Lancashire are facing a tricky decision over where to play their home County Championship matches next summer after the huge success of this 2011 season on the road.
Taking six games to Liverpool and one each to Southport and Blackpool would seem to have been a key factor in the county’s unexpected title challenge, as six of the seven matches so far have produced a positive result – with Lancashire winning four, losing two and drawing only once, in a game against Warwickshire at Aigburth that was the only one to be seriously affected by rain.
The seamers have clearly benefited from playing on outground pitches, but the move away from Old Trafford has also had intangible advantages.
There has been a real feeling of taking the game to the people, especially in the fixtures at Southport and Blackpool which both attracted excellent attendances far higher than could have been expected at Old Trafford.
However Lancashire are also sensitive to the wishes of the large proportion of their membership based in and around Manchester, who have been deprived of any Championship cricket on their doorstep this season.
They may have accepted that as a one-off following the reorientation of the square last winter – especially with Lancashire doing so well at the outgrounds. But they will want more than one-day cricket for their money next season – and Lancashire will also want to start gaining some reward for the expensive redevelopment of Old Trafford rather than staging expensive fixtures on the road.
There had been an expectation that at least six and possibly seven of the home Championship matches would therefore be kept at headquarters, with Liverpool remaining the favoured outground. But the games at Southport and Blackpool have been so successful that it would be very sad not to return next year.
Stanley Park was an absolute picture for the game against Worcestershire last week. The grassy knolls and steep concrete steps around three quarters of the ground give it an advantage over Aigburth by providing the feel of an amphitheatre. The benches and tables outside the beer tent were an inspired touch, and with hand-pulled Thwaites available there in addition to a range of other real ales in the pavilion, the refreshments were a cut above those usually found at many county headquarters, never mind outgrounds.
Blackpool has a number of other unique appeals. Not so much the sight of the Tower looming behind the pavilion, although that is always a bonus for freelance photographers at the game, but the history of league cricket on the Fylde – taking in such luminaries as Jack Simmons, Andrew Flintoff and overseas stars such as Rohan Kanhai, the great West Indies batsman who popped in during the Worcestershire game as he has lived in Blackpool since being entranced by a local girl during a stint at Stanley Park.
That was why Steven Croft’s crucial century in Lancashire’s first innings against Worcestershire was one of the highlights of the season, as the hometown hero was given a warm ovation when he went to the crease and much louder applause when he reached three figures with a six.