The championship was divided into two sections in 2000. Nottinghamshire spent the first three seasons in Division Two, but by coming third in that division in 2002, gained promotion to the top section for 2003.
When Warwickshire were beaten by three wickets in the opening fixture, it appeared that Notts were to continue the sort of form that they had shown in the second half of the proceeding campaign.
The second game was a rain ruined draw and briefly the county stood at the top of the Division One table. The arrival of Surrey at Trent Bridge brought the first of three crushing defeats. Only Gallian, who carried his bat for the obdurate 112 in the first innings and Greg Smith who took four wickets came out with much credit from the Surrey encounter – defeat by an innings inside three days.
Sussex, the ultimate champions won by 10 wickets at Horsham, then Essex won by 268 runs, again in three days. Notts were reduced to 19 for nine – somehow Malik and MacGill added 60 for the last wicket. On a plum wicket at Edgbaston the batting blossomed. With Pietersen hitting 221 and Cairns 104, the total reached 646, a lead of 295 over Warwickshire, but with the home county topping 400 in their second innings, the game was drawn.
Notts also performed well against Leicestershire away, but the weather seriously affected the first day and thus the match always seemed like a draw. Rain also forced the return with Sussex into a draw, but either side of that fixture were defeats at the hands of Kent and Middlesex.
Notts now anchored at the foot of the table. Another three day disaster against Surrey followed. The pattern continued until the final match, when a quite splendid all-round performance overcame Lancashire by a margin of 233 runs and avoided the ignominy of the bottom place.
Of the eight defeats, five can be placed at the feet of the batsmen; against Sussex at Horsham, the bowling failed and the other two reverses, needed a modicum of good fortunate to turn them into wins.
Turning to the individual batsmen, on the plus side, Warren was a definite asset; it was most unfortunate that injury prevented him from playing in the early matches. Gallian batted with a determination that one would have hoped might have rubbed off on his colleagues. Carrying his bat v Surrey has been mentioned, but equally awe-inspiring was his nearly ten hours at the crease against Essex at Chelmsford. Injury deprived the side of his services for four matches.
Pietersen performed with his now expected panache – at Edgbaston he looked set to create a new Notts individual batting record, but holed out when 221. He easily topped the batting table, but in national terms did not do as well as in 2002, coming 24th in the first-class table as against 12th the previous summer.
Franks hit his first two centuries for the county. In both cases – against Leicestershire and against Lancashire he came in when the total had an unhealthy pallor and revived Notts fortunes.
Young Shafayat, who was still in his teenage years, was given a regular place in the side and continues his upwards progress.
The other side of the coin saw Afzaal completely lose confidence. It was by mutual agreement that he left Trent Bridge and it is to be hoped that his fortunes revive in 2003.
Welton’s progress over the last few seasons came to a halt. He was released at the seasons’ end. Cairns, who returned to the county, was last seen on the Trent Bridge staff in 1996. A hard hitting, attractive striker of the ball, he batted generally at no.6 and scored his runs quickly, but he was not as successful as he had been in previous seasons.
Greg Smith was the mainstay of the attack and the only bowler to take 50 Championship wickets. He finished 25th in the first-class bowling table – the next Notts bowler took 66th place, which emphasizes Smith’s worth.
MacGill captured 42 wickets, but was much more expensive than in 2002. The most improved bowler was the tall Cornishman, Shreck. He took five wickets on his Sunday League debut for Notts in 2002, but was yet to appear in a first-class match. He opened the bowling with Smith during the second half of the summer and looked distinctly useful. After a rather tentative start to the campaign, Franks’ bowling got back to something approaching his form of the two years back.
The major disappointment was Harris, who was a shadow of his 2002 self.
It was expected that Cairns would play primarily as a batsman and though he did bowl – indeed opened the bowling in some matches late on in the absence of Smith, but he was not the bowler we remembered. Elworthy, who was a fill-in for MacGill in the early matches did all that could be expected of him, but Vettori the New Zealand spinner, who briefly was another substitute overseas replacement only appeared in one Championship game.
MacMahon the Oxford blue appeared in two Championship games and took five wickets in the Essex game; Malik also played twice, but was troubled by injury.
17 year old Samit Patel hit a fifty on his Championship debut and another young hopeful, Vikram Atri appeared in a couple of games – all three players with bright futures.