Lancashire 2015 preview April 3, 2015

Giles must negotiate tricky transformation

Ashley Giles wants to put bad England memories behind him at Lancashire © Getty Images

Last season:
LV= Championship: 8th Div 1; NatWest Blast: Finalists; Royal London Cup: 8th Group A In: Alviro Petersen (Kolpak), Nathan Buck (Leicestershire), George Edwards (Surrey)

Out: Kyle Hogg (retired), Kabir Ali, Andrea Agathangelou, Oliver Newby (all released)


2014 in a nutshell The highlight last season for Lancashire was an appearance at NatWest Blast finals day with interest fuelled by the dreamlike return to professional cricket of Andrew Flintoff. Fred did not quite pull it off as Lancashire fell in the final to Birmingham Bears, but the sense remained of a Lancashire side playing to maximum efficiency in the shortest format. Nothing so impressive could be said about their Championship form. Lancashire have become county cricket's yo-yo club, promoted or relegated in three successive seasons. They struggled for top-order runs, Ashwell Prince apart, and the retirement mid-season of Kyle Hogg, added to the wind-down of Glen Chapple's career, indicated a county needing a shake-up.

2015 prospects Promotion in the Championship is Ashley Giles' priority, although it will be far from automatic: Surrey, in particular, look strong, Kent are stirring again, and Derbyshire are optimistic after finishing 2014 on a high. In the NatWest Blast, another Finals day looks a challenging task. Two South Africans, Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince, will ensure runs while an unproven pace bowling departments combines some ambitious second teamers with winter recruits Nathan Buck and the potentially explosive George Edwards. But it is the anticipation of a flood of young players coming through the Academy that most excites Lancashire supporters and which would provide a heartening send-off for Mike Watkinson after the end of a 33-year-association with the county.

Power brokers Ashley Giles might have had an unfortunate experience as England's one-day coach, but his status in the county game deserves to be incontestable. His sensitive guidance took Warwickshire to a Championship and Lancashire have every chance to assert themselves as one of the leading counties in the country as his influence as head coach begins to bear fruit. Tom Smith, a powerful and combative allrounder, captains Lancashire for the first time, a tough task considering the respect commanded by his predecessor, Chapple.

Key player In many ways, the key player is the one whose career is winding down. One of Giles' most challenging tasks is to manage the retirement of Glen Chapple, a great champion of Lancashire cricket, who is approaching a farewell season at 41 as he moves increasingly into coaching duties. Do that successfully and much good can follow for Lancashire. It will not be easy with Chapple needing 25 wickets for 1,000 in first-class cricket and a strengthened group of pace bowlers eager for opportunity.

Bright young thing Haseeb Hameed, a sixth form student at Bolton School, is a potential answer to Lancashire's perennial shortcomings at the top of the order. He is scheduled to return from a tour of Australia with England U19s with the season already underway and with his studies to complete, and a first-team debut still awaited. It might seem early therefore to suggest he will make an impact, but a first-team opportunity at some stage is eagerly anticipated. An Academy product, he plays for Nantwich in the Cheshire Premier League.

ESPNcricinfo verdict There is a sense of change at Old Trafford. Manchester now has a stadium to be proud of again and Lancashire have further secured their financial future by raising the £12m needed to build a 150-room hotel on site thanks in part to a £4m loan from Trafford Council. The strengthening of links between the county and clubs is slowly bearing fruit and Ashley Giles can be trusted to preserve it. The coaching shake-up following the arrival of Giles as head coach has not pleased everyone - Flintoff, for example, was angry at the removal of one loyal servant, John Stanworth - but the county's aspirations have rarely been higher. Promotion should be the priority.

Bet365 odds: LV= Championship, Div 2: 3-1; NatWest Blast 10-1; Royal London Cup 16-1

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps