When a side with few internationals started their county championship campaign in 2011, most pundits talked about relegation. Oh, how wrong they all were!
“Red Rose on a shirt, County Championship still gleaming. Seventy seven years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming!” While those lyrics aren’t a perfect fit, I feel it is a rather appropriate way to introduce this. The world was a very different place in 1934 to how it is now. Hitler had taken control in Germany and he was about to announce a range of laws, each taking another step towards his master race, become the Fuhrer and commence the night of the long knives. Tension was rife across Europe, and while war wasn’t a pressing concern, events were about to be set in motion to make it inevitable. Meanwhile, over in England, Lancashire County Cricket Club were winning yet another county championship. Despite their superstars of the 1920’s starting to retire, the remainder of that squad were able to produce one final triumph before calling it a day. At that point, few people predicted that the next outright County Championship win would be 77 years later.
In 1950, Lancashire shared a Championship with Surrey and in the 1990’s they became a side packed full of global stars; and the best One Day side in the country. However, neither of those sides could win a Championship outright. The likes of Lloyd, Engineer, Fairbrother, Atherton, Akram and Murali all played for Lancashire with no success. Lancashire were relegated in 2004, despite being amongst the favourites for the title. A batting line up of Law, Loye, Chilton, Hegg and Flintoff supported by a bowling line up boasting Chapple, Anderson, Cork, Mahmood and Hogg was never a side which should have suffered relegation however England call ups and injuries hindered the bowling unit. Despite returning to the top flight the next year, Lancashire’s title drought continued into the next decade.
The Lancashire set up during 2011 was very different to what the county were used to. For a start, the side was no longer littered with international household names. Their overseas player was Farveez Maharoof, a reliable without being spectacular all rounder who was trying to force his way into the Sri Lankan side. The rest of the team were all English county professionals and this was something which helped Lancashire, as only one was called up for England during the season – James Anderson. The bowling line up was a wonderful mix of old and new. Captain Glen Chapple and spinner Gary Keedy had been at the county for years, as had Saj Mahmood and Kyle Hogg while Tom Smith, Luke Procter and Simon Kerrigan were younger. The batting still included former captain Mark Chilton, with experience also coming from Paul Horton. Stephen Moore was a relatively new signing, with Karl Brown and Steven Croft being the young guns in the middle order. Gareth Cross had recently acquired the wicket-keeping gloves full time from Luke Sutton, who had left to go to Derbyshire. In another change from the norm, Lancashire wouldn’t play a game at Old Trafford all season. Aigburth became the temporary home due to major redevelopments at the Manchester ground. This move would turn out to be vital; as the weather is generally better in Liverpool. There was little optimism in the press that Lancashire could end the wait for the title, although I had a feeling that we would have a very good season.
They got the season started in the best fashion with a convincing innings victory over Sussex at Liverpool. After Sussex chose to bat, Chapple ripped through them with a spell of 13-7-68-5. With able support from the other seamers: Smith, Mahmood and Newby – Sussex were bowled out for 243 on the first day. On a pitch that offered help for both bowlers and batters, this was seen to be a little under-par. This was confirmed when Lancashire batted, as Bolton-born Karl Brown set about to score his maiden first class century with a commanding 114. Supported by Chilton, Croft, Smith and Cross who all got fifties, Lancashire made 472. Sussex, facing a deficit of 229 runs, made a positive start to their innings however, despite rain washing out the fourth morning’s play; they could do nothing to stop Keedy and Chapple once they got into the mood and lost by an innings and 55 runs. Starting the fourth day, with one session wiped out, they had been 151/3. By the end of the day, they had been bowled out for 174. Lancashire’s bowling unit had started in fine fashion – and one of their stars hadn’t even played. The winning start at Aigburth continued versus Somerset which followed a remarkably similar pattern to the first match. Somerset won the toss and chose to bat, with Compton top scoring with 61 in their 261 before Lancashire’s batters made over 400, with fifties from Moore, Smith and Cross as well as a wonderful century on debut from Maharoof, who punished his Sri Lankan team mate Ajantha Mendis. Maharoof was playing due to an injury which Chapple had picked up, and he chipped in with 2 wickets in Somerset’s innings as they failed to close the deficit, got bowled out for 163 and Lancashire won by an innings and 20 runs. The season couldn’t have started any better! Forty-four points from 2 matches, including maximum bowling bonus points and Lancashire were top of the league. For the record, a side will get 16 points for a win plus bonus points (first 110 overs of the first innings – maximum of 3 bowling (9 wickets), 5 batting (400 runs)).
