LANCASHIRE'S recent history has been littered with near misses in all forms of the game, but that was soon to change in dramatic circumstances in the glorious summer of 2011.
Without an outright LV= County Championship title win since 1934, a gap of 77 years, and without a major trophy of any sort since 1999, this wasn’t supposed to be the year the Red Rose county broke their duck.
With a squad brimming with youngsters and without the financial clout to re-sign the likes of VVS Laxman, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ashwell Prince or Muttiah Muralitharan as overseas players, they were tipped to struggle.
It has become a well known fact that Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale tipped his county’s great rivals for relegation in the four-day Championship, in which all eight of their home matches would be played away from Old Trafford as part of the ongoing ground redevelopment.
But, even though captain fantastic Glen Chapple admitted that he could understand the rationale behind such tips, there was an unwavering belief within the dressing room that they could surprise a few people.
And so it proved as Lancashire, who also went close to Twenty20 glory, pipped Warwickshire to the post with ten four-day wins, of which the majority were absolute thrillers.
WHILE Lancashire have had the foundations for success in place for decades, the catalyst for their title triumph arrived in January of 2009 when former Sussex and England coach Peter Moores agreed to become the club’s new head coach.
Cricket manager Mike Watkinson had suggested a new structure at the end of the previous season which would see him take up a new role as Cricket Director, involving duties beyond looking after solely the first team.
And many a famous name in the game had applied for the new coach’s role, with applications coming from far and wide.
But when Moores, a born and bred Lancashire fan from Macclesfield, was sacked by England, Watkinson and company were quick to pounce. The Red Rose would also have a new captain in situ after Glen Chapple had replaced Australian batsman Stuart Law.
It was pretty clear from an early stage that things were heading in the right direction under the new management team thanks to a comprehensive eight-wicket thumping of Sussex in the season opener at Hove, James Anderson taking eleven wickets in the match and Ashwell Prince scoring a pair of half-centuries.
Although Lancashire flirted with relegation, they eventually finished fourth in the Championship with 175 points, having won four matches which matched the previous season’s table position.
There were positive performances with the bat from Mal Loye and Mark Chilton in particular – Loye was leading run-score with 983 and Chilton finished as the player of the year two years after resigning as skipper – while Gary Keedy finished as the leading wicket-taker.
It was in one-day cricket where signs of progression were most evident, however.
Lancashire reached the quarter-finals of the Twenty20 Cup – they were beaten in a surreal bowl-out by Somerset in the Old Trafford indoor school – and the semi-finals of the Friends Provident 50-over competition by Hampshire after finishing top of Group D with six wins out of eight matches.
Their form in the group stage of the 20-over competition was nothing short of stunning, with Lancashire topping the North Division table with eight wins from ten matches. However, things didn’t go quite as well in the 40-over format as the side were relegated from the top tier.
Joining Loye, who returned to home club Northamptonshire at the end of the season, in leaving Old Trafford were Indian legend VVS Laxman, having topped 850 runs in eleven Championship matches, Steven Mullaney and South African Francois du Plessis, the all-rounder who lost his status as a 'Kolpak' player.
Away from Lancashire matters, England won an Ashes series on home soil for the second time in five summers thanks to a 2-1 score-line and starring roles for Red Rose duo Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson.
Flintoff battled against a persistent knee injury that forced him to retire from the international game immediately after the series, and injury also wrecked his aim of returning for Lancashire the following year. It was a sad way for such a popular cricketer to end his career, but his contribution to cricket had been immense.
2010 started in the same way 2009 had, with a comprehensive opening week Championship win. This time it was Warwickshire who were sent packing as a new star was unveiled. Simon Kerrigan - remember the name!
Kerrigan, an up and coming left-arm spinner from Preston, was given his chance after Gary Keedy broke his collarbone in a pre-season fielding accident – and he had an immediate impact.
He took seven wickets in the match, including the wicket of England man Ian Bell as his maiden victim, and his second innings figures of 5-43 were the best figures by a Lancashire player on debut since Australian Mick Malone took 7-88 against Nottinghamshire at Blackpool in 1979.
Nine wickets in the match for James Anderson and a century from Paul Horton helped Lancashire to a second win on the spin against Essex at Chelmsford in the following round of fixtures.
West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul replaced South African Ashwell Prince midway through the season, with the left-hander amassing 698 runs from eight four-day matches, including two centuries and five fifties.
