PPP County Championship 1999

In 1998 174 points separated the champions from the wooden spoonists; last summer the difference was 128. The competition was therefore much more even, the margin dividing the counties not so great. Nottinghamshire won one more match than in 1998, but dropped one place to 17th. This means that the county are competing in the second division for the coming season. After a successful pre-season tour of South Africa, the 1999 campaign opened with cautious optimism. Drakes replaced Strang as the overseas player; Stemp arrived to command the position as principal spinner, but otherwise there were no major alterations to the 1998 side. It therefore remained to be seen if the intensive training programme set out by the new manager, Rice, would in itself lift the side.

The initial game was no contest, a virtual washout v Leicestershire. Worcestershire came to Trent Bridge for the second match and were comprehensively beaten. Johnson hit a century, Drakes took nine wickets. The third game, also at Trent Bridge, produced a second victory – v Somerset by the 31 runs – and this was very much a team effort. The following match v Lancashire ought also to have bought victory. The Lancastrians required 322 in the final innings and not only survived but won. This reverse was quickly forgotten when Notts overwhelmed Hampshire. All the bowler played their part, whilst Johnson continued his fine form with 45 and 92. On May 30th, Notts were third in the table. Just as the supporters were beginning to believe that the dark clouds had rolled by, the whole atmosphere changed. At Northampton the home batsmen took the Notts attack apart – 484 for 3 in 94 overs. The game however was drawn due to bad weather. But this draw was followed by five consecutive defeats. Warwickshire won by 55 runs, Glos by seven wickets, Durham by 95 runs, Kent by 88 runs and Derbyshire by six wickets.

The county could not blame injury to key players, though Robinson missed some matches with a damaged wrist and they could not claim the team was decimated by test calls. The county had sunk to 11th place when they visited Southgate. Drakes had an outstanding game with 11 wickets , Franks took seven and for once all the middle order batsmen, Gallian, Johnson, Archer and Dowman, made runs. It was not something which was repeated. Notts went to Colwyn Bay, where the Welsh side comprehensively snuffed out any flicker of revival. Notts batting first plumbed new depths as the score line read 9 for 6 wickets. Wharf, Franks and Randall prevented a new record low score , but Glamorgan then broke all sorts of records with 648 for four. Defeat was a foregone conclusion. Further reverses followed in the remaining games and Notts narrowly avoided the wooden spoon. For the third successive year Johnson topped the batting table and for most of the summer played superbly. It was most unfortunate that a neck injury inhibited him in August and he was forced to drop out of the final two fixtures. Gallian's record was an improvement on his modest 1998 return and he narrowly missed 1,000 runs. After a stuttering start, Afzaal hit his first fifty at Bristol and from then proved very consistent. Robinson, who announced his retirement during the year played a few typical innings, but was hampered by an injury. He did however score enough runs to overtake Joe Hardstaff and become second to George Gunn, as Notts most prolific batsmen of all time.

Archer, the best slip fielder in the side, and Dowman were disappointing and both released at the close of 1999. The younger Welton hit his only fifty in the final game and looks likely to improve this summer.

Wicketkeeper Read, as predicted, won his first England cap is now with England in South Africa. Although not yet up to French’s standard, he is certainly a proficient performer and his batting should not be ignored – he hit a maiden hundred.

On the bowling front, Drakes proved an inspired choice and did everything that was expected of him – his wish to try for West Indian Test selection means that he is not available this summer. Only Caddick and Sheriyar took more wickets in 1999 and Drakes managed ten wickets in a match twice. Franks improved both in his wicket total and his average and gained a place in the 1999/2000 England A side. Lucas came into the county team late on and proved a steady reliable seamer, but Tolley was absent from the side for a long period due to injury and Oram, who gave hope in 1998, was not seen at all – again due to injury.

With the substantial changes in the professional squad for 2000 – nine of the 1999 team having left Trent Bridge – it is impossible to predict, at this stage, the outcome for the coming year.