Into the New Millennium (2000-2003)
The dawn of the new millennium heralded a change of fortunes, as the team that had enjoyed so much success in the previous decade began to break up.
Lancashire were still in the hunt for honours, but became familiar with failures that did not sit easily when compared with the recent exploits of the ‘team of the nineties’.
Australian Bobby Simpson was appointed Head Coach for the 2000 and 2001 seasons, and in his first year saw his team finish as runners-up to Surrey by 20 points in the County Championship without ever really looking like convincing contenders for the title.
In the one-day game the new ‘Kings of One-Day Cricket’ were Gloucestershire who swept Lancashire aside twice in the semi-finals of both the B&H Cup and NatWest Trophy. The biggest shock came in the Norwich Union National League when Lancashire-the defending Champions-were relegated by just two points, with Simpson rightly saying at the end of the season, “we didn’t play to our potential.”
This slide continued into 2001 with Lancashire just avoiding relegation in the Championship by 5 points, failing to mount a promotion push in the National League, falling at the group stages of the B&H Cup, and then enduring a disastrous batting display in the new C&G (former NatWest) Trophy semi-final at Leicester. It was perhaps then that there was no great surprise when at the end of the season, the club decided not to renew Simpson’s contract.
The season was the final one for two great servants when opening batsman Mike Atherton announced his retirement after an outstanding career with both Lancashire and England, and popular all-rounder Ian Austin also called time on his first-class cricket days.
Then followed a dispute that dragged on all winter. John Crawley was not retained as captain, with the player subsequently requesting an early release from his contract. Crawley’s request was eventually granted at the start of the following season with Hampshire paying Lancashire an undisclosed amount of compensation, but it was a sorry and sad end to a career that had seen Crawley emerge through the club junior sides to be one of the club’s most consistent and brilliant batsmen.
It meant that the 2002 season saw a new captain at the helm in Warren Hegg, and a new coach with Mike Watkinson appointed Cricket Manager. Watkinson had spent the previous two seasons as captain/coach of the 2ndXI and was well placed to assess the needs of the team. Stuart Law was recruited as overseas player from Essex following the previous one-year deals for Sourav Ganguly in 2001 and Muttiah Muralitharan in 2002. Batsman Alec Swann joined from Northants and with Ryan Driver and John Wood having joined in 2001, the squad had changed significantly in a short space of time.
The biggest surprise came just before the start of the season when former Yorkshire skipper David Byas was persuaded to come out of ‘retirement’ after leading the White Rose county to the Championship in 2001.
On the field the team won their two opening Championship games, flirted with the relegation places mid-way through the seaon before finishing reasonably comfortable in a mid-table fourth position. Promotion from division 2 of the National League again eluded the team, as did significant progress in the C&G Trophy. In the last-ever B&H Cup competition, Lancashire endured a heart-breaking last-ball defeat at Old Trafford against Warwickshire.
Law and Swann both made over 1,000 runs, while Chapple and Martin took over 50 wickets each. The bowler who made all the headlines though was James Anderson, the young Burnley bred quickie arriving with a bang in the second half of the season, taking 50 wickets with fearsome pace. From playing with the 2ndXI in June, Anderson ended the year catapulted from the England Academy to the full England side for the 2003 World Cup.
Meanwhile, Graham Lloyd and Neil Fairbrother both retired at the end of the season and will be long remembered for their many outstanding, attacking, innings that thrilled Lancashire supporters over many seasons.
If 2002 had been a season of consolidation, the next season was one of the more memorable, featuring outstanding batting and a real tilt at that elusive Championship. Lancashire had signed Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh as their second overseas player when the overseas quota was increased, only for the Indian spinner to pull out after suffering injury. West Indies’ Carl Hooper was recruited as the season began, and he went on to enthral spectators with some brilliant batting in all competitions.
Hooper scored over 1,100 runs in the Championship and was aided by Player of the Season Stuart Law (1,820), Mark Chilton (1,065) and new recruit Mal Loye, signed from Northants (1,062). These 4 batsman each scored a century in the same innings on two occasions; against Middlesex at Old Trafford and Warwickshire at Edgbaston – the first time this feat had been achieved twice by the same set of players. Another new signing Iain Sutcliffe (from Leics) contributed nearly 700 runs despite two spells out with bad injuries, and altogether the batsmen hit 28 Championship centuries, the second highest number in a season by Lancashire.
Left-arm spinner Gary Keedy led the bowlers with 60 wickets with the ever reliable pair of Glen Chapple and Peter Martin contributing 49 and 41 wickets respectively. Chapple also cemented his all-rounder credentials with two centuries and nearly 700 runs. The impact of Anderson the previous year worked against the team however, as his call-ups to England as a contracted player restricted his appearances. Brilliant all-rounder Andrew Flintoff contributed significantly at the start of the season, before he too spent the remainder of the season in Test and ODI action for the national side.
Nevertheless, Lancashire were involved in a three horse race for the Championship throughout the summer. Early runaway leaders Surrey were eventually overhauled and heavily beaten at Old Trafford in August. Lancashire had suffered defeat at Hove in early August, but bounced back to beat Sussex at Old Trafford in September, but the south coast side clinched the title the following week.
In one-day cricket, Lancashire ended their three year stay in division 2 of the NCL, and were convincing Division 2 Champions. During the run-in to the season, the side hit their highest-ever home and away totals in this competition in successive matches. The C&G Trophy again provided semi-final heartbreak where despite Mal Loye’s unbeaten century on one of the hottest days for many years, Lancashire had to suffer another last-over defeat, this time at Worcester.
The new Twenty20 Cup didn’t provide much cheer as Lancashire failed to qualify from their group, but huge crowds at the games, including nearly 15,000 for the ‘Roses’ encounter with Yorkshire brought a new form of entertaining cricket to the public.
This time, there were no retirements or departures at the end of the season, and Lancashire strengthened the side by adding Derbyshire all-rounder Dominic Cork to the squad for 2004.