Sport

Off-field progress counts for little without Lancashire’s top-level county cricket return, warns Mike Watkinson

By Ross McLean

Ambitious director of cricket Mike Watkinson has warned off-field progress will count for little unless Lancashire make a quick-fire return to English cricket’s top flight.

The Red Rose recently signed a record-breaking sponsorship deal – thought to be worth in the region of £10m – with Dubai-based airline Emirates.

And with a £32m redevelopment of the newly-named Emirates Old Trafford ongoing, Watkinson maintains such a venue warrants top-level cricket.

“We’ve got a world class venue now which will put ourselves up with any cricketing venue in the world,” he said.

“And it doesn’t sit right if on one side of our business we operate at that level and then we play second division cricket.

“To be in the second division for a season or two isn’t ideal, to be there for four of five seasons would probably be unacceptable.

“We’ve been there before and we bounced straight back and we aim to do the same again, it’s high on our priorities for next season.”

The Red Rose have launched ‘The Lancashire Way’ – a project aiming to promote inclusivity and participation in cricket throughout the North West.

And while praising its community links, Watkinson believes the club as a whole has much to celebrate and a bright future in store.

“We may have been accused of sitting on our hands in the past but we are where we are now and we have got exciting times ahead,” he added.

“We have got a great Ashes Test Match for people to look forward to, we have got a great league structure and our representative programmes through the age groups are very strong.

“We have got a great catchment for players who come from league cricket, home-grown players converted to Lancashire talent that can go on and play for England.

“We’re not a county that relies on bringing people in from outside for our quality and for our interests so it is exciting.”

Lancashire famously won their first outright county championship for 77 years in 2011 with a team made up largely of home-grown players.

And Watkinson – who captained the county for five years in the nineties – maintains the club’s community links are as strong as ever and could produce the stars of tomorrow.

“We have got exciting times ahead in terms of our work in the community and in the recreational game,” he said.

“We have been out there doing plenty of good stuff for many years and it’s gone back through history.

“The Lancashire Way initiative is a good way of bringing it all together with the Foundation on board, which is our community-arm and the charitable-arm of the club.

“To be honest it doesn’t cost a fortune because it is things we have done forever and if we get three or four cricketing champions in the years ahead that’s a great bonus.”

Image courtesy of ESPNcricinfo, via YouTube, with thanks

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