Lancashire have been earmarked as title outsiders and relegation candidates among pundits unsure what to make of Glen Chapple's 2011 squad as the county try to stay competitive on a shoestring budget.
For the moment, at least, they look more likely to comply with the more optimistic assessment after opening their season with a comprehensive win over Sussex yesterday to join Yorkshire as winners from the first round of County Championship matches.
Promoted Sussex capitulated feebly at Aigburth – Lancashire's temporary home base in Liverpool during the redevelopment of Old Trafford – to go down by an innings and 55 runs as the home side banked 22 points, the same as Yorkshire collected from Sunday's defeat of Worcestershire.
The 2010 Second Division champions had little prospect of winning after Lancashire's first-innings 472 put them 229 in arrears but had looked well placed to secure a draw when they closed day three on 151-3, with Joe Gatting (27 not out) and Murray Goodwin (32) seemingly well set.
A delayed start because of rain yesterday appeared only to improve their survival chances but when play began at 1.10pm Lancashire needed only 63 minutes to claim the seven remaining wickets through the combined efforts of Chapple and Gary Keedy. Chapple, who turned 37 in January, started Sussex's sorry procession with his second delivery of the day as Gatting was caught behind, launching a woeful passage in which the visitors lost six wickets for 12 runs in the space of 35 balls.
The captain bowled Ben Brown, who offered no shot, then Goodwin edged Keedy to Paul Horton at slip. Rana Naved, caught at silly mid-off, and Naveed Arif perished attempting expansive strokes in consecutive balls against Keedy, then Chapple had James Anyon caught at second slip.
It was left to Chapple to trap Monty Panesar leg before to complete the rout. Keedy, the 36-year-old left-arm spinner, finished with 5-41. Chapple, who passed the milestone of 750 first-class wickets for Lancashire in this match, had 4-49 for match figures of 9-117.
The influence of the two veteran bowlers might suggest an unhealthy dependence by Lancashire, although the combined input of 301 runs from Karl Brown, Steven Croft, Tom Smith and Gareth Cross – all in their early to mid-20s – adds a degree of balance.
The result makes Sussex coach Mark Robinson's bold suggestion that his side could reclaim their former supremacy in the top flight at the first attempt look somewhat optimistic. "There were parts of the game when we had chances and couldn't take them," Robinson said yesterday.