A farewell from Old Trafford
Every time the new England coach Peter Moores renewed his contract with Lancashire the sighs of relief could be heard from Blackpool to Bacup. But many Lancashire supporters always suspected that the man who helped bring them the Championship nearly three years ago would soon be tempted away to pursue his other goals in cricket. It was just a question of when.
Now it has finally happened, perhaps those supporters can reflect how lucky they were that one of the game's best coaches worked with their players for five eventful summers. "We realised we were not going to have someone like Peter for 20 years," acknowledged Mike Watkinson, Lancashire's director of cricket. "We knew he had an ambition to do something else at some stage."
But until the national team unravelled big style, as they say in Bolton, few Lancashire members thought that a return to the England job was particularly likely. Now they can be a trifle comforted that it took one of the biggest jobs in world cricket to persuade Moores to leave a post he plainly enjoyed.
And perhaps they, like many of us, will now look back to February 2009 and conclude that Moores' readiness to take on the Old Trafford job, five weeks after his bruising first experience with England, revealed something of the measure of the man.
He later disclosed that the rigour of the interview process had stimulated him at a time when he was not sure whether he wanted to return to the county game. Two 15-minute presentations and two hour-long interviews were tough. He liked that - and suddenly he very much wanted to coach the club he had always loved since his days as a boy at King's School, Macclesfield. Fortunately for Lancashire, they gave him the gig.
He impressed us at his first press-conference. England was then in his past, he said; he had had a job with the national team but he didn't have it any more. Now he wanted to talk about Lancashire's players, their strengths, their hopes, their dream of winning the County Championship. It was his task to help them become better cricketers and he was looking forward to it. Already he had a detailed knowledge of their recent records. His eyes shone with excitement at the prospect of the work ahead. The press pack would get used to that look.
And so began five years during which very few requests to "have a word with Mooresy" were turned down. Regardless of Lancashire's fortunes on the field, he was almost always available. One remembers the pavilion at Trent Bridge after a hard-earned win; the outfield at Guildford after Kevin Pietersen had given Simon Kerrigan a fearful mauling; innumerable occasions in the press tent at Aigburth as Glen Chapple's men made their uncertain way to that improbable title.
The coach was always ready to offer his opinions and take our questions, albeit that one or two required skilful deflection to the long grass. Experienced communications professionals have said that Moores is the most understanding and obliging sportsman with whom they have ever worked. It is easy to see why.
Inevitably, perhaps, there was coachspeak. Lancashire's players had to "take the positives" from a dismal draw, and a tricky run of fixtures, for example, "is what it is". But journalists are sometimes all too ready to criticise their interviewees and just as frequently reluctant to praise them for original and enlightening comments. When Moores was asked if he had banned talk of the title in the closing months of 2011 he replied that of course he hadn't. "We talk about it all the time," he continued, "It's great. Why wouldn't you want to talk about it?"
After Lancashire had subsided to a particularly supine defeat at home to Worcestershire in 2012, the Old Trafford coach, albeit honourably reluctant to single out particular individuals for blame, still said that he hoped the players were hurting because they certainly should be. Stories filtered out that he was prepared to hand out old-style rollickings when they were required. He may have mellowed a little since the last time he coached England but he remains ready to challenge players who are performing averagely.
But then some of the fans who laid out hard-earned cash to watch the last Ashes series might agree that the players needed a bit of confrontation as to what the hell they thought they were doing.
There were quieter times, too. One could turn up at Lancashire's Indoor School on a cold morning deep in December and find Moores happy to talk about the skills some of the second team newcomers were developing under his guidance. We are going to miss him in the press box.
The most important and lasting legacy of Moores' time at Lancashire will be the way he took decent cricketers and turned them into winners. Good teachers show their pupils how they can achieve their known potential; great ones convince their charges they are capable of performances beyond their own beliefs. Peter Moores is a great teacher.
As evidence of this, consider the way in which he developed the talents of players like Kyle Hogg, Karl Brown and particularly Simon Kerrigan in the Championship season. Yet he remains a student of the game and of the wider issues involved in coaching. Perhaps it was his reading of Michael Lewis's Moneyball that enabled him to see the potential of the Sri Lankan Farveez Maharoof in the Spring of 2011. Or perhaps it was just that he got the best out of more or less the only overseas professional Lancashire could afford at that time.
Like many other fine coaches, Moores takes a group of players and turns them into a team. When Chapple's men arrived at Taunton for the last day of the 2011 season, they found photographs of each of their most notable performances pinned up on the dressing room wall. Each of them, even Maharoof, who was not playing but had stayed on in the hope of seeing the Championship won, was reminded of his contribution to the collective success.
And when the next season brought only the disappointment of relegation, Moores was quickly out on the Lord's balcony. "Last year these players won the Championship," he said. "This year they'll have to cope with relegation. These things are all part of being a professional cricketer. It's all part of it." One felt he was speaking from experience.
Until Moores was appointed on Saturday it was tempting to adapt and echo F Scott Fitzgerald's obiter dictum that there are no second acts when it comes to coaching the England cricket team. As it is, this inspirational leader has been given the chance to deal with what he probably regards as unfinished business, although it might be decades before he acknowledges it as such.
For the moment, he is in charge of the Lancashire side for their current game against Warwickshire. It will be his last official job at Old Trafford. Apparently the players are to go out for a pint with him later this week but one hopes he gets a decent farewell from the Old Trafford members too. He certainly deserves some plaudits and I reckon he would appreciate them. After all, as Basil Fawlty said: "Now comes the tricky bit."