Lancashire’s winning streak ended the next match, although they remained unbeaten. Facing Sussex again, this time at Hove, they won the toss and elected to bat. Five-hundred and ninety runs later Lancashire were in a strong position, thanks to a century for Gareth Cross and fifties for Luke Procter, making his first appearance of the season, Brown and Horton. Despite Murray Goodwin making an excellent century, Sussex were bowled out for 290 with Chapple and Keedy doing the damage once more. Following on, Sussex managed to hold on to a draw – mainly thanks to centuries from Joyce and Arif (who shared a last wicket partnership with Panesar which took the match away from Lancashire). Winning ways returned in the fourth match of the season, away at Warwickshire. With Anderson back in the side, and including Simon Kerrigan, Lancashire batted first but only managed 227, the lowest score of the season so far. This was enough for a lead, as Anderson, Chapple, Kerrigan and Procter ripped through a batting line up including Bell and Trott, bowling Warwickshire out for 172. A 67 from Steven Croft was then vital as Lancashire made 189, building up a lead of 200. With the pitch spinning, and with 2 spinners in their ranks – Lancashire were favourites. Having said that, what happened next was remarkable. After Chapple got Porterfield and Bell, Kerrigan produced a spell of bowling which bamboozled some talented batters. He bowled 7 overs, only conceded 7 runs and took 5 wickets – it was a spell that alerted many to his talents and won the match for Lancashire. Warwickshire slumped to 97 all out, and lost by 147 runs.
Some matches live long in the memory, the next two were such cases but for different reasons. The first was a close match with a thrilling finish whereas the second contained the most wonderful individual bowling. On the 18th May, arch rivals Yorkshire arrived at Aigburth and lost the toss with Chapple putting them into bat. Despite a fifty from Sayers, only two other batters made double figures as Maharoof and Keedy shared 8 wickets in bowling them out cheaply for 141. Horton was the mainstay of the Lancashire innings, making 93 and sharing a fifty partnership with another half-centurion in Chilton (77) during Lancashire’s total of 329. In the third innings of the match, Lancashire’s Yorkshire born Gary Keedy completed his 10-wicket haul with 6 more wickets however Yorkshire’s middle order of Sayers, Gale, Ballance and Rashid held Lancashire up deep into the fourth day – making 308 which gave them a lead of 120 with only 15 overs remaining. Unperturbed, Moore, Horton and Croft set off in T20 mode while Lancashire also promoted Cross, however the star of the show was Maharoof. An unbeaten 31 off just 19 balls and including 2 sixes saw Lancashire home with 4 balls to spare, in one of the most exciting finishes to a County Championship match. After choosing to bowl a couple of weeks later at the Rose Bowl, old Lancashire bowler Dominic Cork took 4 wickets as Hampshire fought hard against Lancashire’s batters. Karl Brown, on a relatively slow pitch, was the star with 96 runs in the total of 328, yet without lower order hitting from Mahmood and Hogg, replacing the captain Chapple, that would have been a lot less. It was seen as a competitive score, but not a match-winning one. It very nearly was! Kyle Hogg, so long on the fringe of Lancashire’s side due to injuries, finally broke through with a spell of 14 overs that produced 7 wickets to help bowl Hampshire out for 133. When asked to follow on, Hogg produced once more – this time with 4 wickets, to take him to his first ever 10 wicket haul. Hampshire managed to scramble 201 runs, leaving Lancashire 8 runs to win – which Horton knocked off in 3 balls with 2 fours. Five wins from the first six matches, Lancashire seemed impenetrable at this point.
Of course, it couldn’t last forever and Lancashire came back to earth with a bump – with two defeats in three matches to title-rivals Durham. In both matches, Durham were unbelievably good however Lancashire will feel disappointed with their performances. After Lancashire made 313 in the first match, Stokes and Benkenstein came together at 94-3. By the time Benkenstein was out, the score was 425-4. Lancashire failed to come to the party in the second innings, with Horton’s 34 being the highest score as they collapsed to an innings and 125 run defeat. At Aigburth, the first day baffled many including a pitch inspector. When 10 Lancashire and 5 Durham wickets fell on the first day, there was a call to deduct Lancashire points for a poor pitch. However, the inspector said that it was one of the best pitches he had seen and the wickets were simply poor shots. The batting got better throughout the match yet this was always going to benefit the team batting second and in the end, Lancashire’s 84 all out on the first day cost them. A brave 282 in the second innings wasn’t quite enough to save the inevitable defeat, once more, to Durham. Lancashire weren’t panicking as the match in-between these two had seen Saj Mahmood tear Nottinghamshire apart at Trent Bridge, and Stephen Moore’s first County Championship century for Lancashire guide them home in a wonderful run chase of 240. Yes, the losses to Durham were a set-back however Lancashire still had the winning formula working.
