Summer 2016

An Unworthy Reprieve

It is Friday 23rd of September. The final day of the County Cricket season.

Having already accepted and embraced the spectre of relegation for my beloved Lancashire, I gloomily watch the Middlesex v Yorkshire game on TV, having decided not to travel to Edgbaston for the current Lancashire fixture - one of my better decisions this year.

My gallows humour text responses are all prepared:

"Lancashire CCC announce a special Members Xmas party at The Point - an Elvis Presley Tribute night! Featuring all the hits! Way Down, Surrender, A Relegation Trilogy, Crying with the Chapple, Heartbreak Hotel and not forgetting that perennial Members favourite, Suspicious Minds! TICKETS SELLING FAST - BUY NOW!"

And then Durham went and spoiled it all by unexpectedly beating Hampshire.

No doubt the departing Durham players wanted to give their supporters something to remember them by.

Unlike their counterparts at Lancashire, if that final game at Edgbaston is any guide.

As far as I am concerned, I would rather forget about this season as soon as possible.

It had all started so well. Victories in our first three home fixtures against Notts, Hampshire and Surrey, spearheaded by the bowling attack of Jimmy Anderson and the pugnacious saffer - kiwi, Neil Wagner.

At the end of May though, the rot started.

A thrashing at Yorkshire, during which the first mutterings about relegation were heard amongst Lancs Members due to the abject performance of the side, even though they were top of the league before the match!

A sequence of bore draws followed, during which I had the misfortune to sit through some of the most negative cricket I have ever seen.

During the game at Hampshire the team were chasing a first innings total of over 500. Batting capably enough, the next bonus point was well within reach, captain Croft having just hit the spinner over midwicket for six.

Then, a message came out from the dressing room accompanied by a spurious bottle of water.

What followed was ludicrous in my view - several overs of deliberate padding up with the resultant stagnation of the scoreboard. No bonus point, obviously.

And whatever the grand plan was, it failed, as Lancashire ended up following on in any event.

By blocking out the last day they managed to draw the Hampshire game, this was also the strategy at Trent Bridge. Bums on seats this will not attract.

Lancashire were also knocked out of both the one day competitions early and by the coach's own admission, massively underachieved.

The ECB are not exactly blameless when it comes to analysis of such a disappointing season. The fall off in results coincided with the call up of International players. Jimmy Anderson was in fact later allowed to play for Lancs at Southport against Durham, but only for half the game! The impact here was obvious in that Anderson's second innings replacement, Nathan Buck, bowled just six wicketless overs, whereas Ben Stokes, who was allowed to play the whole game by the ECB, effectively won it for Durham at the death with some big hitting.

However it would be wrong to blame the last few dismal months entirely on the ECB.

The folly of signing Jos Buttler was now revealed for all to see, as a sequence of injuries and England callups ensured that he hardly played any four day cricket for the club. When his understudy Alex Davies was unfortunately badly injured, this meant that Lancashire effectively had no wicketkeeper. Peter Moores’ son Tom was brought in from Notts on loan for a few games and did quite well but for most of the season hapless captain Croft was required to keep. This clearly impacted upon his batting form, as a horrible sequence of low scores will testify.

Now to the thorny subject of overseas players.

Neil Wagner was recalled by New Zealand half way into the season and not replaced by the club. This, together with injuries to Bailey and Tom Smith, drastically weakened the bowling attack.

I queried the lack of a quality overseas player directly with Ashley Giles at the Rose Bowl to be given the rather disappointing response that the right sort of player had not become available.

Funny how all the other counties managed to get at least one.

But for the bowling attack minus England employee Anderson, there are mitigating circumstances.

The batting line up cannot be similarly defended. A number of simply embarrassing collapses this season at Headingley, The Oval and finally Edgbaston revealed the paucity of the talent on show - and this despite the emergence of Hameed and Livingstone and their selection for England and the Lions respectively.

The reality is that the supporting cast were simply not good enough.

Congratulations to Middlesex on winning the Championship - deserved in my view.

Commiserations to the relegated teams and to Somerset - so near and yet so far!

And a word of grudging praise to Yorkshire for providing such a dramatic final day. Unlike Lancashire's number one supporter the Mad Hatter, I do not 'hate' Yorkshire. In fact, I have a sneaking admiration for their grittiness and fighting spirit and I wish Lancashire had some of the same.

My friends must have been right when they advised me not to move closer to Yorkshire to live.....

I obviously wish Hameed well in Bangladesh and India, but I fear for a lad so young and inexperienced, who has only really been selected because of the failings displayed by Hales. I hope that his cricketing career will not be stalled or set back by being thrust into the spotlight before he is ready. He would not be the first Lancashire player to suffer in this way - anyone remember Simon Kerrigan at the Oval and his mauling at the hands of Shane Watson?

Good luck then to Hameed and co on the subcontinental tours, I suspect they will need all the luck they can get. Unfortunately I will not be travelling on either tour this time, but I wish the many Addis members who are going to India a successful trip and an enjoyable time.

My next live cricket will not be until March, when I hope to watch New Zealand beat South Africa at the Wellington Basin Reserve.

A number of people have asked the question:

"Have you renewed your Membership at Lancashire for next season?"

Well, I am pleased to answer in the affirmative. In fact, I renewed before the final relegation drama unfolded. Not because of any confidence in continued first division survival, but because I was forced to do this by the club before I could purchase my Test match tickets for next summer.

And I was looking forward to a visit to Colwyn Bay to play Glamorgan in the event of the drop!

I hope you all winter well and look forward to seeing you next season, probably viewed from a pitch-facing padded cell in Old Trafford's shiny new hotel, wearing a red rose festooned straightjacket.

Regards, Midnight

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