By Alex Glover – reporter
As the 2016 county cricket season approaches, current NatWest T20 Blast champions Lancashire Lightning are working toward a summer of much needed stability at Emirates Old Trafford.
The Red Rose club head into the new season aiming for consistency across all formats of the game.
Recent joy of T20 success has been dampened by a turbulent few years in the four-day version of the game.
It started back in 2011 when at long last they ended a 77-year drought and won the County Championship in thrilling fashion on the last day of the season.
The longed after title was secured under the stewardship of captain Glenn Chapple and coach Peter Moores.
The following year the champions were stunned as they were relegated to Division 2.
The Old Trafford outfit regrouped in 2013 and bounced straight back, sealing promotion as champions.
After a slow start to life back in Division 1, Lancashire failed to build any momentum during the 2014 season and on the last day of the season down at Middlesex, succumbed to relegation yet again.
Ex-England man Ashley Giles was appointed head coach at the beginning of the 2015 season, continuing the recent trend and achieving promotion from Division 2 after the club finished second.
As they prepare to head into the new season, Giles will be keen to ensure that Lancs’ shake off the tag of being a ‘yo-yo’ side.
Steven Croft will become the new captain for next season, taking over from Tom Smith who has stepped aside to recover from injury.
Smith played just one game last season due to a back injury with Croft standing in across all formats.
Croft has a young, exciting squad at his disposable that will be looking to mount serious challenges in all three formats.
They have bolstered their fast bowling ranks by bringing in 29-year-old New Zealand international Neil Wagner as their overseas player.
Wagner has 67 Test Match wickets to his name and will bring useful experience along with blistering pace when he arrives at the end of April.
It was a busy winter at Emirates Old Trafford as it was announced in October that England’s all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson had signed a new contract with the county.
Anderson is expected to be available for Lancashire’s first four Championship matches before he leaves for England duty.
The County also tied down exciting young prospect Haseeb Hameed with a four-year contract.
The England U19’s opening batsman made his breakthrough in the first team at the back end of last season and will be looking to cement a regular place in the side this year.
It remains to be seen whether Jos Buttler will be available for selection as yet.
With his England Test place still under scrutiny, his availability would be a massive boost and could be a major factor in staying in the division this year.
Lancashire will head into the new season looking to defend their NatWest T20 Blast crown for the first time.
Their form in the Blast over the years has provided a much-needed distraction from four-day form.
After reaching six final days and two finals since the format’s inception, they finally clinched victory at Edgbaston last summer with a comfortable victory over Northants Steelbacks.
Last season Lancs narrowly missed out on qualification for the Royal London one-day Cup as they finished level on points with Kent but had an inferior net run rate.
Giles’ men weren’t too disheartened though as they viewed this form of the game to blood some of the young local talent.
Youngsters Tom Bailey, George Edwards, Gavin Griffiths and Liam Livingstone were all handed promotions from the 2nd XI to cut their teeth in first-class cricket.
I believe that Lancashire will at last stabilize their four-day cricket with a comfortable mid-table finish in the County Championship.
As for both shorter forms of the game, I think they will reach at least the semi-finals stages of both the NatWest T20 Blast and the Royal London One-Day Cup.