Liverpool Victoria County Championship Review 2006
Traumatic is a very over used adjective, but it is surely the word to describe the final Championship game of the summer. The County was relegated to Division Two for want of a single bonus point.
However it cannot be said that the progress in the four-day matches through the campaign was one with many high points. In mid June and again at the end of July Nottinghamshire were at the foot of the table, but directly afterwards a match was won and they moved into seventh place, which appeared safe, though they still hovered just above the relegation zone.
In bald terms, Notts won nine matches and lost three in 2005; in 2006 four ended in victory and seven in defeat. Looking at the statistics it is hard to comprehend how the turnaround was due to batting deficiencies rather than bowling.
Did the pre-Championship friendliest lull the side into a cosy air of self contentment? Nottinghamshire went to Lord’s to play what theoretically was the ‘Rest of England’ and trounced them by 142 runs. However the days when MCC mustered the best of the rest to challenge the County of Champions are long gone and the side which opposed Notts was of weak county standard.
Centuries came from Gallian, Read and Ealham, the last named hitting the fastest 100 of the summer. The second friendly was against Durham University, who were dispatched in two days; in between came the initial Championship game v Yorkshire. Two thirds of playing time was washed away. On a dead pitch the final day gave Read another hundred and Notts some batting practice.
The serious stuff therefore commenced in the first week of May with Warwickshire the opposition. It was an indicator of what was to come. The first five Notts batsmen mustered 29 runs in the first innings ended with a rescue effort by Alleyne and Ealham, so that the result was a loss by 60 runs.
Eventual Champions, Sussex, were the next opponents. Again the Notts batting failed, Ealham with 52 being the highest scorer, but the bowlers struck back and defeat was only by 40 runs. The games against Durham at Trent Bridge and Lancashire at Old Trafford were rain affected draws, but the opposition on both occasions picked up more bonus points. There followed disaster at the Rose Bowl, where Warne’s crew especially Crawley who can’t fail against Notts, inflicted defeat by 299 runs. In mitigation Notts were lacking both Sidebottom and Greg Smith through injury; but again it was the batting that put in a mediocre performance.
With six matches played, Notts were footing the table, eleven points behind Yorkshire.
The first victory of the season came at the expense of Middlesex. Among the several notable achievements in this game was eight wickets in an innings by Shreck and the dismissal of the opposition for 49. Two high scoring draws followed, as the batsmen at last struck form – against Kent at Canterbury and Hampshire at Trent Bridge – Crawley made another hundred, of course!
The tenth game was the most unusual of the season. Nottinghamshire’s batsmen against flourished with 397 the all out total. Lancashire in response were bundled out for 200. Fleming astonished spectators by not enforcing the follow on. Lancashire went on to win by five wickets.
Having sunk to the bottom again, Notts’ reaction was a fine victory over Durham on a rain affected pitch, when everyone battled for runs. Shreck took ten wickets; Fleming scored a determined 89 not out and the win was by five wickets. A week later and it was all change, as Warwickshire achieved the double. The margin was not so great on paper, but only because Swann and Franks hit over a 100 runs between them. The County was now in eight place, one point behind Yorkshire, there were four games to play.
Kent were the opponents for the 13th contest. Hussey, having made a pair v Warwickshire redeemed himself with 164, made much more cautiously than is his want; Fleming also realised three figures and some incisive bowling by Sidebottom produced an innings win. The revival continued with another innings win, this time at the expense of Middlesex at Lord’s.
Notts moved into sixth place, the highest they had reached all summer; twenty-four points ahead of Middlesex and Yorkshire, 13.5 points ahead of Durham. The chances of dropping into Division Two seemed to have vanished. Then came defeat at the hands of Yorkshire, when aside from Husssey, the batting failed. By coincidence Yorkshire and Durham were meeting each other in the last game; Notts had to meet the formidable Sussex side. The positions in the table read: Notts 152 pts, Durham 143.5, Yorks 143, Middx 121.5. Effectively both Yorkshire and Durham had to get at least ten points to overtake Notts, so for both of them to do this a draw was essential. All Notts required was two or perhaps three bonus points, the County did not have to win or even draw against Sussex.
On the second morning Notts failed to take another wicket and thus gain no more bowling points. The batsmen needed to reach 200 for one batting point, or preferably 250 for 2 points. Notts were all out soon after tea for 165. At Leeds Yorkshire made 677 for seven; Durham just had to fail, but they made 518 and the game drifted to a draw. The worst possible scenario had unfolded.
As has been pointed out, the main failure was the lack of runs. The most telling statistic is shown in the Division One batting table. In 2005 Notts had four batsmen in the top 14; this year only Hussey. Looking at the relative bowling table there’s little to choose between 2005 and 2006.
Individually, Gallian and Bicknell who formed such an effective pair in 2005, failed to repeat their performances and only once managed 100 for the first wicket. The position of first wicket down was up for grabs, but Warren, Will Smith and Alleyne were all tried without any marked success – Fleming had three goes with little to show for them. The captain’s average fell from 60.53 to 49.60, whilst Hussey saw his drop from 68.05 to 47.62. The latter had two barren spells. Patel came into the team later on and his advance was encouraging. Alleyne surprised with 57 and 109 not out v Warwickshire and then played in a few games purely as a batsmen.
Will Smith, in the absence of Gallian, opened the batting, making 141 versus Middlesex. He has decided to move Durham.
Neither Singh or Mierkalns featured in Championship games. Ealham had another successful summer as an all-rounder, but the manager came in for some criticism when Ealham was played just for his batting. Franks also played chiefly as a batsman, though in eleven games his highest innings was only 64.
The seam bowlers, Shreck, Sidebottom, Harris, Greg Smith and of course Ealham, really performed all that was required of them. Injury largely handicapped Greg Smith, Shreck’s improvement compensating for any deficiency here. The spin department was in effect Swann – he bowled more overs than in 2005, but took less wickets. Patel, who needs encouraging as a bowler was not much used. McMahon was not chosen.
Read at last regained his England place and Alleyne kept wicket in seven matches. The fielding was generally keen, Fleming, as last summer, setting a high standard.
We trust that the stay in Division Two will be purely temporary.