Cheers, KP. If his inability or unwillingness to work with Peter Moores had not made its way mysteriously to the pages of the Telegraph and the Mail in early 2009, Lancashire’s long wait for an outright County Championship would almost certainly be heading for a 78th year. Possibly in the second division.
But everything has come up Red Roses, both for England – thanks in no small part to the foundations that Moores was laying until he was so abruptly interrupted, even if the ungracious Pietersen has still to acknowledge that fact – and now for Lancashire. It turned out that the missing piece in their jigsaw was from Macclesfield, and had made the short journey north from Cheshire for trials at Old Trafford as a wicketkeeper before moving on to the MCC groundstaff, Worcestershire and Sussex.
Moores made history with the Martlets, steering the south coast county to their first ever Championship in 2003 – and, in a preview of what he was to achieve with England, setting up structures that have underpinned the success they have mostly maintained under his protege Mark Robinson.
But he had Mushtaq Ahmed then, and it was the Pakistani leg-spinner’s wickets that were crucial in giving Sussex the edge over a Lancashire team who finished runners-up, a position that had become depressingly familiar with six near misses (including third behind Sussex again in 2007) in the last 13 years.
Most Lancashire cricket lovers would gladly have taken second at the start of this season. In fact they’d probably have settled for seventh, and an escape from relegation, given the lack of proven class and depth in the squad as a result of the financial problems arising from the continued uncertainty over the redevelopment of Old Trafford. The clearest example of that came when Moores was asked about the county’s wicketkeeping cover should Gareth Cross get injured – and answered, only half-jokingly, Warren Hegg.
But Moores and Glen Chapple, with whom he has formed such a close and effective bond over the last three seasons, still believed a Championship challenge was possible. Chapple especially fancied bowling on outground pitches after the best part of two decades flogging himself on mostly unresponsive Old Trafford surfaces. They also had belief in the ability of a group of low-profile players who were no longer youngsters, having reached various stages of their twenties, but remained very good mates after growing up together in the seconds.
The rest is history, a season that would have been memorable even without the fairytale finish in Taunton on a glorious Thursday in September. Chapple’s optimism about the outgrounds was well-founded, but it’s worth noting too that five of Lancashire’s 10 wins came in away matches.
“Mooresy is definitely the best coach I’ve ever worked with, and the rest of the lads would say the same,” Chapple confirmed on the Taunton outfield. “But our whole staff is brilliant.”
Mike Watkinson, Moores’s predecessor who moved upstairs to a new role as director of cricket at the end of the 2008 season, deserves credit for that, particularly given the background of those financial problems – Lancashire spent much of 2011 staring into the abyss, before ending it reaching for the stars.
So too do other stalwarts who have chipped in, such as John Stanworth and Gary Yates, and it was fitting that Mark Chilton played a part at Taunton, fielding frequently as 12th man for the hamstrung Captain Marvel – as he had been the captain, and Watkinson the coach, when Lancashire went agonisingly close to their Championship breakthrough on the last day of the 2007 season at The Oval.
But this was a more satisfying triumph than that could ever have been, sealed by Steven Croft from Blackpool and Atherton’s Karl Brown, with other unlikely local heroes such as Cross, Kyle Hogg, Luke Procter, Simon Kerrigan and Tom Smith in the dressing room. Lancashire should always be grateful to Pietersen for making Moores available, at just the time they were looking for a new coach.