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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 April, 2005, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Lancashire set to bounce back up
Test Match Special's Simon Mann
By Simon Mann
Test Match Special commentator

Neither Brad Hodge nor Muttiah Muralitharan will be available for the whole season.

LANCASHIRE PLAYERS
Muttiah Muralitharan
Overseas players: B Hodge (Aus), M Muralitharan (SL; pictured)
Ins: S Croft, A Crook, G Cross, S Marshall, M Muralitharan, B Hodge
Outs: C Schofield, J Haynes, J Wood, P Martin, A Swann, M Currie
But Lancashire still have a squad strong enough to return to Division One of the Championship at the first attempt.

Most captains would envy the resources available to Mark Chilton, who replaces wicket-keeper Warren Hegg as the man in charge.

Provided his shoulder injury has recovered fully, Murali will be hard to stop before his expected return to Sri Lanka in July. He is the overseas player every county would covet.

Stuart Law's newly-acquired status as Englishman has freed up a place for Hodge, the country's leading run-scorer last season.

Add those two to Andrew Flintoff, who looks set for an extended spell at county level as he eases his way back after a foot operation, and Lancashire look formidable.

Relegation came as a shock last season after the team started as title favourites. Nothing less than an immediate return will be acceptable.

Law's new passport means the side has three high-class overseas players
With the talent available, a one-day competition is not beyond them as well. The runners-up spot in the Totesport League was more indicative of the squad's ability.

Murali is the key. In three short spells in the county game - two for Lancashire and one for Kent - he has taken 149 Championship wickets in 19 matches.

Sustain that over a longer period and Lancashire should comfortably justify their favourites tag in Division Two.

It will be a surprise if the Old Trafford pitches do not suit him. Slow left-armer Gary Keedy will also benefit, provided there is room for both of them in the team.

Keedy has taken 132 Championship in the last two seasons. If only he could bat.

With the emphasis on spin, the burden on the pace-bowlers should not be onerous. They can operate in short spells and stay fresh, increasing their effectiveness.

In James Anderson, Sajid Mahmood, Glen Chapple, Dominic Cork, Kyle Hogg and possibly Flintoff, Lancashire have the pace-bowling options to take advantage.

They can even do without the reliable Peter Martin who has been forced to retire.

LANCASHIRE LAST YEAR
Andrew Flintoff
County Championship: 8th in D1, relegated
National League: runners-up in D1
C&G Trophy: quarter-finalists
Twenty20: semi-finalists
It is an important season for Anderson. He must be the most underused quality pace-bowler in the world. Surely it is time for him to play regularly for his county.

Hodge's Ashes call-up is frustrating for Lancashire who did not anticipate his inclusion when they signed him. Even so, he should provide good value while he is around.

He was instrumental in Leicestershire's Twenty20 Cup triumph and his Championship runs kept them away from the bottom of Division Two.

Law's new passport means the side has three high-class overseas players.

Law's county record over nine seasons has been remarkably consistent. He rarely fails. Now 36, the vice-captaincy should keep him motivated

The stars have some solid county professionals to work around.

Chilton, Iain Sutcliffe and Mal Loye are all capable of big scores while the novice Crook brothers, Andrew and Stephen, Australians with English passports, are well-regarded.

FAN'S VIEW: BARBARA KOHLER

A new captain in Mark Chilton and a turnover of the squad brings change to Lancashire for 2005.

And allowing home-developed players to push for places rather than joining the "Kolpak club" also provides optimism.

But will James Anderson rediscover his ability? He and Muttiah Muralitharan will need to spearhead the attack.

Runs will be required from new British passport holder Stuart Law, with the younger players ensuring that the fielding is mobile in the one-dayers.




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