Best forgotten There was an air of bewilderment around Old Trafford as the pre-season favourites for their first outright Championship title in 70 years slumped into Division Two. The cricket manager Mike Watkinson has given the reasons in these columns but he expected a backlash from supporters. "It didn't happen and they were tremendously understanding about the injury situation," he says. Perhaps they were cheered up by the prospect of cheaper travel to Durham, Derby and just over the Pennines to resume Roses rivalry after a two-year gap.
They will not see Carl Hooper in Lancashire colours again, the brilliant West Indian allrounder saying a public farewell to the players after the last match. Warren Hegg has led the side for the last time, too. The immensely popular wicket-keeper says: "It's a full-time job that takes over your life and I don't really need that at this stage of my career." Hooper's replacement is Brad Hodge, the prolific Australian who moves to Old Trafford from Leicestershire.
Muttiah Muralitharan also returns. His two previous seasons with the county - 1999 and 2001 - yielded 116 wickets at 15.06, including 13 in his first bowl at Southport. He gets the chance because Stuart Law will be a naturalised Briton from 2005. With Murali's ability to turn the ball on any surface there should still be room for Gary Keedy, the leading English bowler, his left-arm spin bringing 72 wickets at 25.68 this season, his best.
Player of the Year: Gary Keedy
High: Winning two out of the first three Championship games
Low: The final table
This article was first published in the November issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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