The one-day wonderers

NatWest Trophy final: Simon O'Hagan looks at Lancashire and their failings in the Championship
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The Independent Online
It's rather like the problem Manchester United used to have: Cup success they could manage; winning the league was beyond them. So with their cricketing counterparts. Lancashire go into the NatWest final as the most accomplished one-day side in England. Yet they haven't won the County Championship outright for 62 years, and as they now lie 16th in the table, they aren't going to do it this year either.

This sort of discrepancy is not new. Only last year Kent won the Sunday League and were runners-up in the Benson and Hedges Cup - to Lancashire, of course - while collecting the Championship wooden spoon. Kent could live with that, however. After 17 trophy-less seasons they weren't going to start getting picky.

Lancashire's 14,000-strong membership - bigger than any other county - feel differently. Many of them grew up on a diet of Seventies glory. They remember David Hughes flat-batting John Mortimore over the mid-wicket boundary in the Old Trafford gloaming and Jackie Bond's gravity-defying leap to catch Asif Iqbal at Lord's. So while they are happy to see today's generation reviving that tradition - so far this decade Lancashire have been four times winners and twice runners-up in the NatWest and B&H - they are perturbed by the continued failure over the longer distance.

For John Stanworth, the county's acting coach (he succeeded David Lloyd at the start of the season but is to be replaced for 1997), failure in the Championship has taken the gloss off things. "I know it's a cause for concern," he said. "But we've lost nearly 70 hours in the Championship because of the weather, and the wickets at Old Trafford have not exactly helped us."

The cracks in the wicket used for the Old Trafford one-dayer between England and Pakistan last Thursday told their own story. Over-use has produced a square so moribund that a Lancashire seam attack led by Peter Martin and Glen Chapple has been emasculated. Six Championship matches at Old Trafford have produced five draws and a defeat against Derbyshire that came after Jason Gallian's 312 helped Lancashire to a first-innings total of 587 for nine declared.

Then there is the matter of Lancashire's overseas player, Steve Elworthy of South Africa, who was not considered good enough to be included in the XI that won the B&H in July and who has hardly figured in the second half of the season. Certainly their Championship prospects should improve next year with the return of Wasim Akram.

Might Lancashire be tempted to make Wasim captain? He has been an inspiration for Pakistan, and while Mike Watkinson, the present incumbent, can point to the B&H victory over Northants, his loss of form - 26 first-class wickets so far this season compared with a total of 65 in 1995 - has been another factor in the county's Championship decline.

Stanworth is one of those who would do away with overseas players altogether. "Although I think they offer a lot to our game, I think they hold back promising youngsters." Like Ronnie Irani, who as a discarded Lancashire man will be out to prove something when he turns out against them for Essex.

But with three men who have been in England's squad this weekend (Mike Atherton, Graham Lloyd and Martin), another who should have been (John Crawley), and one-day talents of the calibre of Neil Fairbrother, Ian Austin and Warren Hegg, Lancashire are just about the model one-day outfit. Just don't mention the County Championship.

How one-day winners fared in the Championship

NatWest Benson & County

Trophy Hedges Cup Champions

1985 Essex (4th in C'ship) Leicestershire (16) Middlesex

1986 Sussex (14) Middlesex (12=) Essex

1987 Nottinghamshire (1) Yorkshire (8) Nottinghamshire

1988 Middlesex (7) Hampshire (15) Worcestershire

1989 Warwickshire (8) Nottinghamshire (11) Leicestershire

1990 Lancashire (6) Lancashire (6) Middlesex

1991 Hampshire (19) Worcestershire (6) Essex

1992 Northamptonshire(3) Hampshire(15) Essex

1993 Warwickshire (16) Derbyshire (15) Middlesex

1994 Worcestershire (15) Warwickshire (1) Warwickshire

1995 Warwickshire (1) Lancashire (4) Warwickshire