When you’ve escaped relegation by the skin of your teeth, what you really want is a nice, calm winter to allow you to regroup and kick on for the new season. Losing your Head Coach, top batsman and long-serving all-rounder in the space of a few months therefore isn’t ideal preparation for the 2017 campaign.
But that is what Lancashire have faced ahead of the 2017 season. Ashley Giles was going to be top of Warwickshire’s wishlist when they decided to appoint a new sport director, having previously coached the Edgbaston-based county with great distinction.
For family reasons, Giles decided to leave Lancashire after two seasons in charge, and return to the Midlands, but the delay in making that decision didn’t help the Red Rose cause.
Alviro Petersen, who has spent the last two seasons at Old Trafford and was set to return, was then banned by Cricket South Africa for two years for attempting to cover up match-fixing by others during the domestic Ram Slam competition.
He scored 1134 runs last season at an average of 49.30, and so is a huge loss to the Lancashire side.
And then came the sad news that injury had forced the retirement of club stalwart Tom Smith. He had been a top performing all-rounder for a number of years until a serious back injury in 2015 put pay to his career. Smith was a much-liked member of the Lancashire dressing room and will be sorely missed.
So all-in-all it’s not gone too well since the end of the 2016 season. It was a season where the ultimate aim of Championship survival was achieved – just – but where the one-day competitions brought nothing but disappointment.
Lancashire have turned, as they always would, to club legend Glen Chapple as head
coach, supported by long-serving player and coach Mark Chilton.
They have also turned to experience by signing veteran West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul for a second Kolpak spell at the club, as well as bringing in Dane Vilas as a Kolpak player and Ryan McLaren as overseas star.
Ahead of the new season, all efforts will again be placed on staying in Division One of the Championship, while returning to their usual excellent displays in the T20 Blast.
Emphasis will once again be on the club’s youngsters to succeed, as they did last season, to support the experienced members of the Red Rose squad.
Ins: Dane Vilas & Shivnarine Chanderpaul (Kolpak), Brooke Guest (second team)
Outs: Tom Smith (retired), Nathan Buck (Northants), Gareth Griffiths (Leicestershire), Luis Reece (Derbyshire), George Edwards & Alviro Petersen (released)
Key Player: Liam Livingstone
Despite having only made his First Class debut at the start of last season, over the
last 12 months Livingstone has established himself as a crucial figure in the Lancashire dressing room across all formats and has emerged as a genuine contender for an England call-up.
The middle-order batsman first came to public attention by smashing 350 from 138
balls for his club side Nantwich CC. Understandably he was therefore introduced to
the Lancashire team in the T20 format but last year proved his class against the red
He averaged 54.52 in Division One and struck four centuries, as well as proving useful on occasion with his part-time leg spin.
That form earned the 23-year-old a call-up to the England Lions squad, where he excelled during the winter, including hitting a century against Sri Lanka in the searing heat of Dambulla.
There will be a huge onus on Livingstone to reproduce that form for Lancashire, given the loss of Petersen and the potential England involvement of Haseeb Hameed – last season’s top two runs scorers.
Livingstone will be expected to contribute heavily across all competitions, and show that he has developed into one of Lancashire’s top players, despite his tender years.
Player to Watch
Alex Davies has been around the Lancashire first team for some years now, but 2017 has the feel of a make or break year for the keeper-batsman.
Still only 22, it’s six seasons since Davies made his Lancashire debut two days before his 17th birthday – becoming the club’s youngest one-day player.
He made his Championship debut just over a year later, and has been around the side ever since. His blossoming career stalled somewhat when Lancashire signed Jos Buttler, but when he became an England regular, Davies got the gloves and extra responsibility with the bat.
He has been up and down the order in all forms of the game, opening in both Championship and T20 matches, as well as being deployed as the ‘finisher’ in T20 matches. It rather feels as though this is the season where Davies, and the coaching
staff, need to decide exactly what his role in the side is.
A serious knee injury hampered Davies last season, and Lancashire have brought in two wicket-keepers this winter, in Dane Vilas and Brooke Guest. But Glen Chapple has insisted that Davies is the man who will have the gloves – a show of faith in his young charge. Davies has bundles of potential and this could well be the year he is able to kick on and establish himself as a consistent performer in the Red Rose side.
Ryan McLaren, Junaid Khan (T20 only)
Lancashire have turned to the experienced head of 34-year-old Ryan McLaren to be their main all-rounder for the 2017 season. McLaren, who has two Test caps for South Africa and has played over 50 ODIs, scored 832 runs and took 32 wickets for Hampshire last season. He will be available for all competitions for the Red Rose this season and, despite his advancing years, will be a crucial cog in the Lancashire squad.
The Old Trafford hierarchy have been promising the signing of an ‘Iconic T20 player’ all winter. That raised eyebrows and peaked interest. Who could they attract? Maybe Viv Richards fancied making a comeback?
As things stand, only Junaid Khan has signed as overseas player for the Blast. The Pakistan international seamer has represented Lancashire before with great success, and will be a good signing again. James Faulker, who helped Lancashire in the competition in 2015, was due to return but was prevented by Cricket Australia due to injury.
How they’ll fare
There are reasons to be fearful for Lancashire this season, particularly in the Championship. Survival last season came on the back of three wins in their first five matches – the only wins they managed all season. Those wins were thanks, in no small part, to the early season wickets of Neil Wagner. When the New Zealander was called up to the Test squad, and Lancashire chose not to replace him, they didn’t win another game. Coincidence? Probably not.
As we head into the new season, that Wagner-shaped hole has not been filled – a point exacerbated by the fact that Wagner will be lining up against Lancashire for Essex in the opening match.
Many of us regular Lancashire observers are fearful that the bowling looks frightfully light. James Anderson will bolster it in the opening weeks, but when he departs for England duty, huge pressure will be on Kyle Jarvis to take the wickets.
But, as ever with these things, where there are reasons to be fearful there are often reasons to be cheerful. At this point last season, few could have foreseen the outstanding performances of Hameed and Livingstone, and there are many other youngsters who could achieve great things again this year. Saqib Mahmood is a hugely promising seamer, while Rob Peter Jones proved his potential with a century at the end of last season.
Championship survival has to be the primary aim, and it will be a tough one to achieve. As far as the white ball is concerned, Lancashire will be there or thereabouts. The 2015 T20 Blast champions have one of the best domestic T20 records in the world and will expect to compete again.
And there is a desperation for the kings of the one-day cup in the 90s to return to a Lord’s final for the first time since 2006. There is no reason whatsoever why that shouldn’t be a realistic aim.
v Essex, Friday 7th April at Chelmsford
LV County Championship Division 12/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 14/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 12/1