The 2005 season was a huge success for Nottinghamshire. Managing to replicate the form that promoted them to Division 1 in 2004, they fought hard all season to win the Championship for the first time in 18 years.
Purely on the grounds that no county had won Division Two and then Division One in successive years, it was wise to express no more than cautious optimism as the season commenced. The first fixture was at Lord’s and as might be expected in mid-April was a rain affected draw. The new captain, Fleming virtually stepped off the plane and on to the turf and, for about the only time, failed with the bat, but hundreds from Bicknell, Hussey and Franks produced high totals. At home for the second match in April, Fleming quickly made amends and Gallian produced his first 199 run out. Sussex 130 behind after the initial innings fell apart on the last day, when most experts predicted a draw. An even more emphatic victory was achieved in the next match, the ancient rivals Surrey losing by an innings and 76 runs. Fleming followed a hundred against Sussex with 238, Gallian also hit another three figure innings. Notts’ total of 692-7d was the third highest in the county’s history.
The first defeat of the summer came against Kent at Trent Bridge. Several Notts seam bowlers were unavailable and Newby was co-opted from Lancashire to fill the gap. Oddly it was the batting rather than the bowling that let the team down, Bicknell being the only player to manage even a fifty in either innings. Despite this reverse, Nottinghamshire still remained in second place in the table.
The first week of June brought Hampshire to Trent Bridge. Warne, the master of cunning, set Notts on the final day the apparently simple task of making 276 at little more than four an over. Fleming and Hussey seemed to have the measure of the bowling; 132 were added for the fourth wicket and the total raised to 227 for three. A mere fifty was all that was required when Tremlett took four wickets in five balls and Notts lost by 14 runs. Notts remained in second place.
The Surrey return match at Trent Bridge should have brought a victory, but a draw saw Notts to the head of the table followed closely by Kent and Hampshire. The penultimate game of the season, crucial for both title-chasing teams. Gallian batted throughout the first day, reaching 191, to save the team from a miserable first innings. Delays, mostly due to rain, brought both sides to the final day, and Fulton, the Kent captain, took a gamble. He declared Kent’s first innings 249 in arrears, then employed joke bowlers to allow Notts to score whatever they felt necessary before declaring. Fleming took no chance, he set Kent the awesome target of 420 off 70 over’s, with knowledge that Kent’s main fast scoring batsmen, Key, was not fit. A draw was of no use to Kent. Their batsmen couldn’t cope as Harris took six wickets, and the County Championship belonged to Nottinghamshire.
The line up from the previous season was unchanged, bar Fleming in place of Pietersen. The opening pair, Gallian and Bicknell, had an outstanding summer. The average first wicket partnership was 54, higher than any other pair of county batsmen in 2005 and compared with an average of 36 in the previous season.
The one problematic spot in the line-up was first wicket down. Warren, Singh and Will Smith were all given opportunities. Fleming, at no.4, after his rushed first game, was most impressive, performing well above his career average. David Hussey’s figures were almost identical to 2004 and nobody would complain about them. Swann’s stats were similar to his Northants figures, scoring 322 runs and taking 30 wickets. Sidebottom was in such emphatic form that one pundit suggested he might win back a Test place, whilst Harris recovered the talents that all knew he possessed.
Fielding was also a vital part of the side’s success. Hussey, Fleming and Gallian formed the best slip cordon seen at Trent Bridge in living memory, whilst England’s neglect gave Notts exclusive use of the best keeper in the country. Finally in Fleming, Newell introduced a fresh player as captain, an action not taken since Notts signed Sobers back in 1968. So far as Notts supporters were concerned, Fleming was best known for leading New Zealand to an unexpected series win over England in 1999. Newell chose wisely. Fleming had the skill to pick players up when they were down and created a happy atmosphere. An extremely impressive season for the captain and county.