Lancashire target immediate promotion
Deep into last season the hoardings around Old Trafford's many redevelopment projects sported advertisements aimed at recruiting new members for Lancashire. Their main feature was a cropped photograph from the previous year's Championship triumph at Taunton. Sweaty, ecstatic faces beamed out at the Manchester public. "Let's do it all over again!" bellowed the posters. By August they looked like a bit of a bad joke.
Having won ten matches in 2011, Glen Chapple's team registered just one success last summer and were relegated to Division Two with a meagre 106 points. A joke did the rounds in September that Lancashire had more seats in their new press box than points in the table. The dejection felt by the predominantly young Red Rose squad in the Lord's dressing room after their fate had been confirmed was a new experience for most of them but it was also an unwelcome novelty for their coach Peter Moores, who had guided Sussex to the title in 2003 before masterminding Lancashire's success two years ago. So the new season will offer interesting challenges - a favourite Moores noun - for a man who has never worked with a relegated side before.
There is, however, no doubt as to what the biggest challenge will be. "Getting back into Division One is our number one goal," Moores said."It's really important for us, closely followed by winning a one-day trophy. To achieve both of those things would be our perfect season. The economic impact of playing in the second division isn't as great in cricket as it is some sports but Lancashire are a big club and we don't just want to be in the first division, we want to be one of the top sides in that division.
"You look around this ground and you say this is a first division club, but the fact is that it isn't in the first division this year, so we just have to get stuck in and start winning games of cricket. Drawing isn't good enough. The players have never been lacking in commitment, they realise the expectation of the club and they should take that as a positive."
What might also act as a spur to the Lancashire players is the recollection of their feelings when they were relegated last September. The fact that it had been on the cards for some weeks probably did nothing to soften its reality. Predictably, perhaps, Moores does not shy away from the memory. Instead, he seeks to incorporate it into his preparation.
"We've experienced winning and losing in two seasons," said Moores. "The losing is a bigger learner because it stays with you for longer, you can't get away from it until you can put it right. We have to deal with Lord's last summer and you do get to a point when you're very keen to play some more cricket and get yourself back where you want to be.
"There are always little things you might want to have done differently but we lost three of the first four games last season and in two of those we had opportunities to win which we didn't take. After that, it wasn't that we were getting beaten all the time, it was just that we weren't getting any wins, largely because of the weather.
"There is a fine line between winning and losing in the first division and unless you have a very good start you often find yourself in the middle of the table not knowing whether you're pushing to win it or pushing to survive. You don't fluke a Championship and if you add up the number of four-day wins we've had since Glen Chapple and I have been here you'd find us in the top two or three sides ... Also, this group of players has had two semi-finals and three quarters in the one-dayers, so we have been competitive in all forms of the game for four years."
Perhaps the chief area in which Lancashire's cricket lacked punching power in 2012 was the top-order batting, so the re-engagement of Ashwell Prince, the only player in the side to average above 30 in last season's Championship, and the signing of Simon Katich will probably be seen as good news by Old Trafford loyalists. In the bowling department, Sajid Mahmood was released and Gary Keedy allowed to join Surrey, the latter move giving further opportunities to slow left-armer Stephen Parry and the highly rated rookie offspinner Arron Lilley. But perhaps the most interesting signing is that of the ex-Leicestershire allrounder Wayne White, a player who impressed Moores on the club's pre-season tour to Dubai.
"Wayne's a rapidly emerging cricketer who has found himself a bit later than some," said Moores. "He was leading wicket-taker for Leicestershire two years in a row but he bats, bowls and fields. He wants to move his game forward and we want to help him do that.
"Elsewhere, we've made bold decisions by letting players go and that will create opportunities for others. But we're going to need the experience of senior cricketers around, so Katich and Prince will help that. We want to develop our own players but if we see someone like Wayne who will add something to the side, we'll be happy to go down that route. There is now terrific competition in the club and it's maybe something we were missing last year. Each player has to know that there is somebody else snapping away at him, keeping him sharp."
It has been an eventful winter for Moores too. In the autumn he was appointed to the ECB's Fellowship of Elite Coaches and in March he was one of only two coaches from non-Olympic sports accepted on to UK Sport's Elite Programme, a recognition, some would say, of his coaching class. The ex-England coach was honoured by both appointments and admits that he has "strong ambitions" for his future career. For the moment, though, he is happy to be where he is.