The 2016 campaign isn’t one that will live long in the memories of Lancashire supporters. It wasn’t a disaster, though it very nearly became one, but nor was there much to cheer or cherish for the Red Rose faithful.
That aforementioned disaster was averted on the final day of the County Championship season – and not by their own good work. Lancashire are indebted to Durham for the fact that they will be playing top flight cricket again next season, with the North East side’s victory over Hampshire ensuring Ashley Giles’ side survived by the skin of their teeth.
Relegation in their two previous top flight campaigns, after winning the Division One title in 2011, were disappointing enough for Lancashire – and a hattrick would have been unthinkable. Survival was the aim at the start of the season, and they achieved it by the narrowest of margins.
But 2016 promised to be oh-so-different for the Red Rose. Three wins from their first five Championship matches even had some tentatively whispering about a title challenge. ‘It’s just like 2011 all over again this,’ some proffered in jest.
Little did those optimistic voices realise that Lancashire wouldn’t pick up another Championship win all season – with defeat in the sixth match to Yorkshire sparking an alarming downward spiral that took them to the brink of the drop.
The departure of overseas signing Neil Wagner, who was called up by New Zealand at the start of July, was seen by some as the catalyst for Lancashire’s appalling end to the season. Giles chose not to replace him and the side were woefully short on bowling quality.
The Championship campaign, which started so brightly, turned out to be one to forget.
Well, for the team at least. There were individual performances this season that will live long in the memory at Old Trafford. In 20 years time, we may well look back on 2016 as the year that one of England’s finest batsmen burst onto the scene.
19-year-old Haseeb Hameed has exceeded all expectations this year, opening the batting with an old-fashioned resistance and temperament that has seen him called up by England for their winter tours.
Hameed was the fifth-highest run-scorer in Division One, at a mighty average of 49.91, and his performances have been a real source of satisfaction for Lancashire followers.
Likewise Liam Livingstone. His form, particularly early season was magnificent, and an average of 50.93 shows just how strongly the 23-year-old performed having made his first-class debut on the opening day against Nottinghamshire.
So it all rather depends how you judge success. Giles defended himself on Twitter from supporters who clearly believe success to be winning matches and trophies. He offered the argument that developing players counts just as much, and they have certainly done that in the Championship this season.
With regards to the white ball cricket, probably the less said the better. After clinching their maiden T20 title in 2015, hopes were high for a successful defence of their crown. Martin Guptill was brought in to help with that aim, but it all went horribly wrong for the Lightning.
Drubbings in their first two matches at the hands of Derbyshire and Durham set the tone for the dismal campaign – which even a thumping victory over old rivals Yorkshire at Old Trafford could not salvage.
They had a slim chance of making the knockout stage in the final match, but other results went against them, making Lancashire’s comprehensive victory over Birmingham entirely academic. They finally looked like champions in that game – all too little too late.
The Royal London One-Day Cup was little short of a disaster. Lancashire, the kings of 50-over cricket in the 90s, haven’t reached a Lord’s final since 2006 and, in truth, look further away than ever.
Rock bottom of the North Group table is not acceptable for a club of Lancashire’s size and stature and while Giles can legitimately defend himself against criticism in the Championship, he can have no defence for his side’s performances with the white ball in 2016.
LVCC: 7th, Division One
T20 Blast: Group Stage (5th, North Group)
RLODC: Group Stage (9th, North Group)
SSCC: Haseeb Hameed – 1198 @ 49.91; T20 Blast: Alviro Petersen – 455 – SR: 140.43; RLODC: Steven Croft – 249 @ 41.50
SSCC: Kyle Jarvis – 51 @ 32.80; T20 Blast: George Edwards – 16 – Econ: 9.57; RLODC: Stephen Parry – 9 @ 5.18
Win %: 28.9
Player of the Season: Haseeb Hameed
The youngster is one of the most talked about players across county cricket in 2016. With a batting style that is a throwback to opening batsmen of years gone by, Hameed has given Lancashire a resilience and steeliness at the top of the order. 1198 runs is a magnificent return in your first full season, and his England call-up was thoroughly deserved. There’s cause to be very excited about this lad.
Breakthrough Player: Liam Livingstone
There’s been a lot of chatter around Livingstone since he hit 350 from 138 balls for his club side Nantwich in the Cheshire County Premier League in 2015. Lancashire drafted him into the limited-overs side soon after, but he got his first class bow at the start of this season. Early on he was superb, making 70 in his maiden first class knock, before hitting 108* in his second. He faded slightly, but 815 runs across the season is an excellent display and there’s a lot more to come from this man.
Could have done better: Simon Kerrigan
England are crying out for a top-drawer spinner, and Kerrigan had a chance this season on his Division One return to stake a claim. His one Test, against Australia in 2013, was a disaster but he’s a hugely talented bowler. He took 35 wickets this season, but ten of those came in the penultimate match, representing a poor return. An average of 37.88 underlines his struggles. The fact that England have taken a 38-year-old to Bangladesh in Gareth Batty, shows just what a missed opportunity 2016 was for Kerrigan.
Need to work on
Lancashire need all-round improvement if they are to retain a top flight place and certainly if they want to challenge for honours. Hugely reliant on Hameed and Alviro Petersen for runs this season and on Kyle Jarvis for wickets, the Championship side needs reinforcements with experience and calibre. In the one-day formats, Lancashire have to become more dynamic with the bat and wilier with the ball. There’s lots of work for Giles to do.
It’s a big winter for Lancashire. Petersen may not return, increasing the need to bring in bodies and experience. Hameed’s England involvement could hurt them, so Lancashire should be looking around the county game to bag some signings. They also need to tie down an overseas player who will be around for the whole campaign.
Lancashire had three aims for 2016: Championship survival, T20 Blast defence and a RLODC challenge. One out of three was achieved, just, and so it’s hard to label Lancashire’s campaign as anything other than a disappointment.