Ashwell Prince, and justification for my confidence precipitates nicely.

That's not to say it's been all plain sailing since my blog holiday. Lancashire's fortunes in the YB40 campaign have been mixed, with three defeats so far.

But the Lancashire express is now traveling full steam ahead. Far from resting and enjoying the view the drivers on this particular locomotive are grafting hard in the engine room. Lancashire's next two Championship fixtures are against Northants, currently top the table: the crunchiest of crunch affairs.

And if you thought that was exciting, the Friends Life t20 competition kicks off on the last Friday of June and this year could be Lancashire's year. Armed with a state of the art stadium fit for the IPL, a decent squad which includes the best fielder in the country, there's method in such optimistic madness.

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