September 20, 2001

Australian county imports for 2001: a review

Another English summer, another year of Australian domination. And, while this season was clearly headlined by the national team's emphatic Test and one-day series victories over England and Pakistan, the tale didn't merely end there.

Instead, 2001 will also be remembered as a summer which included outstanding performances from a collection of county professionals recruited from the Antipodes. As many as 13 Australians were hired as overseas imports, and it remains difficult to identify a single one of them who failed to make a significant contribution to their club.

Here's our review of how each of them fared:

Andy Bichel (Worcestershire): Given how much of a key his consistency with both bat and ball has been to Queensland's success over the last decade, it probably wasn't a surprise to too many of Andy Bichel's admirers that he proved an excellent recruit for Worcestershire this year. He was fellow Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath's replacement as the club's overseas professional and his influence over the team's progress was similarly emphatic: he claimed a total of 110 wickets and struck a total of 982 runs in the two forms of the game to be a popular choice as the county's 'Player of the Year'. Just for good measure, he also claimed his first hat-trick and hit his first one-day century at domestic level along the way. The county showed little hesitation in signing him up again for 2002.

Greg Blewett (Nottinghamshire): Nottinghamshire has made the decision that Greg Blewett will not be a part of its plans again next year. But that's far more a reflection of the county's urgent need for another specialist bowler than any line in condemnation of the South Australian's performance. He experienced a disappointing patch in June but was otherwise a model of tremendous consistency on his way to five centuries, five half-centuries and a total of 1292 runs in first-class matches. He was also dependable at one-day level. There, he struck five half-centuries and, significantly, played a key role as the Outlaws defeated Leicestershire in the last match of the season to ensure their survival in Division One of the National League.

Jamie Cox (Somerset): Didn't quite match the standards of his blazing first county season with the bat in 1999 but this was a season that Jamie Cox will remember forever. As captain, he led Somerset to two achievements that must be considered exceptional given the history of the club. He reversed the disappointment of two years ago to lead the county to the title of Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy champion, its first one-day crown since 1983. His leadership was also outstanding in the first-class arena as the team emerged runner-up to Yorkshire, thus securing the club's highest finish in 111 years of Championship competition. Oh, and he happened to score the small matter of 1264 first-class runs at an average of 57.45 too.

Michael DiVenuto (Derbyshire): Derbyshire endured another dismal season; it won just five games in all and found itself anchored to the bottom of Division Two in first-class and one-day competitions for the bulk of the season. In that context, Michael DiVenuto's return of 1082 first-class runs at an average of 45.08 and 569 one-day runs at 31.61 was particularly meritorious. As conjecture raged back at home about whether he would sign a new contract with Tasmania, DiVenuto started the season in especially positive style with a century against the Bradford/Leeds UCCE in a warmup fixture. A further five centuries and seven half-centuries followed, and he again showed his liking for scoring at a rapid pace. For as bleak as its prospects have been over the last two years, its selection of an import has at least been one area in which Derbyshire has made a sound decision. He will not only return in 2002, but will also be the side's new vice-captain.

Murray Goodwin (Sussex): Murray Goodwin had headed to Hove with the memory of a disappointing comeback first-class summer for Western Australia behind him. Yet he was able to do just that: he put the memory well and truly into the background with a tremendous debut season for Sussex, figuring as the team's second leading runscorer in a season in which it gained promotion to Division One of the Championship for the first time, and finished just shy of qualifying for elevation to the top flight in the National League. Frequently used as an opening batsman, he scored 1654 runs at an average of 61.25 in first-class matches and another 811 runs at 45.05 in one-day cricket. He didn't quite replicate the phenomenal form that Michael Bevan had captured in the position twelve months' earlier, but Sussex will still have been very satisfied with its choice.

Ian Harvey (Gloucestershire): Following the attainment of five titles over the last two seasons, it was probably to be expected that this would be something of a let-down year for Gloucestershire. That statement certainly didn't extend so far as to include the form of all-rounder Ian Harvey, though. The Victorian had another brilliant year with the club, hammering 531 first-class runs at an average of 40.84 and capturing 41 first-class wickets at an exceptional average of 18.85. In one-day cricket, he was equally effective with 534 runs at 26.70 and 38 wickets at 20.81 apiece. It was no surprise that Gloucestershire struggled most in the period that coincided with Harvey's absence from the club due to one-day international commitments with Australia.

