December 2004 November 17, 2004

Red Rose regroups around Chilton

A closer look at the changes going on at Old Trafford, after Lancashire not only failed to win Division on of the Championship, but were relegated too

Chilton giving the ball some humpty © Getty Images

Mark Chilton knows that Lancashire will start next season as even hotter favourites to bounce back to Division One of the Championship than they were to end their 74-year wait for the pennant under Warren Hegg last summer.

The return of Muttiah Muralitharan, even for half a season, followed by the signing of Brad Hodge to join the Queenslander-turned-pom Stuart Law in the middle order, means Chilton will be leading an even stronger looking team than the one whose spectacular collapse made fools of so many pundits in 2004. However, the 28-year-old Chilton, who will be Lancashire's first Yorkshire-born captain but describes himself as a Mancunian after moving from Sheffield with his family as a youngster, admits Old Trafford will not be the same without Peter Martin around.

"I don't think it needs any explaining how influential Digger has been," said Chilton, whose previous captaincy experience has been limited to Manchester Grammar School, Durham University and, with Lancashire, the odd first-class friendly. Certainly in my time on the scene he's been one of the finest bowlers on the county circuit and I know from talking to mates around the country that view is shared by other teams.

"He was always a good bloke to have around and I always admired the way he went about his business. So he's going to leave a big hole to fill but that's got to be an opportunity for some of our younger seamers to get in and see what they can do."

Martin's understated importance to Lancashire was never more clearly illustrated than last summer, when his prolonged absence with a niggling knee injury was arguably the biggest single reason for their startling decline. With 606 first-class wickets and his 36th birthday looming in November, he decided it was time to concentrate on his off-field interests - most famously painting, although more recently wine.

Otherwise Chilton declared himself delighted with a busy autumn of comings-and-goings at Old Trafford. "It's been freshened up a little bit, hasn't it? With Stuart Law hopefully becoming English, two new overseas players immediately give a different look to the side, especially with a new captain as well. Maybe we needed a bit of a revamp after what happened last year."

Law will be Chilton's deputy and dismissed suggestions that the responsibility comes at a time when the younger man should be concentrating on his batting form after sharing in Lancashire's collective loss of form last season. "He's 28, which is older than I was when I started as captain of Queensland," said the new British citizen in an accent which is still Bundaberg rum rather than Thwaites bitter (he qualifies after marrying a Liverpudlian during his Essex days). "And he's an old 28. He wanted it so much and I'm sure he'll thrive on it."

With Lancashire's members demanding an immediate return to Division One, he will need to.