Steven Croft, much like Jimmy Anderson, is akin to a fine wine. He just gets better and better with age.
There is a strong argument to suggest that 2022 was the best summer of an outstanding domestic career. The all-rounder was named as Lancashire’s one-day player of the year plus the 1864 Members’ player of the year.
He played in every county fixture, posting 837 Championship runs, 548 in the Blast and 385 in the One-Day Cup.
His season will be best remembered for two match-winning knocks on his home ground at Blackpool to twice defeat Nottinghamshire, first in the Vitality Blast when he hit 61 not out and then again in the Royal London Cup quarter-final with an unbeaten 115.
Croft debuted in List A cricket for the Lancashire Cricket Board and made his senior Red Rose debut in a first-class fixture at Oxfordshire in early 2005.
The now 38-year-old will always go down in Lancashire folklore as the man who hit the winning runs to secure County Championship title glory for the first time in 77 years when he did it on the fourth day against Somerset at Taunton in 2011.
Formerly captain of the county, Croft - he has also played domestic cricket in New Zealand for Auckland and Northern Districts - skippered Lancashire to their maiden Blast title in 2015 after Tom Smith’s injury ruled him out of all-but one match in the year.
He was appointed permanent captain ahead of 2016, a season which saw the club retain their Division One status in the Championship for the first time in three attempts. It was his first of two years as permanent skipper.
Croft, who learnt the game whilst growing up in Sri Lanka as his father spent time there working, arrived in Lancashire’s Academy in 2003 and was awarded a Scholarship in 2004. He was then the first of the club’s Academy products to be given a professional contract.
He burst on to the first-team scene with a bang in 2006 by hitting the last ball of a Twenty20 match against Leicestershire at Grace Road for six over cover to secure an unlikely win. And he did the same again in 2008 by crashing Graham Onions in the same direction to win a 50-over Trophy match against Durham at Emirates Old Trafford.
Mind you, he has always had a liking for the spectacular. Just ask Michael Vaughan, who was the victim of a stunning one-handed catch at deep mid-wicket during a Twenty20 Roses match at Old Trafford in 2009.
He is a player who has developed his career alongside the growth of Twenty20 cricket but has ensured he can succeed in all formats with determination and hard work.
Croft was named as the club’s player of the year in 2012, scoring 513 40-over runs and 313 from eight Twenty20s, leaving him amongst the top five run-scorers in the country.
He came close to appearing for England, named in a provisional 30-man squad for the World T20 at the end of the summer, although he did not make the final cut of 15.
Croft has topped 800 Championship runs in a season three times in his career, in 2010, 2015 and 2022.
The 2015 campaign saw him harness spectacular form in the Blast triumph as well. He scored 478 runs from 16 matches with five fifties, including a best of 94 not out, and added valuable wickets and catches as well.
He has long been a useful bowler, starting off as a medium pacer before turning to off-spin. Though, in more recent years, his bowling hasn’t been used as regularly. However, he remains a fabulous fielder.
Between June 2006 and July 2018, Croft played 148 consecutive T20 matches for Lancashire - an English record.
He has played more than 200 T20 matches for Lancashire and is set to play 200 first-class matches for the county in 2023. He will start the season on 197.
Another 800-run season, will see him reach 10,000 first-class runs for the county.
In fact, he will also likely pass 5,000 T20 and 5,000 List A runs in the same summer.
He broke a finger in the opening Championship match of 2017, meaning he missed List A matches for the first time since being left out of the 2006 C&G Trophy final team which lost to Sussex at Lord’s.
He returned to lead the side to second place in the Championship, although he will count the summer as a pretty frustrating one given injury.
Croft was awarded a benefit year by the club in 2018, a richly deserved accolade for a hugely popular club legend.
Away from the game, he is a qualified personal trainer and also has designs on a post-playing career in coaching. But long may his playing days go on.