If you had told Lancashire’s director of cricket, Ashley Giles, that in 2016 Lancashire would be competing in Division One of the County Championship, as well as defending the Twenty20, title he would have been a very happy man indeed.
Lancashire’s primary objective, promotion in the four-day contest, was sealed with two games left in their fixture list, although in reality they and Surrey had secured first division status much sooner. Surrey and the Red Rose county utterly dominated Division Two; Lancashire made a formidable start with the red ball, while the eventual winners of the second division finished the season in style.
The contributions of stand-in skipper Steven Croft in all three formats, in itself, was a tremendous effort for the club, but the fact that he did all of this in the unfortunate absence of club captain Tom Smith made it all the more admirable.
The County Championship campaign saw Kyle Jarvis take 62 wickets before a broken hand ended his season prematurely, while Ashwell Prince finished his career and his fifth season at Old Trafford with the most runs in red-ball cricket in either division. Lancashire’s start to the season was especially rampant and so it was difficult to see how they would fail to secure promotion.
Surrey emerged as the only real threat and the 54-point gap between Lancashire and Essex in third demonstrates the void between the top two sides and the rest of the division. The only criticism of Lancashire in the final month of the season was that they began to stumble and found themselves fighting an uphill battle to salvage less-than entertaining draws, rather than be able to keep up with Surrey’s winning form, which allowed the South-London county to lift the trophy by the margin of ten points.
Lancashire can regard their 50-over campaign as a vast improvement, although that is not to say that they are, by any means, the finished article in this format. They narrowly failed to claim a spot in the quarter-finals, only by the margin of net run rate, but the performances of Alex Davies and Stephen Parry were particularly reassuring for the Red Rose County. In the end, Lancashire found their winning formula for the 50-over contest too late and were left ruing narrow defeats earlier in the contest.
Fate conspired in Lancashire’s favour in the shortest format of the game, as the Lightning ended their exhausted wait for a maiden T20 trophy. The first dose of luck came when Lancashire edged through to the knockout stages by virtue of having a superior net run rate to Nottinghamshire. Lancashire then edged their way to Finals Day on the technicality of losing fewer wickets against Kent, who topped the South Group.
The second of these two conspiring factors was the moment when the Lancashire faithful must have known that this was their year for T20 glory. Lancashire played the best cricket on the day and overcame the heartache of the previous season, cementing their first Twenty20 title to suit their reputation as the side who has won the most individual matches in the tournament’s history.
LVCC: 2nd, Division Two
T20 Blast: Winner (4th, North Group)
RLODC: 5th, Group B
Leading run-scorer: Ashwell Prince – 2,131 runs
Leading wicket-taker: Kyle Jarvis – 78 wickets
Win %: 48.78
Player of the Season
Ashwell Prince leaves a sizeable and – some might say – irreplaceable void in Lancashire’s ranks, both for his contributions with the bat and the impact he has had on the dressing room and its younger inhabitants. A return of 1,478 runs in the County Championship made the South African the highest run-scorer in the format, after Prince was the first person to reach the coveted milestone of 1,000 runs at the end of June.
It seems unfair to describe Haseeb Hameed as a breakthrough player; his talent as a batsman has been known for some time at England Under-19 level. However, on the county scene, the Bolton-born batsman has only truly demonstrated his talent this season. Hameed is certainly a player for a difficult situation and after the departure of Paul Horton, Lancashire will be delighted to have unearthed such a determined and mature character. The England Under-19 joint-captain hit 91 against Surrey and scored 257 runs in six innings at an average of 42.83.
Could have done better
Simon Kerrigan returned 41 Championship wickets and so it may seem harsh to identify his contributions as a weakness at Lancashire. However, Lancashire’s strength and ability to produce quality spinners could pose a threat to Kerrigan, particularly if people like Arron Lilley show similar form to this season. The left-arm spinner has, in truth, not been the same since his England debut at the Oval and with Ashley Giles as a head coach, Kerrigan needs to use his expertise to get back to his best with the ball and help Lancashire compete in Division One.
Need to work on
The start you make can be vital as to how the rest of the game pans out. Lancashire found themselves fighting, in rather unattractive fashion, to save the draw after allowing the opposition to seize the initiative, something which Giles was particularly critical of in the concluding weeks of the season. It is tough to criticise a team who only suffered one defeat in four-day cricket, but tougher oppositions in Division One will not be so easy to overcome as those in the second tier.
Tweet of the Season
Hope I've not left anyone out, probably will do. Been an unbelievable journey!!! Can't thank everyone enough. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/Ck1XJ3T6eG
— Ashwell Prince (@ashyp_5) September 22, 2015
Promotion to the first division and one-day silverware has made 2015 a memorable season for all those concerned with Lancashire and particularly the players who have fought hard for their success. If they had been able to win the second division and reach the knockout stages of the 50-over contest, then it would have been a near-perfect campaign. As it is, Lancashire enter the 2016 season as a Division-One side, as the defending champions in the T20 Blast and they also have a pool of talented youngsters who are ready to take their chance in the first team. 7/10