Lancashire waited 77 years for a County Championship title. When it came, last year, it was historic, a triumph for tradition. And when the 2012 season started in April, with largely the same group of players Lancashire were favourites to win it again. But professional sport has a knack of poking teams off their pedestals.
As the four-day format returns, following a Twenty20 interlude in which Lancashire failed to emerge from their group, Peter Moores' side sit sixth in the First Division, hovering above the relegation zone. In desperate need of points, they travel to Surrey today. Moores said that it was tricky to fathom the reasons behind his team's early-season slump, in which they lost their first three home games and saw hopes of another title dashed in May.
"We lacked a bit of confidence and possibly got distracted from winning the title last year," Moores told The Independent. "Winning on top of winning is always tough, we've seen that in all sports. Expectations can change a little bit but I think the lads will be better for the experience and be stronger because of that.
"We did some proper soul-searching, came up with some answers and played good four-day cricket from then on. We're going to need to do some more of that in the second half of the season."
In the match that begins at Guildford today, the Lancashire bowlers will need to win their battle against Kevin Pietersen, who is set to play for Surrey in preparation for the Test series against South Africa which starts next week.
"Having KP will strengthen Surrey's middle order," Moores said, making no mention of the pair's fraught relationship during their time together with England, when Pietersen was captain and Moores coach. "He'll be very keen to get himself into form for what will be a really tough South Africa series."
Moores suggested that unfortunate Duckworth-Lewis calculations – most notably last week against Nottinghamshire – were one of the reasons that Lancashire failed to qualify for the Friends Life t20 quarter-finals. Furthermore, they have not lost in the Championship since early May and could make a mark in the Clydesdale Bank 40.
"It's a horrible cliché but we have to take every game as it comes," Moores said. "Even the best teams are going to lose Twenty20 games – other sides have their night and put you under pressure.
"We're looking forward to getting stuck into the Championship again. The last three games we began to play better. That's promising for us and we'll try and pick that form up straight away. The weather has meant it has been difficult to pick up results, but hopefully that improves. If that happens the best sides will obviously begin to win more."
Moores insists that his tight-knit squad – who have missed the likes of the Test seamer Saj Mahmood through injury – have the tools needed to grind out results consistently.
"It's a good start [back] for us down in Guildford against a good Surrey side," he said. "It'll be a scrap. Both of us are down there a little bit so there is no doubt this is a big game for us. I know Guildford quite well from my Sussex days – it's a nice place to play and a decent pitch."
Moores said the bond between his players, forged over several years, would be crucial. "They never once played the blame game and have always been the collective," he said. "That's great for the team to have and one of the strengths has always been to come out firing when it has been tough. We know we have a good team, because we've had success over the last three years."
A local lad, Steven Croft, hit the title-winning runs last year. "It's satisfying for everybody at the club," Moores said. "To see lads being pulled through your own system and going into the professional ranks is satisfying for us all, not only the people who work here but for people at the player's home club, be it a Fleetwood or a Leyland."
Lancashire once chose to sign oversees stars on expensive short-term deals; it is refreshing to see the way in which they now nurture talent from across the county. In the last Championship match, a draw away to Nottinghamshire, they fielded eight players who had come through the ranks. All were good enough to win the title last September, and although they won't repeat the feat this time around, a win at Surrey will put them on the road to redemption.