Lancashire will be itching to get the 2019 season underway – if nothing else so they can begin to forget all about what happened in 2018.
Relegation from the top flight is not, perhaps, the disaster that it used to be but it is certainly not what the Red Rose county had in mind when they began last season as many people’s tip for the title.
Where did it all go wrong? Namely the batting. In Tom Bailey they had Division One’s leading wicket-taker with Graham Onions not far behind in fourth on that list. Throw in a revolving door of spin bowlers that just kept appearing throughout the season and it was not issues with the ball that sunk Lancashire.
Not a single batsman passed 800 runs in the Championship – a dismal return for a batting unit lauded pre-season by head coach Glen Chapple as the best he could remember at the club.
The less said about Haseeb Hameed – lest we forget England’s opener just couple of winters ago – and his single-figure average, the better.
It is clear therefore where improvements need to be made in red-ball cricket. Just stick some runs on the board and give a strong and reliable bowling unit half a chance.
But that may be easier said than done. Lancashire have question marks over the availability of Keaton Jennings due to potential England commitments, overseas signing Joe Burns now looks set to be part of Australia’s Test plans, Liam Livingstone misses the start of the season at the IPL, while Jordan Clark and Karl Brown have left the club.
There is a dependence therefore on some young players. Hameed has suffered two appalling seasons and the pressure is on for him to prove he can deliver runs, while the likes of Rob Jones, Josh Bohannon, Danny Lamb and Brooke Guest are likely to be asked to fill the void.
Livingstone has relinquished the captaincy duties after just one season as skipper – a move he will hope allows him to recapture his best form with the bat – and is replaced by South African Dane Vilas.
Last season’s showing brought with an understandable amount of frustration from supporters and the loss of Clark to Surrey was a further cause for grievance. The all-rounder was a key man in all formats for the Red Rose and his loss will be keenly felt.
It wasn’t all bad news in 2018. The T20 Blast brought a chink of light. Lancashire were very impressive throughout the competition in reaching Finals Day, only to fall to eventual champions Worcestershire.
Their style in that run to Edgbaston, plus fine performances from the likes of Alex Davies, Matt Parkinson and Toby Lester give Lancashire something to build on in white-ball cricket.
As for the 50-over format, getting out of the group stage is a distant memory for Lightning fans. Things must improve on that score.
Optimism might be much harder to come by than it was 12 months ago, but it is not all bad news.
Three teams being promoted from Division Two this season ought to allow Lancashire an immediate passage back to the top flight – if not, serious questions will be asked.
And with a few young talents, players with points to prove and a couple of strong overseas signings, 2019 might just be a little bit brighter.
Ins: Richard Gleeson (Northamptonshire)
Outs: Jordan Clark (Surrey), Karl Brown, Simon Kerrigan, Arron Lilley (all released)
Alex Davies was one of the few batsmen who could walk away with his head held high from 2018. His Championship record will have disappointed him somewhat, but his performances in the T20 Blast were superb, claiming the club record for the most half-centuries in a single campaign. Davies has been away and impressed with the England Lions this winter and comes into the new season with his stock on the rise. The keeper-batsman is crucial for Chapple’s men across all formats.
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Having performed well at the back end of last season, there’s every chance that all-rounder Josh Bohannon will find himself in the side at the start of this. He scored a half-century on first-class debut in a narrow defeat against Surrey at the Oval and followed it up with an unbeaten 78 in victory over Worcestershire. The Bolton-born 21-year-old offers a seam option with the ball and could be asked to step into the shoes vacated by Clark.
Australian Joe Burns appeared a superb capture when announced last winter, but his strong performances since returning to the Test side may mean Lancashire lose his services during the Ashes this summer. There’s an Australian theme to the overseas names, with Glenn Maxwell a very exciting capture for both white-ball formats while James Faulkner returns for a third Blast campaign and his second consecutive season at Old Trafford.
How they’ll fare
The pressure will be on for Lancashire to secure an immediate return to county cricket’s top table. On paper, it would seem they are in a four-way battle for three spots but if they play to their potential Lancashire ought to gain promotion.
The Lightning have always been a strong T20 side and will want to challenge again to reach Finals Day, while a first Lord’s final since 2006 is a long-held ambition – and one which appears further away every season. The fans will hope the ditching of the horrific all-green kit does the trick!
SSCC v Middlesex – Lord’s – April 11 2019, 11am
Odds (Sky Bet)
Specsavers County Championship – 7/4
Royal London One-Day Cup – 12/1
Vitality T20 Blast – 10/1