The Roses derbies are always high tension affairs and the season of 2011 was no different. Following on from the adrenaline raising run chase at Aigburth, the magic of cricket was shown in a very different form at Headingly. First of all, never underestimate the lower order batters. After Lancashire made 328, including half centuries for Croft and Smith, Yorkshire were 45-8, with Hogg once more doing the damage. A century from Pyrah and half century from Sidebottom frustrated Lancashire and pushed Yorkshire into the game – making 239. Lancashire themselves were in trouble at 87-8 in their second innings before both Mahmood and Hogg made fifties, to give Lancashire a lead of almost 300. In an agonising run chase, Yorkshire chipped away at the target while Lancashire got wickets. Once more, it was the lower order that brought it close and, due to Sidebottom being a night-watchman and the return of Bresnan, when Pyrah walked in at number 11 to bat alongside Rashid there was genuine concern for Lancashire fans. Luckily, Keedy managed to trap Pyrah LB with only 24 further runs required and Lancashire had won. Despite Hogg and Chapple continuing their good form – Lancashire’s batting crumbled under pressure from Nottinghamshire bowlers at Southport and slipped to their third defeat in five matches to leave the title dreams in the balance. Warwickshire were now the form team in the league and when they came to Aigburth, many expected a classic. They weren’t disappointed with a world record-equalling amount of catches for an outfielder, a wonderful century from Croft and a tight finish, with Warwickshire’s bowlers (and Ambrose) fending off Keedy and Croft to battle out a draw.
Warwickshire were cruising up the table and had knocked Lancashire off top spot, although Lancashire had the easier run in on paper. The next three matches were against struggling teams and it got off to the perfect start with a win over Worcestershire at Blackpool. Local boy Croft scored his second century in as many matches and despite them looking dangerous, a breathtaking spell of bowling from Smith on the morning of the fourth day saw Worcestershire collapse from 203-5 to 230 all out. However, Lancashire were the ones collapsing when the sides met again at the end of August, suffering an embarrassing two day defeat. Looking to bounce back a week later, Lancashire prepared a spinning wicket at Aigburth and played both Keedy and Kerrigan. Late order hitting was once again the order of the day in the first innings, with Chapple making 97 of Lancashire’s 388 runs against Hampshire. Ervine’s century took them within 7 runs but an aggressive opening partnership between Horton (96) and Moore (169) put Lancashire in a commanding position. Remarkably, Horton would end the season as Lancashire’s leading Championship run scorer and record 4 scores between 93 and 99 without actually making it to three figures all season. Hampshire were never in the chase thanks to a magnificent spell of bowling from Kerrigan, who truly showed his class, although they very nearly clung on for a draw. Kerrigan, on 8 wickets in the innings, managed to get McKenzie, who had survived 186 balls, caught by Smith with only 4 balls left in the match. Cue massive celebrations and Kerrigan record remarkable figures of 9-51. He hadn’t played much yet, whenever he did, he was proving to be a match-winner.
Durham, Warwickshire and Lancashire were all going for the title in the final round of fixtures, although due to lack of bonus points picked up – Durham were out after the first day. Warwickshire, in pole position, were away at Hampshire, who got relegated after the first day, whereas Lancashire were away at Somerset. Despite Hildreth and Buttler holding Lancashire up when bowling, their batting was superb with all 11 players getting into double figures (although none in triple) with Moore, Horton, Croft and Brown all making half centuries. Hogg’s 46 and Kerrigan’s, at the time, career best 40 kept the impetus going as Lancashire made 480, exactly 100 more than Somerset made. When Somerset were 105-5 at the end of day 3, it seemed inevitable that Lancashire would win however Warwickshire were cruising to victory against Hampshire – a result which would deny Lancashire the title. As the fourth day loomed large, Lancashire fans watched Sky Sport’s coverage of the Warwickshire match hoping for Hampshire to dig in while clinging onto twitter feeds and live scoreboards for news of Lancashire. The two twitter feeds covering Lancashire had been excellent, as ever, all season – with both @LancsCCC and @LancsCricketMEN dealing with internet problems to bring Lanky fans closer to county championship action. Back to the cricket and, as Hampshire dug in through Carberry and McKenzie, Lancashire were being frustrated by Trego at Taunton. When Carberry fell, Lancashire fans were nervous again – but almost at the same time Trego also went. The tension and drama was growing in both games until it all boiled down to one simple equation. Despite Kartik holding Lancashire up further, they needed 211 runs to win on the last afternoon. Almost simultaneously, it became apparent that Warwickshire wouldn’t be able to force the victory. Horton and Moore got the chase of to a fantastic start, with both scoring 50’s however both got out before the end. All this did was allow the two Lancashire lads, Croft and Brown, who had batted fantastically all season, finish the job in an almost romantic fashion. This was the only way this remarkable season could end; Lancashire were champions once again!
Story of the season: During Lancashire’s two day loss at Worcestershire, former Worcestershire opener Stephen Moore’s child was born. As the first day closed he headed up to Manchester to be with his partner, but on the way back down he got texts in from both his old and new team-mates. The message was the same, not congratulations but commiserations. For, as he had been driving, Lancashire’s batting had collapsed. He scored over 1000 runs for Lancashire that season; however he had a more pressing matter to attend when we needed him most. It worked out well for him though as he got to spend more time with his newborn.
Moment of the season: Gary Keedy is a fantastic bowler but is neither an energetic fielder nor someone who can bat. As Somerset held and frustrated Lancashire on the final day of the championship, Keedy pulled something remarkable out of the bag. Kartik nudged it to him and he threw down the stumps, running Hussain out for 0. It was the final wicket of the innings, allowed Lancashire to win the title and Keedy described it as probably the first run-out he had ever initiated.