LANCASHIRE head coach Glen Chapple has given his full backing to new skipper Dane Vilas as the South African prepares to lead the county’s bid to win promotion to the First Division of the County Championship.
Vilas took over from Liam Livingstone last November in a change first broached by the coach and carried out without acrimony.
But Chapple knows his side face a tough battle to bag one of the three promotion places available this season and he was heartened by Livingstone’s decision to step back and concentrate on his own cricket.
“I asked Liam to give it some thought because I had an inkling that something would happen as regards his own white-ball cricket,” he said.
“There was no issue with his captaincy but he decided that prioritising his own form would be best for Lancashire and I think he’s made the right decision.
“Dane was the perfect solution for us. He’s been with us for a couple of seasons and the lads respond to him very well. The only problem is that he’s not here much in the winter, but when he’s here, he’s around full time and the lads know what they expect from him. He’s massively committed to what we are trying to achieve.”
Top of Vilas’s to-do list will be securing a place in the top division. Lancashire were relegated for the third time in seven seasons last September and the squad of players must now gear up for life in a ten-team division in which most sides harbour credible hopes of finishing in the top three.
“We’re a big club and every time we have gone down we’ve managed to go back up, so yes, we have to make promotion our main aim,” said Chapple. “The judgement of a season always has to be based on what actually happens, However, given a level playing field, we back ourselves to be one of the best three. But a lot of teams are improving and while we want to get promoted, we have to respect our opponents. They’re excellent teams.”
Chapple is encouraged that Lancashire are not short on excellence either. They were relegated by a whisker last season having finished equal on points with Nottinghamshire in a campaign which saw them docked one point for a slow over-rate.
Over the whole summer their batsmen failed to score sufficient runs but their bowlers did a manful job of defending low totals. The attack was bolstered and the whole club benefited from the presence of Graham Onions but the leading wicket-taker was Tom Bailey, whose 64 wickets led to him receiving an England Lions call-up.
“Tom was ready for a big season the year before but he managed to pull a side in a university match,” said Chapple. “Those things spur you on and now he’s been given a chance to show the England selectors what he can do. That in turn should make him really hungry when he comes back to play for us.
“He now needs to become what Graham is for us at the moment. It’s time for him to be a senior player and he openly wants that.”
The idea of Bailey as a senior player reinforces the impression that things are changing at Old Trafford. Karl Brown, Simon Kerrigan and Arron Lilley were released in the autumn and the torch is being passed from players like Steven Croft to a generation which includes Alex Davies and Matt Parkinson.
Parkinson’s gradual recovery from a stress fracture in his back has been one of the most heartening features of a winter in which he had hoped to play in the Big Bash.
“It would have been good experience for Parky to play in the Bash but he had to rest for 12 weeks and he’ll need some conditioning before he starts bowling again,” said Chapple.
“He’s had a tricky time, but his career’s going in the right direction.”
PAUL EDWARDS / Photo: Getty Images