And the award goes to...
With the English season wrapped up and the County Championship in Durham's hands for the first time it's time to look back of the last six months. Cricinfo hands out a batch of awards for the season, some more serious than others. Roll on 2009.
Lord's had never seen anything like it when Allen Stanford arrived on the Nursery Ground in his black and gold helicopter. The ECB suits didn't quite know what to do, either, with some ungainly chest-bumping and a lot of pointing at not very much. The game was changing, quicker than anyone imagined. A few hours later the great and good (and a few others) of England and West Indies cricket were stood behind a crate holding US$20 million. However, all has not run smoothly and there are doubts over the Stanford Super Series. Money, clearly, isn't the answer to everything.
Oldie of the season
Shaun Udal had packed up his professional career and was all set for a quieter life turning out for Berkshire. Then Middlesex came calling and Udal's life changed. He was instrumental in Middlesex's Twenty20 success, forming an impressive partnership with Murali Kartik. It was one thing being back in top-level cricket, quite another to have the chance for a dip at a mega pay-day. Middlesex's Twenty20 triumph means they will take part in the Stanford week (if it goes ahead) and Udal shows no signs of retiring for a second time.
Another player who didn't expect to be on the first-class scene this year was Tony Frost. But Tim Ambrose's elevation to England left Warwickshire short of experienced keepers. Ashley Giles asked Frost if he was interested in returning and he snapped up the chance. In the penultimate round of matches he scored a career-best 242 to set up victory against Essex, which ultimately helped them win the Division Two title. Ambrose and Frost were even playing in the same team. Frost was the specialist batsman.
It's hardly surprising tensions came to the surface at Surrey - they didn't win a Championship game all season. The stress came to a head against Sussex, at The Oval, when Murray Goodwin accused Mark Ramprakash of roughing up the pitch (no doubt with his dancing skills). Ramprakash didn't take kindly to this and remonstrated to Goodwin before having to be restrained by the umpires. He vented his views to umpire John Steele as well and is facing the prospect of a lengthy ban.
Seventeen-year-old Azeem Rafiq should have been able to remember his first-team debut for Yorkshire, in the Twenty20 against Nottinghamshire, with fondness, but what should have been career-memory turned into a day to forget. A few weeks later, just as Yorkshire were preparing for their Twenty20 quarter-final against Durham, it was revealed Rafiq was ineligible having not signed all the paperwork. Yorkshire were dumped out of the tournament and Rafiq, by all accounts, took it very hard. It wasn't his fault.
Not that we want to labour the point, but Surrey's signing of Shoaib Akhtar was a depressing moment of the season. It was the most desperate of solutions to the club's problems, and was only going to end one way. In his two matches Shoaib managed one wicket as Surrey were comfortably relegated.
In the end Kent had a season they will want to forget, but for a long time they were frontrunners in all the competitions. That was due in no small part to Martin van Jaarsveld, and his stand-out performance of the summer came at The Oval. He made twin unbeaten centuries - 114 and 115 - and also took 5 for 33 in Surrey's second innings after the home side led by 117 on first innings. The teams will meet again next year - in Division Two.
What a journey this summer has been for Steve Harmison. He began with serious questions marks over his England future, and some thought his time had gone. However, he went back to Durham and bowled...and bowled. His wickets ensured Durham were never far from the top of the table, while also earning him an England recall. Out of the blue, Harmison then reversed his ODI retirement and is already a fixture again. But the best, for him, was yet to come. When he bowled Martin Saggers at Canterbury it all but gave Durham the Championship title. Life is pretty good again.
Contender for Strictly Come Dancing
Forget any of the nifty footwork the batsmen produced this season, the best moves without a doubt came from the young kid caught by TV cameras strutting his stuff on Twenty20 finals day. David Lloyd and Nasser Hussain, commentating on the match, were mightily impressed and when the boy saw himself on the giant screen he went into overdrive. "He reminds of a young Rob Key," said Owais Shah.
Pressure can do funny things to fielders and the strain was no more acute than the closing stages of the Twenty20 final between Middlesex and Kent. Down on the boundary Dawid Malan field a ball and produced one of wildest throws you'll see on a cricket field. It arched away from the wicketkeeper, who stood helplessly, and down towards fine-leg for overthrows. Thankfully for Malan's sake Middlesex held onto win. It would have been hard to live it down.
Sometimes, the end of a season can't come soon enough. That was the case for Glamorgan - as much off the field as on it. September started with an important date, the ODI against South Africa. It promptly hosed down and the month didn't get any better. Mike Fatkin, the chief executive, left and the head groundsman took early retirement with an Ashes Test 10 months away. To cap it all, Glamorgan were hammered in the Pro40 play-off. The ground may have been rebuilt, but plenty of repair work is still needed this winter.
Services to global unity
During May a match took place that would have done the United Nations proud. Between them, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire fielded 12 'overseas' players of various guises. That's enough for another team on its own and someone to carry the drinks. It brought the issue of Kolpaks to a head with a mixture of dissenting voices and those who supported them. A tightening of EU regulations could see a halt to the influx from now on, so players will have to start looking elsewhere for a second home.
Kent will sit back in the cold light of day and wonder how they managed to end the season with nothing - except relegation in the Championship. Two finals were lost; the Twenty20 was a thriller and could have gone either way, but they were soundly beaten in the FP Trophy. Then, needing to win the final Pro40 Division Two game to take the league and promotion, they lost to Essex - again - and ended up fourth. To cap it all the final two Championship games went down the spout and they will play in Division Two for the first time. No wonder Robert Key was looking well and truly fed up.
Being fashionably late
He was a late signing, but what an impact Imran Tahir had on Hampshire during his seven-match spell in the Championship. When he joined the team were bottom, by the time he helped bowl them to victory against Nottinghamshire they finished third. And, for a time, they had an outside chance of the title. Some clever wrangling enabled him to play that final game, but Hampshire have already got his signature for the next two years. It's a sensible move.
"There are too many bull****ters in cricket."
Andrew Caddick, never one to mince his words, gives his forthright view on the game.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo