There are three ways one can view the 2008 Championship campaign. The first is to remember that the County won promotion by a whisker from Division Two at the close of 2007 and 2008’s principal objective was to get established in Division One and avoid any danger of dropping back to the lower reaches. Despite the insatiable demand that the England selectors put on the value of Nottinghamshire players – no less than five, of whom Sidebottom and Broad were very occasional visitors to Trent Bridge – Newell and his colleagues achieved their objective splendidly.
The second view looks at the weather. By the closing stages of thecompetition Nottinghamshire were regarded as possible Champions. The two most realistic rivals were Somerset and Durham. One of the most crucial games toward the end was the fixture versus Durham at Chester-le-Street on August 12 to 15. It was totally washed out – the first time in Notts history that a four day game has been arranged and not a single ball bowled. Each side collected four points.
Three weeks later the Somerset game at Trent Bridge had two days washed away. Only one innings was completed; Notts gained seven points, Somerset six. Quite astonishingly the two earlier fixtures against these two same counties had ended in draws due to the weather. AgainstSomerset Notts required just 87 runs for victory with six wickets in hand when play ended – some 100 overs of playing time had been lost. Against Durham at Trent Bridge, the previous week the game was more evenly balanced, but it was a weather affected draw. So we can cheerfully blame the climate for Notts failure to win the Trophy.
The result of the 16th and final Championship match of the summer, as many will grudgingly concede is a third and more poignant reason for Nottinghamshire’s disappointment. The title, in the last resort, depended on the outcome of three matches, all staged in the final week ofSeptember : Notts v Hants, Somerset v Lancs and Kent v Durham. If Nottinghamshire won their game no other county could overtake them, even with maximum points. At the close of the third day’s play in each of the three games, Notts had 182 points, Durham 176 and Somerset 174. At Taunton, Lancashire only needed 60 runs to beat Somerset with all wickets standing, so Somerset were effectively out of the race. At Canterbury, Kent needed 116 with five wickets left simply to avoid an innings defeat, Durham having made 500 in their first essay.
At TrentBridge Notts had obtained a first innings lead of eight, but Hampshire had reached 376 for five in their second innings. The only chance of victory that Notts had was a declaration by Hampshire.
On the fourth morning, Durham took only 75 minutes to polish off Kent. At Taunton, fog delayed the start, but Somerset lost by eight wickets. Hampshire did declare at Trent Bridge setting Notts 442 off 76 overs. The home batsmen save for Patel failed to rise to this very difficult target.
Returning to the season’s opening, Notts were the only county to secure a win in the initial round of matches and thus became the early front-runners. Pattinson took eight wickets on an impressive debut and Ealham made a century against his old county. Only rain prevented Notts defeating Yorkshire in the second fixture, but Kent gained swift revenge in the return fixture.
The see-saw season continued with a win against Lancashire – Pattinson picked up another hatful of wickets. Sussex then inflicted a defeat on Notts. By the halfway stage on the competition, Notts retained their lead, though only one point ahead of Lancashire. Ealham took ten wickets to bring victory against Yorkshire at home in the ninth match. The next five games, which included the complete wash out at Chester-le-Street, were all drawn. The last time Notts recorded five successive draws was back in 1997. This brings the programme to the last two matches. An easy win over the dispirited Surrey, perhaps gave a sense of false security when it came to the disastrous final match versus Hampshire.
Before reviewing the individual players’ performances, it is worth stating in the national first-class batting averages, almost exactly the same number of batsmen averaged above 45 in 2008 as had been the case in 2007. Since the figures of Nottinghamshire batsmen show a marked decline, it is worth looking at the batting figures at Trent Bridge. Last season 5754 Championship runs were scored on the ground and 251 wickets fell. In 2007 7332 runs were scored and only 208 wickets fell. The statistics are quite startling even allowing that the county no longer had the help of Fleming and Hussey. Was this difference due to the atmospherics produced by the new stand? The question was asked, but we didn’t receive a convincing reply.
Samit Patel certainly achieved similar batting figures to those he obtained in 2007, but Wagh and Read both saw their averages fall by ten runs apiece. Shafayat, who early in the season did not command a regular place, saw his average grow by ten and Swann also improved on his 2007 figure. The two openers had a torrid time, Jefferson and Wood averaged only in the 20s and the problem of building a substantial first wicket partnership was the major flaw. Voges played some very useful innings, but there was no comparison between him and Hussey.
The bowling of the side was quite remarkable. In 2007 the club was forced to co-opt seam bowlers from other counties; this time we actually exported Harris. The discovery of Pattinson was the scoop of the summer. He took 47 wickets @ 24.65 including five wickets in an innings on four occasions. In harness withShreck he formed a very formidable opening pair and there were only two century first wickets stands against the county during the campaign. Adams, who had played as an overseas man in 2007 returned as a qualified player in 2008.
He was usually the first change bowler and as such returned good figures. Ealham, the most economical of the regular bowlers, had splendid figures againstYorkshire, but was not as deadly as in former days. Swann was the principal spinner gaining England recognition as such, though his ability to bat added to his value as a team member. Patel’s left arm spin was employed for twice as many overs as in 2007 and, when called up by England for the One Dayers, returned figures that probably surprised himself.
As a result of Patel’s useful bowling, Ferley found that he had few opportunities and decided to move on at the season’s close. Franks appeared in half the matches, now very much the all-rounder, rather than the specialist seamer he once was, whilst Harris, in his benefit year, found he was surplus to requirements and has moved on to Leicestershire for 2009.
The fieldingin general was keen, though the absence of Fleming close to the wicket was of course felt. Read continues to be, in the opinion of Trent Bridge habituees, the best keeper in England. The triple burden of Keeper, Captain and beneficiary in 2009 is not an envious one.