Lancashire are no longer the underdogs. In some quarters, they are even being tipped as favourites for the Division One crown.
While talk of that at the club’s annual media day was met with a solid forward defence, there is a quiet confidence around the squad that they are heading in the right direction.
A second-placed finish in the County Championship last season was a terrific effort and provides a great platform for their young squad to kick on in 2018.
Head coach Glen Chapple believes his side will be better for their experience from last season and admits he now has the strongest batting unit at the club for some time.
“We’ve always known that we’ve got talented cricketers but now we’ve got a season under our belts of challenging,” Chapple said.
“In those terms I think people will expect us to be there or thereabouts. Everyone that knows Division One knows that it’s a difficult and unpredictable division.
“We’ve got to be aware of that and we’ve got to realise that just assuming you’ve got a skillful squad is nowhere near enough.
“Everyone at the club would agree it’s the strongest batting lineup for some time.
“It’s the performances you put out on the field that really matter. Absolutely we fully believe in the ability of our players and we believe in the spirit and now it’s a matter of going out there and doing it.”
Lancashire’s capture of Durham pair Keaton Jennings and Graham Onions adds significant quality to the squad, as well as international experience. Australian seamer Joe Mennie arrives as the overseas signing, complementing a core of young, home-grown talent.
Alex Davies notched over 1000 runs last season, Haseeb Hameed will want stronger returns at the top of the order, pace bowler Saqib Mahmood is ready for his breakthrough season while Liam Livingstone now captains the side.
All have come through the ranks at the club and Livingstone is the oldest of that quartet at just 24. They also all have been involved with England or the England Lions.
“It’s a priority that we produce players from Lancashire and the North West,” Chapple said.
“We make sure that the players we bring in from elsewhere, bring the right kind of influence to homegrown players and they gel together and form a strong team.
“It must be a good feeling for everyone who has worked with them through the pathway for the last 10 years to see them play for England.”
The decision to make Livingstone captain raised some eyebrows. It is, after all, just his third season of first-class cricket.
“When he did the job last year he handled it really well with all the responsibility and also made tactically sound decisions,” Chapple explained.
“His personal form was very solid and he did the job well. That’s main reasoning. It’s exciting to have a young captain and he’s excited to have the role”
Livingstone has just returned from England’s Test squad in New Zealand, although he didn’t play in either game of the two-match series.
He is available for Lancashire’s first five Championship fixtures and will know that strong displays should at least keep him in that England squad.
But he insists his only focus is Lancashire and is excited about taking on the role as captain.
“Now I have a bit more responsibility and more to look after,” Livingstone said.
“I suppose that’s part of the excitement about it. I’m trying to stamp my authority on a couple of things, bring some new ideas and try to take the team forward which is the main thing.
“It’s my job to lead from the front, I’m not here to make massive changes, just a few decisions here and there. I want to score as many runs as I can and lead from the front that way.
“It was a great experience for me in New Zealand. It was nice being around that environment. The biggest bit of confidence I got from that was that I kind of felt like I belong there.
“I’m not thinking about England at the moment. It’s up to me now to bring that experience back to Old Trafford and help the lads improve. See how many of us we can get up to international cricket.”
Lancashire begin their Championship campaign with a home match against newly-promoted Nottinghamshire.
Competition for places in Chapple’s side is fierce and it’s difficult to predict which eleven will take to the field at Old Trafford, though he says the squad is fully fit heading into the season.
Livingstone is confident in the squad he has at his disposal. While he knows Lancashire aren’t the underdogs in the eyes of those outside the club, he wants to instil that mentality in his players.
“I think it’s about us still creating that underdog attitude and fighting from ball one rather than when we get behind in games.
“We need to create that kind of mentality and attitude in the squad and if we do that we can have a very good season.
“I think from last year we have only added quality. We have a very good dressing room, which we are really lucky to have, so it’s quite good that we are really just a big group of mates playing cricket together.”