Having been pegged by many for a championship charge this season, Lancashire find themselves languishing at the bottom of Division One, 15 points off safety.

With three losses and two draws (both rain affected) to start the season, Lancashire have already lost more games this season than in the last two combined. But why have 2022’s runner-up declined so significantly?

A shallow squad

Until Saqib Mahmood’s introduction against Nottinghamshire last round, Lancashire had selected from the same 13 players in the first four fixtures of the season. They are significantly depleted.

Phil Salt, who averaged 43 in last year’s County Championship, and Luke Wood each joined the IPL at short notice. Mahmood has recently recovered from a back injury, while fast bowler Mitchell Stanley is out indefinitely.

Overseas signing Nathan Lyon has bowled well so far, taking 12 wickets at 26, but hasn’t had the big scores required behind him to dictate terms. Moreover, his season-long stint for Lancashire has been curtailed to just seven matches (all before July 4) as Cricket Australia look to manage his workload ahead of India’s visit this winter. James Anderson is also yet to play, as he prepares for his final Test.

This has forced Lancashire’s hand: 20-year-old all-rounder Tom Aspinwall made is first-class debut in the opening round, while uncapped Joshua Boyden and wicketkeeper George Lavelle were called up as cover.

Over the winter, Lancashire witnessed an exodus of experience (Richard Gleeson, Rob Jones, Danny Lamb, Matt Parkinson, and Dane Vilas all left), while their only domestic signing, Stanley, is yet to play. This has left their shallow squad exposed.

Speaking after Lancashire’s loss to Kent, head coach Dale Benkenstein said: “We need out senior players to step up.”

However, with these departures, the squad currently only has four players with over 100 first-class appearances, while many of the current XI debuted over the past two years. This mix of poor transfer strategy and slew of absentees has left Lancashire short staffed.

Chapple out, Benkenstein in

In December 2023, Benkenstein was appointed head coach at Lancashire for the 2024 season. Previously working there as a batting consultant in 2021, Benkenstein had two unsuccessful County Championship seasons at Gloucestershire. His first season saw them get relegated from Division One, losing eight of their 14 fixtures. The following year, they went winless, finishing rock bottom of Division Two. Gloucestershire won just two games in Benkenstein’s stint at the club. His start for the Red Roses has been similarly meagre.

In an interview with Lancashire TV in pre-season, Benkenstein was optimistic that there wasn’t a significant overhaul needed. “That winning mindset and that positive mindset is what I would like to instil,” he said. “The team’s been doing very well so there’s not a lot of work that I have to do, but I think it’s more just the tweaking and little areas that you can improve on that will actually make a difference.”

The task at hand looks significantly tougher now. Time will tell whether Benkenstein is up to it.

Constant collapses

A combination of rain and the Kookaburra ball meant after two rounds, Lancashire, like many others, had registered two draws. Their first game against Surrey saw only one completed innings. However, glimpses of Lancashire’s future were already visible. The collapsed from 150-2 to 202 all out, the first of three occasions on which they have failed to register a batting bonus point.

Even in making 484 against Hampshire, there was a slide from 377-4. Then, against Essex, they were skittled for 146 and 107, no Lancashire batter passing 35 in the match. A week of rest was unable to change Lancashire’s luck as they were bowled out for 92 by relegation rivals Kent. An improved 332 in the second innings was insufficient to salvage a draw.

Their most recent fixture, against Nottinghamshire, was yet again plagued by collapses. They fell from 4-273 to 331 all out in the first innings and were 61-6, before a lower-order resurgence restored some pride.

In every innings so far this season, Lancashire have lost at least five wickets for 1o0 runs or fewer at some point.

Lancashire’s collapses in 2024: 52-8 v Surrey, 81-5 v Hampshire, 146ao (inc. 92-8) and 107ao v Essex, 92ao, 96-5 v Kent, 58-6, 61-6 v Notts.

“You can point the finger towards myself as much as anybody,” said captain Keaton Jennings. “You’ve got to make sure that when you get into those tough situations, you get through them. You want to be the guy to pull the team through. We just said to the lads now, you’ve got to make sure you get better. It’s tough but it’s professional sport unfortunately.”