County previews April 1, 2013

Chapple still key for Lancs revival

Lancashire will expect to bounce straight back to Division One of the Championship but their bowling attack looks heavily reliant on veteran Glen Chapple

Last year: Eighth (relegated), CC Div 1; Group stages, T20; Semi-finals, CB40

2012 in a nutshell: To suffer relegation the year after winning the Championship title was a major disappointment. Lancashire started slowly, losing three of their first four games, and never really recovered. They won just one Championship match all season; no team in either division won fewer. The problem was two-fold: the top-order batting failed to fire - Ashwell Prince was the only member of the top order to average over 30 and, along with Steven Croft and Paul Horton, one of only three men to make a Championship century all season; and Stephen Moore, so influential in 2011, failed to pass 50 - and the bowling remained over-reliant on Glen Chapple. Their CB40 form was far better. They topped Group A with more wins than any side in the country, but then came unstuck against Warwickshire in the semi-finals. They also started well in the T20 but then fell away sharply, failing to win any of their last four games. Ajmal Shadzad and Sajid Mahmood were released at the end of the season. Gary Keedy moved to Surrey.

2013 prospects: Lancashire have never spent more than a season in the lower division and will be expected to win an immediate return to Division One. With a newly develop ground and big-money naming-rights deal, they will have a large budget advantage on some of their Division Two rivals, but competition for those top two places is likely to be extremely competitive. The level of expectation could become a burden. Lancashire have taken steps to strengthen the areas of weakness from last year: they have retained Ashwell Prince as a Kolpak registration and signed Simon Katich as overseas player, which should add substance to the batting; and they have signed Kabir Ali and Wayne White to add some pace and bite to the seam bowling. But the bowling remains a bit of a concern. Kabir's fitness record is not encouraging and White, while he has pace, is not the most consistent. The club remain uncomfortably reliant on Chapple, who was 39 in January. The plethora of allrounders should prove an asset in the limited-overs formats, though a lack of bite from the seamers is a concern in the Championship. In the longer-term, there may be growing concerns about the quality of players developing through the club. The production line that used to produce fine seam bowlers has ground to something approaching a halt in the last few years.

Key player: It is only three years since 32-year-old Kabir was signed by Hampshire in a big-money transfer from Worcestershire. The move didn't really work out due to a serious knee injury sustained early in the contract and Kabir joins Lancashire with some doubts over his long-term fitness. If he is injury-free, he remains a high-quality bowler and could prove a valuable acquisition. But if he misses vast chunks of the season, Lancashire are left with a batch of bits and pieces allrounders and useful medium-pacers to support Chapple.

Bright young thing: Such was Simon Kerrigan's influence on the Championship success of 2011 it may appear he has been around too long for inclusion in this category. But he is only 23 and remains a work in progress. A relatively fast, aggressive left-arm spin bowler, he could well be pressing for Monty Panesar's England spot before the year is out.

Captain/coach: Last year's relegation was a rare setback for Peter Moores at county level. Having won the Championship at two clubs, he remains a major asset as head coach. Chapple is the captain, with Mike Watkinson the director of cricket.

ESPNcricinfo's verdict: The players brought in should help Lancashire challenge for promotion, but that will not mask longer-term concerns about the quality of players developing at the club. Should remain competitive in limited-overs formats.

Read our supporters' network preview on Lancashire. ESPNcricinfo will be publishing a fan blog for each of the 18 counties as we build up to the 2013 season

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo