The year 2021 will be Steven Croft's 18th season - and the Blackpool-born all-rounder remains as important as ever as a mainstay in the Lancashire side.
Croft will always go down in Lancashire folklore as the man who hit the winning runs to secure 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 skippered the county to their maiden T20 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 County 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, was awarded a scholarship in 2004 and made his First-Class debut for the county at Oxford University in 2005. He was the first of the club’s Academy products to be given a professional contract.
He burst on to the First XI 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 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.
After holding down a regular place in the Championship side in 2007 – batting at number three at times – he won the Young Player of the Year award, starting a rise to one of Lancashire’s most trusted performers.
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.
And he came close to appearing for England, named in a provisional 30-man squad for the ICC World Twenty20 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 twice in his career, in 2010 and again in 2015, the latter campaign seeing him harness spectacular form in the T20 Blast-winning season as well.
He scored 478 runs from 16 matches with five fifties, including a best of 94 not out. That particular campaign proved to be the all-rounder’s most productive, contributing with runs, wickets and catches to boot.
Renowned as one of the most agile fielders in the domestic game, Croft broke the English record for consecutive T20 appearances for one team, reaching 131 from June 2006 to July 2016.
One season later he broke a finger in the opening Championship match of the season, meaning he missed One-Day matches for the first time since being left out of the 2006 C&G Trophy final team which lost to Sussex at Lord’s.
In 2017, he led the side to second place in the Championship, although he will count the summer as a pretty frustrating one disrupted by injury and loss of form.
He even took the brave decision to drop himself for a run of Championship games before returning to score a popular century in the final match of the season against Surrey at Emirates Old Trafford.
And despite off-field success in 2018 having been awarded a benefit year, his on-field form continued to desert him. Opening the season with a century against Loughborough University, two fifties against Surrey at opposite ends of the year bookended what was otherwise a patchy season with the bat.
All the more admirable, then, that Croft returned in 2019 to re-establish himself as a central part of Glen Chapple’s side.
Handed a new role at number three in the Royal London One-Day Cup, Croft responded by hitting a team-high 516 runs, averaging over 70 with scores of 110, 97 and an agonising 99 against Durham. In Vitality Blast, Croft was an ever-present and equalled his high-score of 94 at Worcestershire, and featured in 11 out of 14 Specsavers County Championship matches.
In the shortened 2020 season, Croft added three more First-Class half-centuries to his statistics and 272 Vitality Blast runs, playing an integral part of Lancashire's run to Finals Day.