Mike Hussey (Northamptonshire): How best to do justice to a sensational first year in county cricket for the talented Western Australian left hander? Perhaps the most obvious way, at least, is to note the sheer statistical brilliance of his contribution for Northamptonshire at first-class level: from 30 innings, he amassed 2055 runs at an average of 79.03. In so doing, he duly became the first batsman in six years to cross the 2000 run barrier in an English season. But his impact was not only telling in the four-day arena: to add to the triple century, two double centuries, two other centuries, and nine fifties he scored in that form of the game, he also hammered one three-figured score and seven half-centuries in limited-overs matches. It is true that he benefited from the lack of big name new ball bowlers in Division One and from playing on a succession of placid pitches. To paint his northern summer as anything short of outstanding, though, would be completely incorrect.

Stuart Law (Essex): Internal turmoil at Essex didn't help Stuart Law at all this year, and ultimately ensured that his sixth season at the club also became his last. To an extent, the problems were reflected in a less productive season at one-day level than normal: 434 runs scored in that arena at a modest average of 28.93. But there was no real reduction in Law's output in the first-class game, and he enjoyed another brilliant summer with 1311 runs at 65.55. This haul included four centuries and eight half-centuries and again confirmed his status as one of the most valuable overseas professionals in the English game. Politics ensured that Essex won't be the team to benefit from his services next year but other counties are already queueing up to woo him their way.

Darren Lehmann (Yorkshire): Ever since he first headed to Yorkshire in 1997, the South Australian captain has been arguably Australia's most successful export of all on the county stage. But this was the year in which he made his most decisive impact ever. He was again responsible for compiling a mountain of runs; the only difference this time was that they were delivered within the context of an impressive march by Yorkshire to its first first-class title in 33 years. It's little wonder in fact that Yorkshire captain David Byas described Lehmann's presence as akin to having Sir Donald Bradman in his team: along with a return of 35 wickets with his part-time spin, he scored 1416 first-class runs at the whopping average of 83.29 and 1177 at one-day level at 51.17. While Lehmann has now been around at the domestic level for close to 14 years, his phenomenal run-scoring powers are still as potent as they have ever been. This was another stunning performance.

Martin Love (Durham): Martin Love crossed the half-century mark 18 times in his first season of county cricket and, although he only converted one of those starts into a century, enjoyed a prosperous summer with Durham. On the back of 1364 runs at an average of 50.51 at first-class level and another 645 at 33.94 in one-day cricket, he was deservedly named the county's 'Batsman of the Year'. In a tribute to his consistency, he was only dismissed for single-figure scores five times in 49 visits to the crease and two of these came in a match of little consequence at the very end of the season. Significantly, an unbeaten innings of 75 against Sussex on a difficult pitch at Chester-le-Street also went a long way to sealing Durham's promotion to Division One of the National League.

Jimmy Maher (Glamorgan): It was a comparatively slow start to the season for Jimmy Maher at Welsh county Glamorgan, but he hit his straps in style in June with successive innings of 123*, 94 and 150. That set the tone for excellent middle and end parts to the season, in which Maher's wide mix of attacking strokes served his club particularly well. He finished the first-class summer with a total of 1153 runs at an average of 53.95 and his one-day form was also compelling, with 665 runs at 35.00. In the latter arena, he was dismissed for a single figure score just once in the last two months of the campaign, thereby helping in no small measure in the cause of handing Glamorgan top spot in Division Two of the National League.

Daniel Marsh (Leicestershire): A fractured cheekbone robbed Daniel Marsh of half of his first season of county cricket, but it failed to overshadow the favourable impression that he created at Leicestershire. Although his 17 wickets came at a cost of around 40 runs apiece, the quality of his all-round contribution to the team's cause was unmistakable. Several outstanding exhibitions of hard-hitting batting and close-to-the-wicket catching were incorporated in overall returns of 600 runs at 46.15 at first-class level and another 371 at 41.22 in one-day cricket. It was by no means coincidental that Leicestershire's performances tailed away not long after his return home in July; though replacement import Shahid Afridi helped to stabilise the cause, the team even surrendered its near-impregnable lead at the head of the National League standings to watch a title slip from its grasp at the end of the season.

Andy Symonds (Kent): Andy Symonds will probably always remember the 2001 season for the stunning five-wicket haul that delivered his county the honour of being the summer's National League champion. That contribution arrived at the end of a two-and-a-half month stint as a replacement for South African Daryll Cullinan, during which time the 26-year old Queenslander scored a total of 900 runs and claimed 32 wickets. He only scored one half-century from 16 innings in limited-overs cricket but was in excellent touch in the four-day arena, producing scores of 48, 125, 56, 59 and 131 in succession at one stage to help ensure a third-placed finish in the Championship for Kent.

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