Glen Chapple led the way with 52 wickets, while Keedy returned from injury in stunning form. He later admitted that he had rarely enjoyed a better period in his career than 31 wickets in seven matches. Kerrigan finished with an encouraging 30 from 13 matches in his breakthrough campaign.
Again, Lancashire briefly flirted with relegation as they finished fourth for the third year running. And, in keeping with trend, they bettered their points haul of the previous season thanks to five wins contributing to a tally of 182.
In one-day cricket, Lancashire fell at the quarter-finals stage of the Twenty20 Cup for the third year running as Essex claimed a floodlit thriller at Chelmsford. Added to this, new opening batsman Stephen Moore, a close season capture from Worcestershire, badly dislocated his shoulder to prematurely end his summer.
The Lightning won six of their 12 Clydesdale Bank 40-over matches in 2010, finishing fourth in a seven-team Group A. This competition did provide an opportunity for batsman Horton to try out captaincy for size as Chapple sat out the majority of the games. It didn’t prevent Chapple from claiming the club’s player of the year gong at the end of the season.
Leaving Old Trafford at the end of the campaign were Chanderpaul, wicketkeeper Luke Sutton, a model professional during his five seasons wearing the Red Rose, West Indian Daren Powell, Gary Montgomery and Adrian Shankar.
‘A year to remember’ may sound like a very clichéd way to describe 2011, but it is the perfect description for such an eventful 12 months on and off the field for this great county.
Not only did Lancashire CCC settle for an historic LV= County Championship title triumph, they also saw off the dangerous threat posed to their Old Trafford redevelopment plans by rival developer Derwent Holdings and secured the return of Ashes cricket to Old Trafford for the 2013 summer.
The legal battle with Derwent nearly sapped the life out of the club, so much so that the club later admitted there were a couple of times they were not far away from running out of funds. There was certainly no money for any domestic signings, while overseas duo Farveez Maharoof and Junaid Khan could only arrive on “extremely modest terms” according to Mike Watkinson.
But, as mentioned earlier, there was a strong belief from within the squad that a few surprises could be sprung as the likes of Karl Brown, Simon Kerrigan, Gareth Cross and Kyle Hogg tried to prove themselves. And prove themselves they did.
Wins over Sussex, Somerset and Warwickshire made it three wins out of their first four matches before Yorkshire arrived at Liverpool’s Aigburth ground, which was the county’s home for six out of the eight home matches. Southport and Blackpool hosted the other two.
Lancashire held the whip-hand for the first three days, although were held up by some impressive Yorkshire resistance and a brief spell of rain. It all added up to the hosts requiring 121 off the final 15 overs of the match, which they dramatically achieved with just four balls to spare when Maharoof hit the winning runs. It was a truly epic Roses contest.
When the pair squared up again at Headingley later in the season, they had a lot to live up to after their Merseyside classic. But they didn’t disappoint, with Lancashire again having the better of things. However, a magnificent hundred from White Rose all-rounder Rich Pyrah gave his side hope of recovering from a first innings score of 45-8 to win the match. They were set a target of 283, which they fell 23 runs short of during another tension filled fourth day.
Twin defeats against Durham prior to the Headingley win hampered Lancashire’s chances, as did defeats against Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire, inside five sessions, later in the campaign.
But, with Warwickshire now the team to beat at the top, Lancashire still had enough in the tank to famously see off Hampshire at Liverpool and Somerset at Taunton in the final two weeks of the season.
Again, both matches were classics. It took a majestic haul of 9-51 from Simon Kerrigan during the final two sessions of the match to down Hampshire – the final wicket was taken with just four minutes of play left – before the epitome of a team effort did for Somerset as Warwickshire stumbled against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl.
Celebrations lasted not hours or days, but months, with the Lancashire squad heading down to Buckingham Palace in mid-October to meet the Duke of Edinburgh to receive their medals.
In one-day cricket, the county performed superbly towards the back end of the 40-over campaign, while it took English cricket’s first ever Super Over Eliminator to dump them out of the Friends Life t20, with Leicestershire the victors. Steven Croft stood in excellently as skipper for Chapple, who missed the majority of matches due to injury or the need to rest.
Still, Lancashire would have settled for the outcome of their glorious summer had you offered it them at the start of April. It really was the perfect ending to what has been an eventful few seasons in the life of Lancashire County Cricket Club.
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd
Photos (c) Colorsport, SWpix, Simon Pendrigh, PA Photos