After the dismal performance of 1996, when the county claimed just one victory, journalists forecast that Notts would fare even worse last summer
Those who protested at his premature judgment found themselves on difficult ground when the overseas player for the season, Pakistan fast bowler, Mohammad Zahid broke down before playing a match.
Johnson confounded dismal Jimmies, by winning the third and fourth matches after the initial two had been rain affected. Lancashire were shot out by Evans and though they fought back in their second innings, the winning margin was still six wickets. Notts were 127 behind on first innings against Derbyshire, but still retrieved the situation to win by two wickets.
Although the fifth match was lost by an innings, Notts recovered their poise to overcome Northants, Dowman hitting a splendid hundred and the new overseas signing, Astle, hitting a vital 64 on his debut.
Yorkshire’s visit to Trent Bridge was ruined by rain and then Notts went to The Oval where the weather forced Johnson to gamble, he declared 128 in areas on the first innings only to find Notts trying to score fast runs on the last day with a pitch suiting the spin of Salisbury.
There came a fortnight’s break before the ninth game, Warwickshire coming to Trent Bridge. Franks became the youngest Notts bowler to achieve a hat trick, but the visitors still gained a fist innings lead of 211.
The follow on was enforced, Astle hit a fast hundred, whilst Dowman, in great form at this period of the summer made 96. The tail also batted soundly and the game was saved.
Notts ought to have beaten Leicester at Grace Road, but Nixon and our old colleague, Millns enabled the home side to hold out for a draw. The holiday game on the North Wales coast was yet another to fall foul of the elements, but Somerset’s match at Trent Bridge ended in great excitement.
A hundred from Dowman put Notts within sight of the 320 required, but two runs outs and some confusion saw the runs needed per over rise and the wickets fall.
Noon and Oram bailed us out – 15 runs wanted with the last pair at the crease when the final ball was delivered.
Central Avenue Worksop was another victim of the rain. Notts fourth success of 1997 came at Bristol, where bright batting by Johnson and Tolley enabled the former to set Gloucester a target – Astle, in his farewell appearance, took four for 40 and victory was by 21 runs.
The three games in September saw a single defeat, at the hands of Middlesex, and draws against Hampshire (more rain) and Sussex. Of the individual players, the captain proved much more consistent than in 1996. He failed to hit a hundred, but managed eight fifties and averaged above 40.
Astle’s batting bolstered the middle order and it was a pity that he could only play in 10 matches. Afzaal began with 70 and 77, but not out against Lancashire, he then hit 52 and 54 in the next two games and though he did not again reach 50 until the last fixture, his was a very difficult wicket to take.
The major problem of the batting turned out to be least expected. Robinson and Pollard were automatically the opening pair, but both were injured in the fourth match. Dowman was promoted and batted well.
Metcalfe partnered him for one game, Welton for another. Robinson and Pollard recovered from their injuries, but with little success and the combination of Robinson and Dowman was the ultimate outcome. Archer, after his 1996 form, was distinctly disappointing and found himself in the Second XI for some games. Metcalfe never really found his touch, he was released before the end of the summer.
The seam bowling proved Notts’ strongest asset, Bowen, in his second summer, took 11 wickets against Derbyshire, including a career best seven for 75.
Tolley halved the cost of his wickets compared with 1996. Evans was a consistent as ever.
Young Franks earned praise from many quarters and was awarded with the post of vice-captain on the winter tour by England Under 19s. Orman, a virtual unknown from Northants, came into the side for the Warwickshire game in mid July and bowled so promisingly that he held his place for the rest of the summer.
Astle’s place at the top of the table owes a great deal to his nine wickets in his final game. The result of all this was that an injury which kept Pick largely in the pavilion was not as damaging to the team as might have been feared. The Thrumpton bowler retired at the end of the year.
Pitches did not generally favour the spin-perhaps the captain was a little cautious in its use-Bates provided off breaks; Afzaal did not improve much, being now more of a batsman; Hindson still unable to regain his form.
The wicket keeping was in the hands of Noon, who performed competently and also proved very useful with the bat, his deputy Walker had therefore few opportunities.
Overall the county improved considerably on 1996, finishing 13th.