Admittedly you can’t put ‘positives’ in the trophy cabinet to show off in years to come, but Lancashire’s 2017 season has been one that bodes well for the future.
To finish second in Division One of the County Championship, having narrowly avoided relegation last season, is a superb achievement. To do so with the star man from 2016, Haseeb Hameed, struggling for runs all season long is even more commendable.
In Hameed’s place, others have stepped up to the plate and their successes have been a result of exceptional team unity. If trophies were handed out for grit and determination alone, Lancashire would be parading a raft of them this season.
Their ability to battle back from tough positions underlined their impressive Division One campaign. Right from the second game at the Oval, where they battled back from 67-5 to post 470, Lancashire have consistently fought their way back into matches from tricky situations.
And they have done so thanks to exceptional individual performances. Jordan Clark hit his maiden first-class century in that match, putting on a mammoth stand with veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the process.
23-year-old Alex Davies has been a standout star at the top of the innings, becoming the first Lancashire wicket-keeper to pass 1000 first-class runs in a season. Alongside him, Liam Livingstone’s maiden double-century and the blossoming performances of leg-spinner Matt Parkinson have highlighted a raft of young talent developing at the club.
That youthful talent and exuberance has been coupled with the experience of the now 43-year-old Chanderpaul, with the West Indian averaging a mighty 51.94, and the superb bowling displays from 34-year-old Ryan McLaren – who finished as Lancashire’s leading wicket-taker.
Lancashire were widely tipped as relegation favourites at the start of the season, ironically alongside champions Essex, so to defy the odds in the manner they have has pleased all involved with the Old Trafford club.
“Obviously teams want to win trophies, but this is a good step forward from where we’ve been,” head coach Glen Chapple said.
“To be doing so well for so long, challenging for first place really much of the time in such a tough division where at the start of the season coaches around the country were thinking it was the toughest division for a long time, is really pleasing.”
As well as they did in the Championship, which you sensed from the start of the season was the priority, Lancashire will be disappointed with how they fared in the two white-ball competitions.
They started the Royal London One-Day Cup dismally, ending their chances of qualifying, before going on to win four of their last five matches. That finish to the campaign offers hope at better in 2018, but they will need to get off to a better start.
In the Natwest T20 Blast, a format where Lancashire are traditionally very strong and were champions in 2015, they failed to capitalise on a strong start. A combination of poor weather and a number of disappointing displays towards the back end of the competition left them eliminated at the group stage on the final night of the North Group.
They also had issues with their overseas signings for the competition, with deals agreed for James Faulkner and Mahela Jayawardene, neither of whom were ultimately able to come.
“The T20 got messy for us,” Chapple said. “Mahela couldn’t come for personal reasons and we were planning for that so that was disappointing. These things happen and we just have to move on.”
SSCC: 2nd, Division One
T20 Blast: Group Stage – 7th, North Group
RLODC: Group Stage – 4th, North Group
SSCC: Alex Davies, 916 runs
Natwest T20 Blast: Jos Buttler, 451 runs
RLODC: Dane Vilas, 408 runs
SSCC: Ryan McLaren, 45 wickets
Natwest T20 Blast: Junaid Khan, 13 wickets – economy 8.32
RLODC: Jordan Clark, 10 wickets
Player of the Season
Arguably the best signing of the season for any county, Ryan McLaren was a standout star for the Red Rose and deservedly picked up the club’s Player of the Year award. At 34, his performances with the ball in the County Championship exceeded expectations, finishing as the leading wicket-taker with 45 scalps. He was a reliable performer in all competitions and Lancashire are disappointed not to be able to keep him for next season.
Matt Parkinson has burst onto the scene with his leg-spin this season, and the 20-year-old became a key weapon for Lancashire in both County Championship and T20 cricket. He picked up 14 wickets in five Championship matches and looks to be a bowler who can excite Lancashire fans in the years to come.
Could have done better
After his outstanding 2016, it’s been a poor year for Haseeb Hameed. His performances in his first Test series in India had cemented his place in England’s thoughts, but his form on return to county cricket after a broken thumb saw him drift out of international contention. No centuries this season and just three half-centuries was a meagre Championship return but he impressed in glimpses in his first white-ball campaign in the Royal London One-Day Cup.
Need to work on
Lancashire need to build on the positives of the Championship campaign and use their raft of promising youngsters to kick the club forward. In the Championship they need to learn how to win away from home, as all five of their wins came on home soil, while being able to compete across all formats must be the overall goal.
Chapple has done some of his business early, bringing in Jennings and Onions. But the departure of Jarvis and McLaren means they are at least one bowler light, making an overseas signing of a genuine frontline bowler or a bowling all-rounder highly likely.
The white-ball campaigns left much to be desired but their Championship title tilt made up for those disappointments. Chapple placed a lot of emphasis at the start of the season on developing their own homegrown players and they must be delighted with how they’ve managed to do that this season.