Questions for Lancs but Chapple hopes to provide answers
Talk of Kolpak signings and whether Lancashire can avoid another relegation battle hover over Glen Chapple's first season as head coach
Lancashire's media days have changed. Time was when they used to consist of a team photo, the players' mugshots, a few interviews and a hotpot. On Friday morning, though, the Old Trafford outfield was bedecked with three sets of chairs for the team, their placement dependent on the sponsors being promoted; and Steven Croft's players dutifully sported Lancashire's three kits, white for the Championship, red for the T20 Blast and a curious shade of green for the Royal London Cup.
It all took a while, especially given the spreadsheet of sponsors to be accommodated and the team's need to scoot back to the dressing room and don another strip. Each clothes change seemed to require a fresh application of hair gel and sweet-smelling unguents. The whole thing had the air of a fashion parade. "And here we have Liam, and Liam is wearing a daring guacamole number by Kukri of Preston…"
Before long, probably to the relief of everyone, substance replaced style - well, talk about substance anyway - and discussion of what has been an eventful winter at Emirates Old Trafford. Ashley Giles has gone back to Warwickshire, Tom Smith has retired and Alviro Petersen has been released. The club have signed Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dane Vilas and Ryan McLaren. Inevitably, Glen Chapple, the new head coach, had to field questions about recruiting the 42-year-old Chanderpaul and what this said about the county's wish to develop its own players and give chances to them.
"When you're making signings, you've got one eye on what you think your squad needs but you've also got one eye on opportunities," he said. "I didn't set out thinking I was going to sign Shiv but when I found out how well he was playing and how keen he was to play, it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. He will add another dimension to our squad and he will be a great help to our batters."
"We know Shiv," Chapple added, referring to Chanderpaul's previous spell with Lancashire in 2010. "He loves playing cricket and he lives to bat. The modern day game needs people who know how to bat in a four-day match. I think Has [Haseeb Hameed] will speak to him a lot about batting. Has already has that mentality but I'm sure they'll have loads of conversations."
Maintaining a balance in Lancashire's squad is clearly important to Chapple. The loss of Petersen - who has been banned for two years for breaching Cricket South Africa's anti-corruption code - left a large gap in the top-order batting, one best filled by an experienced cricketer. However, he also understands and shares the deep desire of the county's supporters that the club should bring on its own.
"Long term the priority is to have as many homegrown players in the squad as possible and if you watch this season, we'll always have seven of those who will be homegrown and not signed from other counties," he said. "In our defence we are still producing first-class cricketers and over time we'd like that number to be more, but our supporters want us to achieve success as well. They want us to win trophies. They don't want periods when we say we're developing.
"With one team fewer in the division there is less scope for any poor performances. If you're not competing at the top, you'll be looking over your shoulder"Glen Chapple
"It is a balance but our priority is on producing players from within and for me that means the north-west. We are careful to sign the right players who want to perform for the club and are hungry to achieve more. They're not just coming because they can. I've not heard people spoken of more highly than Dane Vilas and Ryan McLaren in the reports I received about them. That's a really good sign for us."
Nevertheless, for all that he has a great deal of coaching skill and acquired more during his two years working under Giles, Chapple has had to adjust to leading Lancashire's coaching team and helping to establish an atmosphere, perhaps a more relaxed one than his predecessor's, in which the players can perform at their best. He does not demur at the suggestion that he is putting his own stamp on things.
"There were a few things that changed given a slightly different approach," he said. "You might share some values but when it's up to you, you make slightly different decisions. I work closely with Mark Chilton [his assistant], Chris Benbow [the analyst] and the rest of the management staff to do what I think is right. I want the players to be themselves in training and to have the freedom to express how they want to play their cricket. It's a career that needs to be enjoyed but you need to enjoy getting better. I want us to be a tough team to play against.
"My previous role was all-encompassing but it was more as an aid to the captain and head coach whereas now ultimately some decisions rest with me. The captain will have the final say on who he takes onto the field. I and the coaches just want to help the players achieve success. I don't think you have to become a different person as a head coach but it's nearly ten years since I've been simply a player, so I'm probably distanced a bit in that respect. I've enjoyed the job so far and I can't wait to get into the competitive stuff."
That competitive stuff begins at Essex next Friday and some attention will be taken by the duel between Alastair Cook and James Anderson. "Alastair's good friends with Jimmy but he'll be wishing Jimmy wasn't the bowler he was facing first up," observes Chapple, who is fully aware how intense the cricket will be in a division in which two of the eight teams will be relegated in September.
"The teams that were a bit weaker last season have strengthened, the one team that came up, Essex, have strengthened quite a lot and with one team fewer in the division there is less scope for any poor performances," he said. "If you're not competing at the top, you'll be looking over your shoulder."
So Chapple is understandably loath to set his team the target of winning a trophy in 2017.
"I'd rather judge the season on how we play our cricket," he said. "If we play really good cricket and finish mid-table, then great. I'd much rather we won the division but until it kicks off you don't know how difficult that is going to be. Last season was the strangest I've seen. We were 20 points clear after four games and then suddenly everyone started winning and we couldn't find a result. The key thing for me is that you can't have a game off, you have to be right at it this year. Whenever we've been successful in the past, it's the players who have set their own targets and we have to find a day this week to talk about that. I'm pretty sure what we'll hear."
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications