Now they’ve played six, won five, and Lancashire’s completely unexpected charge to the top of the LV= County Championship table has found yet another unlikely hero.
The challenge for Kyle Hogg, after his stunning match figures of 11 for 58 routed Hampshire at the Rose Bowl, is to maintain a consistent level of performance – if only to retain his place in the team.
There are no guarantees, as Simon Kerrigan has found since taking 5 for 7 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston – but then missing out to Gary Keedy when Lancashire reverted to a single spinner for the subsequent two games.
Hogg’s Hampshire heroics, however, have offered the hardest evidence yet that, at 27, he may finally be ready to fulfil the potential that was first identified a decade ago – while strengthening Lancashire’s options considerably for the remainder of the season.
He had probably been an increasingly frustrated spectator in the previous five Championship fixtures, having been ruled out of the opener by a couple of niggles sustained in the warm-up match against Oxford University in the Parks, and subsequently unable to force his way into a winning team.
The note of doubt is necessary, by the way, because it is always tricky to be sure how the laid-back Hogg is feeling – he was nicknamed ‘Not Bothered’ in the Old Trafford dressing room long before Catherine Tate came along.
That diffidence has probably held him back. It is not original to point out that Hogg took five wickets on his first-class debut against Leicestershire at Old Trafford before anyone had heard of James Anderson, who is almost exactly a year older.
And even Anderson would concede, possibly through gritted teeth, that Hogg is the more talented left-handed batsman of the two – although here, again, Hogg has underachieved.
But there have been hints in the last couple of seasons that the indie kid from Saddleworth was on the right tracks. His performance in a crucial and memorable game against Hampshire at Liverpool late last summer, when Lancashire were still in danger of relegation, was arguably his best yet – 4 for 53 in Hampshire’s first innings, 81 from No.9 in Lancashire’s reply, and then another couple of wickets including the resolute opener Jimmy Adams in the nick of time on a taut final day.
That must have made his early-season injury all the more irritating. “This is how it feels to be lonely,” as the Inspiral Carpets, the Oldham band for whom Hogg had worked in a tough but fulfilling winter, put it two decades ago.
How bizarre that an injury to a Sri Lankan seamer should have given him a first opportunity, as it was the unexpected international call for Farveez Maharoof, in addition to the absence of Glen Chapple, that created the vacancy at the Rose Bowl.
Suddenly, Hogg was sharing the new ball with Sajid Mahmood on a Rose Bowl pitch that he’d love to take home to Saddleworth, with Oliver Newby and Tom Smith completing a quartet of Lancastrian seamers.
Now, even with Maharoof and Anderson missing, the likely return of Chapple for the crucial game against Durham starting at Riverside on Sunday May 29 will leave coach Peter Moores with a real quandary over who to leave out.
With no significant rain disruptions so far, and two games against Worcestershire to come, this really is turning into a remarkable season for Lancashire.