Harsh economic reality is biting Lancs

At least once a week through the winter, and sometimes more often than that, there has been a reminder of the scale of the challenge that will be facing Glen Chapple and his Lancashire team in 2011, as the financial strain of the long-awaited redevelopment of Old Trafford takes its toll on the county’s cricket budget.

Almost all of their rivals have been announcing new signings, mostly from overseas – whether Worcestershire and Sussex, the two counties who will be looking to establish themselves in Division One of the County Championship following promotion, or second division strugglers such as Derbyshire who Lancashire may previously have regarded as financial lightweights.

But now, whereas the Peakites can look forward to Usman Khawaja gracing the old Racecourse for the first half of the summer, it is Lancashire who are resigned to going into the season without an overseas player.

Moreover, the news that Muttiah Muralitharan, who grew to love the county after being signed by Dav Whatmore when money was still flowing freely at Old Trafford, will play Twenty20 cricket for Gloucestershire this season is another painful reminder of the harsh new reality.

In recent years, it is not only the star names that have disappeared – Stuart Law, Dominic Cork, Andrew Flintoff – but also a second tier of regular first-team performers such as Mal Loye, Francois du Plessis and now Luke Sutton.

Last winter Peter Moores was able to sign Stephen Moore from Worcestershire, and four overseas players spent time at Old Trafford, with Ashwell Prince and Shiv Chanderpaul making the most significant contribution. But for 2011, as things stand, there will be no overseas player, or domestic signing.

Gareth Cross will be given the chance to take Sutton’s spot as regular wicketkeeper in all forms of cricket, and Lancashire will rely on other homegrown talents such as Paul Horton, Tom Smith, Steven Croft and Simon Kerrigan to rise to the extra responsibility that will be thrust upon them.

No doubt some supporters and officials at other counties will have a little chuckle at Lancashire’s expense, having been victim to their big-spending raids of the past. But these are challenging times for everyone at Old Trafford.

For the moment, there is less talk of ending that famously long wait for a Championship title, and a greater focus on the battle for survival – in more ways than one.

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