Middlesex defeat caps painful demise for Chapple’s men
Just twelve months on from their landmark title triumph, Lancashire were relegated from the County Championship’s upper tier after defeat in the penultimate match of the season. Requiring 304 in 39 overs to keep their hopes alive at Middlesex, Glen Chapple’s team were dismissed for 194, with ex-Lancashire bowler Steven Crook returning figures of 5-48 to condemn the holders to Division Two.
Aside from an encouraging run in the Friend’s Provident Trophy, it has been a difficult season for the Red Rose county. After three early defeats, their Championship title defence quickly became a relegation scrap from which they never escaped. The continuing re-development of Old Trafford, meanwhile, meant that most home matches were played at Aigburth, although their home record was equally poor at both venues.
The standout performers of the 2011 campaign, meanwhile, were generally either absent or anonymous. Steven Moore and Kyle Hogg both struggled to find form, Sajid Mahmood was shipped out to Somerset and Tom Smith spent most of the summer in the 2nd XI recovering from a hamstring injury. For much of the season it was up to Chapple and Ashwell Prince to carry the burden, along with Simon Kerrigan, who has impressed since displacing Gary Keedy from the side.
For coach Peter Moores, this year’s relegation is an unfortunate blip on an impressive CV. Moores has enjoyed considerable success at domestic level, winning Championships with both Sussex and Lancashire, but getting out of Division Two will present a very different test for his team. The experience of players such as Chapple and Paul Horton is likely be crucial if they are to make an immediate return to the top flight, as they did after their last relegation in 2004.
It was also back in 2004, incidentally, that Warwickshire were last crowned county champions, and they quickly banished memories of last year’s upset to run out comfortable winners this term. Their batting line-up largely delivered on its expected promise, with Westwood, Chopra and Ambrose scoring prolifically throughout the summer, whilst the bowling attack was spearheaded by young Keith Barker and Chris Wright, both of whom exceeded 50 wickets at less than 25 apiece.
It was about this time last year, on the final day of the season, that Lancashire stole the title from under Warwickshire’s noses. How the two teams’ fortunes have differed since that afternoon.