It was a season that promised so much but, ultimately, delivered nothing but disappointment.
Pre-season, many were tipping Lancashire as contenders for the County Championship title. That came off the back of a strong performance in 2017, finishing second to runaway winners Essex.
It was also built on what appeared to be strong recruitment, with head coach Glen Chapple saying he had the strongest batting unit at his disposal that he could remember at the club.
And yet, come September, Lancashire and their supporters were dissecting a Championship campaign that ended in relegation while weighing up the prospect of a return to Division Two – albeit having nearly survived by the skin of their teeth.
It simply shouldn’t have happened. On paper, Lancashire ticked so many boxes.
The arrival of Keaton Jennings from Durham was one of the few positives in a batting unit that failed so badly. His early-season form, with three centuries, earned him an England recall which hindered the Red Rose.
But with Alex Davies, Haseeb Hameed, Liam Livingstone, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dane Vilas, Steven Croft and Jordan Clark, Lancashire should have had more than enough runs.
Other than Jennings’ three centuries, Vilas also hit three and Davies got one. That was it.
Livingstone, in his first season as Lancashire captain and off the back of making the England Test squad, got a high score of 48*. Yes, he picked up a mid-season injury but still played ten Championship matches.
As for Hameed, by Lancashire’s own admission, the mystery goes on. Two winters ago he made his impressive England debut after a wonderful season at Lancashire aged just 19.
Since then he’s got just one half-century, none coming this year as he averaged 9.70 from ten matches. That included three ducks and a remarkable run of being bowled while offering no shot.
Quite what Lancashire do with Hameed remains unclear. But this cannot go on much longer, delivering form that a club cricketer would be embarrassed by.
All of Lancashire’s batting woes are thrown into sharp focus by the fact that Tom Bailey finished as top wicket-taker with 64 scalps and Graham Onions was fourth on that list with 57.
And also by the fact that had they made 300 in their final Championship game against Hampshire, they would have survived at the expense of Nottinghamshire.
The bowling unit can be forgiven for throwing a few dark looks towards the batsmen as they contemplate life in Division Two.
It remains something of a mystery that when overseas seamer Joe Mennie was heading back to Australia, Lancashire didn’t try to sign a batsman. Instead they went spin, spin and more spin.
Keshav Maharaj arrived and did superbly, but having already signed Zahir Khan for the Blast, as well as having Matt Parkinson, Mark Watt, Stephen Parry, Arron Lilley, Livingstone and Croft as spin options, it all seemed a bit bizarre.
With the misery that the Championship brought, white-ball cricket seems secondary.
But the T20 Blast provided the only bright point of the season. The 2015 champions made it back to Edgbaston for the first time since that triumph after a very impressive campaign.
Davies was quite brilliant throughout it, making six half-centuries which is the most by a Lancashire batsman in a single T20 campaign.
The Lightning produced fearless cricket, blowing teams away including two pulsating victories over their Roses rivals Yorkshire. A quarter-final victory over Kent took them into Finals Day arguably as favourites.
Their execution in the semi-final against eventual-winners Worcestershire was poor, falling well short in an achievable run-chase. The last bright spark had been extinguished.
All that came off the back of another flat Royal London One-Day Cup campaign. For all Chapple’s protestations that they are making progress, another empty group stage campaign feels very much like Groundhog Day.
So there we have it, a perfect little ball of misery. A tale of talent that failed to produce and of a coaching setup that seemed to come up short of ideas
SSCC: 7th, Division One – relegated
T20 Blast: Semi-finalists – lost to Worcestershire
RLODC: 6th, North Group
SSCC: Dane Vilas – 792 runs
T20 Blast: Alex Davies – 534 runs
RLODC: Keaton Jennings – 375 runs
SSCC: Tom Bailey – 64 wickets
T20 Blast: Matt Parkinson – 25 wickets
RLODC: Matt Parksinson – 18 wickets
Player of the season
Tom Bailey’s efforts were ultimately in vain but were supremely impressive nonetheless. He was consistent, skilful and determined throughout the Championship campaign and to finish as top wicket-taker is a superb effort. His white-ball cricket needs a huge amount of work, but Division Two batsmen will not fancy facing Bailey next season.
Tricky one, but Toby Lester just gets the nod over Josh Bohannon by virtue of having played more games. Bohannon showed real promise towards the back end of the Championship season, but throughout the Blast Lester performed superbly for Lancashire. Many may reflect on an over he bowled in the semi-final as one that cost the Lightning, but that happens in T20 cricket. He consistently bowled in the powerplay, finishing the campaign with 15 wickets and having shown a great deal of composure and nerve at key times for his side.
Could have done better
Where do you start? You’d struggle to find Lancashire players who couldn’t have improved, but Hameed’s form is the one that takes the headlines. He came into the season feeling positive after a strong pre-season, but it’s just been a horror-show from beginning to end.
Need to work on
Simply, the batting. The bowling unit couldn’t really have done any more in the Championship. Lancashire also need to find some formula for the 50-over competition. It’s 2006 since they last made a Lord’s final and appear as far away as they have ever been.
We wish him all the best. 👍
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— Lancashire Cricket (@lancscricket) August 16, 2018
Richard Gleeson came in late in the season and should further bolster the bowling. There needs to be plenty of recruitment work, with Karl Brown, Simon Kerrigan and Lilley all having left at the end of their contracts and Clark having shocked many by leaving Old Trafford to join Surrey. Chanderpaul will not return as it appears his glorious career is drawing to a close and there are questions over Hameed and Rob Jones. All in all, plenty to do.
The bright spark that was the Vitality Blast campaign will not mask the bitter disappointment that relegation is. Lancashire, with their infrastructure and history, should be a top-flight county. But their performances didn’t warrant survival. The Royal London campaign was a non-event and 2018 is not a year that Lancashire fans will look back on with any degree of fondness.