Frizzell County Championship Review 2004

Having been relegated to the Second Division after a lacklustre season in 2003, Nottinghamshire went into the 2004 campaign with, in effect, two major alterations to the first team lined up. David Hussey, the young Australian, replaced Afzaal and the more elderly Ealham replaced Chris Cairns. 

The result was an outstanding Championship summer, but the question uppermost in the supports’ minds is: ‘What is the size of the gap in standards between the two divisions and does it, in fact, exist?’ Looking at the top six places in Division One for 2003 and comparing them to the 2003 results, only one county has been removed and one ‘promoted’.

Looking at it in another way, two of the promoted teams in 2003, Worcestershire and Northants, have found themselves demoted after just one summer. 

Mick Newell is surely to be slapped on the back for acquiring Hussey and Ealham. Hussey headed the Championship batting averages and the only worry is that Australia might discover what an attractive, fast scoring batsman they are ignoring – it to be hoped their ignorance continues for Notts sake, through 2005. 

The number of Kent supporters, who believed that the county’s experts had scored an ‘own goal’ by allowing Notts to sign Ealham must run into four figures. Based purely on the statistics for 2003 and 2004, Ealham put Cairns in a very poor second place. 

When Notts thrashed Durham by an innings and 80 runs in the opening Championship fixture, prospects looked bright indeed, but the rains then came to restrict the next two games, virtually, to a single innings apiece. 

The fourth match saw an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Leicestershire after Notts had attained a first innings lead of 143 (thanks to an eight wicket stand of 190 by Ealham and Franks). Cassandras began to poke their heads above the parapet. Newell fired a fusillade of victories at them- five to be exact- Yorkshire, Durham, Hampshire, Somerset and Derbyshire. 

Notts found themselves sitting comfortable at the top of the results table and were destined to remain firmly posted there for the remainder of the summer. The last time they had recorded five successive wins was back in 1922, in the balmy days of AW Carr. 

Aside from the early defeat at the hands of Leicester, the only other reverse came in September, when the batting had a relative failure on a plumb pitch. It should be noted that just once in the entire campaign, Notts were dismissed for less than 300 – a record without parallel. Turning to individual batsmen, the success of newcomers Hussey and Ealham has been noted. Bicknell and Gaillian created a curious record in that the pair opened the batting in every innings during the summer – I’m struggling to find a precendent. 

Both players batted up to the standard they had achieved in 2003. Peitersen had another impressive year and caught the selectors’ eye, making his One-day International debut in Zimbabwe. Warren, coming in first wicket down, played many useful innings and Singh, when Warren was injured late on, took his place, scoring a maiden Championship hundred for Notts. 

Almost unbelievably, Franks, batting at eight, or even nine, averaged 37.29. Not quite as good as in 2003, but more consistent. 

With all these batsmen flourishing, Shafayat was out in the cold, appearing in uust one first-class game. It was disappointing for him and the county were sad that he decided to go to Northants for 2005. 

The bowling line-up was nearly as reliable as the batting. In fact Smith was omitted from the side on occasions more or less to allow the others opportunities. Shreck began the season in fine form, but, later was the only principal bowler to suffer a major injury problem. 

Harris and Logan were unable to command regular places in the Championship side but Sidebottom performed well in his first season. 

The spin department consisted of MacGill, who did not find the pitches to his liking as often as in the previous season and his wickets were therefore more expensive. 

The Oxford blue, McMahon, came in for a game towards the end, Pietersen being the other spinner who was seen on occasion. 

With the pitches in general excellent, any chances given by batsmen had to  be accepted, for ,unlike the Nottingham tram, a second one is probably a long way off. Happily the county fielders, especially those in the slips, rarely muffed a catch and with Read improved, even on his 2004 form, sides were frequently dismissed twice. 

England’s blind eye was fixed to the telescope when it turned in Read’s direction. This meant that Alleyne found himself confined to second team duties, save for a handful of games at the start. 

What’s life like in Division One? We will discover shortly.