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There was joy and silverware for Warwickshire, Hampshire and Derbyshire at the end of a watery season that was also tinged with sadness. George Dobell hands out his awards
September 20, 2012
Features : 'County cricket has become much tougher'
Players/Officials: Abdur Rehman | Paul Collingwood | Nick Compton | Robert Croft | Ashley Giles | Karl Krikken | Steve Magoffin | Tom Maynard | Graham Onions | Tony Palladino | Jeetan Patel | Mark Ramprakash | Joe Root | Andrew Strauss | Peter Trego | Chris Wright
Series/Tournaments: England Domestic Season
Batsman of the year
Nick Compton. To have come within an ace of scoring 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May is a remarkable achievement in any season. To have done it in a soggy summer that made batting conditions treacherously difficult, is little short of miraculous. But for drizzle, Compton would almost certainly have become just the 10th man to reach the landmark and the first to do so since Graeme Hick in 1988. As it was, he had to wait until June 1. He still enjoyed an excellent season, though, finishing with 1,191 Division One runs in 18 innings at an average of 99.25 and playing a huge role in helping Somerset finish second in the Championship. They have never finished higher. Ignore those who look to explain away Compton's success by suggesting he scored all his runs at Taunton: he scored a double-century at Trent Bridge on a pitch on which only one of his opponents could manage more than 10 in their first innings; he scored a century against an excellent Warwickshire attack at Edgbaston and he scored a century on a tricky pitch at New Road. Only one of his Championship hundreds came at home.
Seamer of the year
With 64 Division One wickets in 12 matches at an average of 14.98, it is impossible to look beyond Graham Onions in this category. In a different age, his excellence at county level would have warranted far more international cricket, but Onions had to be content with one Test at Edgbaston where he was the pick of England's seamers. While it is true that conditions suited Onions in 2012, his skills - an ability to hit the pitch surprisingly hard and maintain a nagging line and length that invariably threatened the top of off stump and batsmen's outside edges - would have brought success in any summer. Toby Roland-Jones deserves an honourable mention, as do Keith Barker, Chris Wright, Andre Adams and Alan Richardson.
Spinner of the year
Abdur Rehman. When Rehman span England to defeat in the UAE, some blamed the pitches. And when Compton was plundering his runs, some blamed the pitches. So for Rehman to come to Somerset, with its flat track and short straight boundaries and claim 27 wickets at 14.18 apiece (no-one with more than 10 Division One wickets had a lower bowling average) in only four Championship games, including 9 for 65 in an innings against Worcestershire at Taunton, was an excellent achievement. He claimed three five-wicket hauls in those four games, helping Somerset win two of them and draw the others.
Allrounder of the year
Peter Trego finished the season rated as the PCA's Most Valuable Player after scoring 600 Championship runs and taking 50 Championship wickets for the first time in his career. In a season in which Somerset were hit by a succession of injuries to key players, Trego was forced to shoulder a hefty burden with bat and ball and responded impressively. He thrashed an unbeaten 89 to help his side chase 396 in the fourth innings at Hove, thrashed Morne Morkel for six fours in an over during South Africa's tour match and took just the second and third five-wicket hauls of his first-class career. Chris Read, who continues to keep soundly and shore up Nottinghamshire's batting, is worthy of a mention, too. Only one man in Division One - Middlesex's John Simpson - claimed more dismissals than Read's 44 while he was also Nottinghamshire's leading Championship run-scorer with 975 runs at an average of 48.75. Only five men in the top division scored more and only three of them were England qualified.
Coach of the year
When John Morris, Derbyshire's director of cricket, was sacked mid-game in May 2011, few could have predicted how quickly the county's fortunes would be reversed. But Karl Krikken, the new coach, has overseen a sharp revival, which resulted in his team topping Division Two in 2012 and winning promotion. With a limited budget and largely the same group of players utilised by his predecessor when the team finished bottom of Division Two in 2010, Krikken helped his side to six wins - no side in either division won more - as they survived a late season dip in form to secure Championship promotion for the first time in the club's history. It was a heartening story at a club routinely listed by those who should know better as one of those which should be axed.
Warwickshire's Ashley Giles, who has turned around a club that had just suffered double relegation when he took over at the end of 2007 into one that almost won the double in 2012, also deserves a mention in this category. County coaches have two roles: to produce England players and to win trophies. In both respects, Giles has performed admirably. He is the obvious replacement when the time comes for Andy Flower to step down as England coach.
Overseas player of the year
Jeetan Patel and Steve Magoffin looked, on the face of it, fairly modest overseas signings. Magoffin never made it to international cricket, while Patel has struggled to hold down a place in the New Zealand side. But they proved excellent additions for Warwickshire and Sussex, respectively. Perhaps as a result of the fact that neither has enjoyed a long international career or can demand big money in various T20 leagues, the pair gave their all for their adoptive teams and, while signed as bowlers, both contributed with the bat, too. In an age of unreliable superstars and overpaid egotists, their dedication and obvious commitment for their clubs was heartening to witness. Chris Rogers, at Middlesex, also deserves a mention - only Compton scored more Division One runs.
