The cricket season doesn’t run from April to September as the fixture list tells us. For the players and coaching staff at Nottinghamshire it started last November in the indoor school at Trent Bridge. We had played some moderate one-day cricket the season before and as a reaction to that I wanted the squad to work on improving, in that regard. I wanted our batting to be more expansive and we set about the bowling machines like there was no tomorrow.
As a club, we had for the first time for a long time made some additions to the playing staff in order to improve our limited-overs performance. Steven Mullaney came from Lancashire as a batting all-rounder and Graeme White came from Northamptonshire as a slow left-armer who could also bat lower down the list. Both could also field well and both had more of a reputation with the white ball than the red.
The priority at the club has always been four-day success. So this shift of focus – albeit not totally – was a big one. But it had the desired effect. It also seemed to give us additional options. We made finals day in the 20-over competition and fell at the very last in the group stages of the 40-over league, losing out to Warwickshire. This showed progress as a team, with the added bonus being that Mullaney made himself a fixture in the Championship team as well as being an ever-present in our limited-overs cricket.
To win the title, as we did, after being told that we were bottling it, was particularly pleasing. We have good players, but with three games to go, to lose a game we should have easily drawn at Durham and then to be bowled out for 59 in our first innings against Yorkshire at home – and then to sit at Old Trafford watching it rain for three days – it looked like leaving us with thoughts of what might have been. I said at that time when we were wobbling that our season would be judged in trophies won and nothing else.
To win the title on that final day - when claiming all of the nine bonus points we needed on the last afternoon was a fantastic effort. That fourth day took shape after much discussion. And with the amount of rain we experienced there was plenty of time to talk. It was decided that scoring 400 runs and then taking three Lancashire wickets was the best way to go about things and not to look to contrive a run chase with the home side. Dressing rooms are odd places. Having hardly scored 400 all season, for the team to think that they would do it under the most pressure and with the chips absolutely down was unbelievable. And after last pair Darren Pattinson and Ryan Sidebottom had scraped out the last ten of the nerviest runs imaginable, I was confident that we could take the wickets we needed in the time that we had. And that, as everyone who watched saw, was exactly how things played out.
The strength of our side has been in our seam bowling. In Pattinson, Sidebottom and Stuart Broad – crucial for us in the two games he played – plus the superb Andre Adams, we always seemed capable of bowling sides out.
"To win the title, as we did, after being told that we were bottling it, was particularly pleasing."
The ball always swings at Trent Bridge and we managed to win five games at home. The lack of heavy roller also meant that the pitches maintained their pace for longer. It made for genuinely entertaining cricket. In truth, it has been tough for the top order at times. But Alex Hales has done well enough to be pleased with his season and Paul Franks ended up batting as well at the top of the list as anyone had all season. We’ve tried several opening batsmen since Jason Gallian and Darren Bicknell did so well for us. Will Jefferson came from Essex, Bilal Shafayat came back to us from Northants and Matthew Wood from Somerset – none of whom nailed down the position. It’s a role that is much-discussed at the club, but the only conclusion I can draw is that unless a batsman is absolutely top-class, the chances are they will do well to average between 35 and 38 – a drop of ten runs per innings on what you might hope for. Hashim Amla showed that you could make runs at Trent Bridge when he was with us for those early season games. Undeniably out of the top drawer, Hashim either left the ball, blocked the ball or hit the loose one for four. It was old school batting and his contribution was vital in those early games.
Managing sides when one or other of the disciplines is struggling can be difficult. But I never criticise the bowlers in front of the batsmen, or vice versa. It doesn’t help – however frustrated one feels. As a manager you need to remain consistent and outwardly calm and hope it engenders the same in your team.
Winning the title – pipping Somerset on the strength of more wins –must have been difficult for them to take. They made real strides in 2010. In Murali Kartik they had the best spinner in the country, in an area of the game in which we struggled, and obviously they bat well. Were we the best team in the country? Possibly, over the course of the season. But to pull it out of the bag like we did in Manchester – after the weather we experienced – you’d have to say the players deserved it for that day alone, if nothing else.
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