Table-topping Notts settle dinner debate
Posted in Domestic Cricket
During dinner with a group of non-cricket fans on the penultimate evening of the LV= County Championship season, I attempted to explain what could happen the following day. I soon gave up.
Chances are we would have been tucking into cheese and biscuits by the time I finished running through the various permutations, so in the interests of their sanity and my safety (I feared a stray fork under the table would cut me off in my prime) I spared them the lecture.
I have spent the best part of a week doing just that, reporting from Old Trafford on the astonishing climax to a remarkable campaign (I’ve long since started to recycle adjectives) that ended with Nottinghamshire crowned champions in scarcely believable fashion.
Words are supposed to be my trade, but the past few days have felt like one long flashback to maths classes: calculator in hand, hunched over a copy of the championship table as I tried to decipher the outcome of a race that was decided by the slightest of margins.
Trust me when I say that my press box colleagues and I spent as much time doing sums as writing about the game, which was one of the memorable witnessed by observers with significantly more experience than me.
How often can three teams – Notts, Somerset and Yorkshire – have been in with a realistic shout of winning the title heading into the last day of the season?
How many times did the odds on each of them triumphing change during four wildly undulating days that saw the weather (I use that term in a general sense because rain, wind and, laughably, sun all came into the reckoning in Manchester) play a leading role?
With Warwickshire’s Division One survival not confirmed until the last afternoon and Worcestershire completing a stunning run-chase to clinch promotion in the final session, it begs the question: has there been a more eventful end to a season?
As if that wasn’t enough, an already hectic day was made all the more chaotic with the news that England’s most famous cricketers had retired.
In many ways, the season finale mirrored the summer as a whole: packed with attacking cricket and about as predictable as a Boris Johnson speech.
The uninitiated routinely struggle to get their head around the concept of the draw in a game that can last four days, but amid all the hoopla at Old Trafford and Durham it was easy to forget that the two most pivotal matches of the season ended yesterday in stalemate. They were all the better for it.
They were also rarities. One notable feature of this summer has been the aggressive - and occasionally reckless - attitude of many sides, happy to risk defeat in the hope of victory.
There have been 43 positive results – compared to 29 last year and 32 in 2008 – for which the ECB can take some credit.
Points awarded for a win were increased this season from 14 to 16 (draws are now worth three); teams were afforded 10 fewer overs in which to collect bonus points; and new regulations were introduced banning the use of the heavy roller after a match has started, in an attempt to retain life in the pitches for longer.
Notts, boasting the “best seam attack in the country” according to director of cricket Mick Newell, certainly profited, and only the most curmudgeonly of cricket fans could argue that the team with the most wins (seven) does not deserve to be crowned champions.
They led the championship for the final month of the season and, for all the sympathy directed towards Somerset after they had the title snatched from their grasp at the last, it is worth remembering that their first taste of life at the top this summer came on Tuesday afternoon.
As Newell told ecb.co.uk in the immediate aftermath of Notts’ triumph: “We’ve ended up winning it, so that says to me that we’re the best team.”
If Notts were the best and Somerset a cigarette paper’s width away from glory, a Yorkshire side brimming with homegrown talent shocked their infamously pessimistic followers to take third, while a youth-sprinkled Lancashire outfit did well to maintain their title ambitions until the penultimate round of matches.
That Kent, who ended up going down, beat Yorkshire in their final game spoke volumes for the competitiveness of the top flight, which will be bolstered next year by Sussex and a Worcestershire team that defied long odds and the loss of almost half their team last winter.
Given what happened this season, it is anybody's guess what next year will bring. A discussion for the next dinner party, perhaps?