Comeback of the year
When Chris Wright was released by Essex towards the end of 2011, it seemed his career was drifting. Gloucestershire expressed an interest in signing him but, after spells at Hampshire, where he developed through the youth teams without ever winning a contract, Middlesex and Essex, the tag 'journeyman' hung around his neck a little too comfortably. Warwickshire offered him a lifeline. More specifically, Graeme Welch offered him a lifeline. Welch, the Warwickshire bowling coach, had long admired Wright - Welch had previously worked with him during his time as bowling coach at Essex - and persuaded Giles, Warwickshire's of director of cricket, to offer Wright another chance. It took three attempts to persuade Giles to even allow Wright to come to Warwickshire on loan but now, little more than a year later, it has proved a superb move. Wright claimed 62 Division One wickets - behind only Onions - and played a huge role in helping Warwickshire claim the County Championship title. His 20 wickets took them to the brink of the CB40 title, too, with only Ajmal Shahzad taking more in the competiton.
Tony Palladino. Had it not been for Palladino the cancer of spot-fixing within the domestic game may well have gone unchecked and unpunished. Palladino was the 'whistle blower' at Essex who exposed the corruption that led to Mervyn Westfield and Danish Kaneria being brought to justice. While it would be nice to think that Palladino simply did the obvious thing - reported his observations and concerns - it is worth noting that other senior players and coaches failed to do so. It took Palladino a while to report the fact that Westfield had shown him a bag of money, the spoils of fixing, but at least he did so, risking alienating himself from some colleagues - there were whispers that he was simply hoping to have Westfield removed in order to further his own attempts to win a first team place - in the process. Palladino has won little praise for his efforts but they are needed if the game is really serious about cleaning itself up.
Captain of the year
By mid-July, Durham were bottom of the Division One table with no wins and five losses from their first 10 games. Relegation appeared inevitable. But Paul Collingwood's elevation to the captaincy proved a masterstroke. Durham, without some of their big name players but looking fitter and more committed than for some time, won five of their last six games to finish sixth. Collingwood may have been a reluctant captain but, as he proved when England won the World T20 in 2010, he is an inspirational leader.
Innings of the year
Yes, the pitch was flat and the boundaries were short. But Kevin Pietersen's unbeaten 234 against Lancashire at Guildford was, by any standards, a remarkable innings. Those of us fortunate enough to watch lots of cricket see many centuries. In terms of dominance, versatility and sheer awe-inspiring brilliance, this was as good as it gets.
Waste of the year
Steve Harmison, Liam Plunkett and Ian Blackwell boast 197 international caps between them and account for around £300,000 of Durham's salary allocation. Yet in 2012, they scored only 183 Championship runs, claimed just 15 Championship wickets and played only nine games combined. While the strength to leave them out of the side might be admirable, the failure to ensure their fitness and develop their talent is not.
Young player of the year
While Joe Root won the Cricket Writers' Club Young Player of the Year award, there are a couple of others well worth a mention. Luke Wells, Sussex's 21-year-old top-order batsman, is one to keep an eye upon. Blessed with a temperament like Alastair Cook, he scored a century in vain at The Oval and could be just the sort of top-order batsman England require. Azeem Rafiq, meanwhile, could be the man to replace Graeme Swann as England's spinner. Blessed with an excellent arm-ball, sharp turn and nice flight, he can also bat and seems to have the leadership qualities to thrive under pressure. It is no coincidence that he has been fast-tracked into England's Performance Programme.
Team of the year
Sussex, who challenged for a while in all trophies before subsiding, deserve a mention, as do Yorkshire, who reached T20 finals day for the first time and won Championship promotion. Derbyshire, too, enjoyed a fine season in first-class cricket. But it's impossible to overlook Hampshire and Warwickshire. Hampshire, as double limited-overs champions, enjoyed an excellent season marred just a little by the failure to win promotion, while Warwickshire shrugged off the disappointment of narrowly missing out on a trophy in 2011 by securing the Championship title with a game to go. Blessed with a remarkably deep batting line-up, several outstanding catchers and a potent bowling attack full of skill and variation, they were deserved winners and went within a run of achieving a double. With seven men departing on international duty (England, England Lions or New Zealand) at one stage or another and injuries afflicting other senior players, they demonstrated depth, calm and a strong team spirit to cope with any setbacks and could be on the brink of a prolonged period of success.
Mark Ramprakash, perhaps the most accomplished batsman not to make it at the highest level, departs after more than two decades of excellence in the county game, while Andrew Strauss, who scored 21 Test centuries, led England to No. 1 in the Test rankings and reacted to every challenge with calm good humour, has also retired. So too Robert Croft, after a remarkable career that brought a Championship title, 21 Test caps and a staggering 1,175 first-class wickets.
Other notable retirements include Neil Carter, who has the distinction of being both released twice by Warwickshire and having won the Championship twice with them as well. Jonathan Batty, who played in two Surrey sides of wildly contrasting fortunes and was asked to captain an almost unmanageable team, has also gone, as has Charl Willoughby, who was an excellent seamer for as long as anyone can remember. Injury has ended the career of the extravagantly talented Will Jefferson, who but for injury and a propensity to overanalyse his game, might have played for England, while Murray Goodwin, the man who justifies Kolpak registrations, also heads into an uncertain future having not been offered a new contract at Sussex. Ben Scott, an outstanding keeper who was once deemed good enough for England A, is another to move on, as does Scott Newman, who seemed to be on the brink of great things at the start of his career, but for whom talent and temperament never quite married. Nadeem Malik and Naqaash Tahir, two talented and likeable seamers who could bowl beautifully but lacked the consistency required to flourish, also face finding new careers beyond the first-class game.
But by far the saddest departure of all was that of Tom Maynard. His tragic death cast a shadow that extended far beyond Surrey and Glamorgan and left the 2012 season - a season where rain was always threatening and the gloom never quite lifted - heavy with grief.
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