Lancashire digging deep in hunt for elusive county championship title

The Red Rose county are determined to bounce back from a humiliating defeat to win the title for the first time since 1950

The diggers are finally in at Old Trafford this week as Lancashire's hard-won fight to redevelop Old Trafford gets under way, but it is 35 miles down the road in Aigburth where Red Rose affections will turn over the next four days as Lancashire seek to press home their championship challenge against the bottom club, Hampshire.

It will be a contest between two emotionally scarred counties, with both Lancashire and Hampshire having failed to qualify for the Champions League on Twenty20 finals day when they tied their respective semi-finals but both lost a super‑over play-off.

If it seemed to take an age for Lancashire to fight off planning opposition and win the right to build a stadium fit for Test cricket, it has taken far longer for them to win a championship trophy to adorn it. The amateur captain Nigel Howard last led Lancashire to a share of the title in 1950. He returned to his textile business soon after and since then there has been no championship and, for that matter, not much in the way of textiles.

Lancashire's two-day trouncing by relegation-threatened Worcestershire last week suggested the threads were coming apart, leading their coach, Peter Moores, to give his players three days off and, on their return, play a DVD compilation of their previous eight championship wins.

"A defeat like that at Worcester could have come at any stage of the season," Moores said. "We have to get ourselves scrubbed up to play."

To be 85 for eight in their first innings against Worcestershire and 80 all out second time around, though, was quite a decline for a county who have developed a habit of failing at the last. Since they shared the championship pennant 61 years ago, they have been runners‑up eight times, and their captain, Glen Chapple, has been on the staff for five of them. It sounds uneasily familiar.

Lancashire's enforced switch to Aigburth, where pitches are livelier, has been credited with their championship challenge, but they have won only three of five games in Liverpool and five of nine elsewhere, so the advantage has not been excessive.

Lancashire are 10 points behind the leaders, Durham, with a game in hand and three points behind Warwickshire. Durham's director of cricket, Geoff Cook, has almost written off his side's chances but he has been forced to reassess his view as potential challengers have failed to take the initiative.

Instead, it is the clubs at the foot of the table who are stirring.

Hampshire's opening batsman Jimmy Adams struck 194 at the end of last season and, although his side are 19 points adrift of safety with two games left, surprise wins against Warwickshire and Somerset have lifted spirits.

"We've played some really good cricket in the championship in the past month," Adams said. "Wherever we end up playing next year, this last month has shown what we are capable of."

Yorkshire, regarded as championship contenders in April, must win their final game against Somerset at Headingley to have a slim chance of escaping relegation.

Yorkshir0 will again be led by Joe Sayers, with Andrew Gale out with a broken arm and Jacques Rudolph not returning from South Africa, his brief stint as overseas player having failed to improve the county's fortunes.

Sayers, now recovered from post-viral fatigue syndrome, impressed in his first game in charge but Martyn Moxon, the director of cricket,, has dismissed suggestions that the batsman might get the job full time if Yorkshire go down.

Moxon, whose future as director of cricket has been guaranteed, said: "Joe is an intelligent lad and he took to the role like a duck to water. It's good for him to have a taste of the extra responsibility that captaincy brings, but Andrew Gale continues to do a great job as captain. He and I are fully committed to building a Yorkshire side of predominantly home‑grown players that will be successful for many years to come. We are both in this for the long haul."

In Division Two, third-placed Surrey travel to Essex, with promotion for Middlesex and Northamptonshire no longer looking the near formality it has for months. Successive championship wins and a place in the CB40 final have represented the best phase for Surrey since Chris Adams, their cricket manager, took a punt on the youthful captaincy skills of Rory Hamilton‑Brown at the start of last season.

The county season is set to end in unheard of fashion next week. The England and Wales Cricket Board has confirmed that Kent will face Glamorgan at Canterbury in a day‑night match in white clothing with a pink ball.

Hours of play will be 2pm to 9pm and floodlights will be turned on at 5.30pm each day, or earlier if the light dictates. The experiment will provide further evidence towards MCC's campaign for day‑night Test matches to be introduced in some countries to stem falling attendances.


David Hopps

The GuardianTramp

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