A tale of the unexpected

Jenny Thompson presents a review of the 2004 county season

Jenny Roesler
Jenny Thompson

Nick Knight holds aloft the Championship Trophy © Getty Images
Another year, another upset. Last year Sussex were the surprise County Champions for the first time in their 164-year history. But this year's shock jocks, Lancashire, provided an upset of an altogether different kind.
Lancashire went into the season as overwhelming favourites, after finishing a strong second in 2003. Bob Willis tipped them to take the title by 50 points, but they failed to live up to expectations in the most spectacular fashion, as last year's heroes Stuart Law, Gary Keedy and Mal Loye could not save them from plummeting to relegation - accompanied by Worcestershire and Northamptonshire. Across the land, betting slips were ripped up by despairing punters as Lancashire's departure left Surrey and Kent as the only two sides to have stayed in Division One since the two-league structure was implemented in 2000.
But the success story of the division were Warwickshire - who matched Arsenal's feat of remaining undefeated in their top-flight domestic league, the Frizzell Championship - as Nick Knight captained them to their first Championship title since 1995. Knight led from the helm in his first season as captain, with 1301 runs at 59.31, including a spectacular 303 not out at Lord's, to set up a resounding victory against Middlesex.
However, Warwickshire could not find the same punishing form in the totesport League, as they were relegated to the lower division. Lancashire, on the other hand, achieved almost the opposite feat, as they were second-from-bottom in the Championship, yet second-from-top in the National League.
Surrey were another team who proved incapable of prospering in both 50-over and first-class fixtures. Although they excelled again in the Twenty20 format, and came a passable third in the Championship, Surrey were relegated from the National League.
Gloucestershire, meanwhile, extended their dominance in 50-over knockout competitions, emerging victorious over Worcestershire in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy at Lord's with a convincing eight-wicket win. This capped a solid limited-overs season for Gloucestershire, who wound up nestled in mid-table in Division One of the National League.
Middlesex, meanwhile, clambered out of Division Two of the National League, pulling Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire with them. And Nottinghamshire also rounded off a successful year with promotion in the Championship, alongside Hampshire and Glamorgan.

Natasha Bedingfield: a hit at the Twenty20 finals © Getty Images
The popularity of cricket's newest baby, the Twenty20 Cup, continued to make fans coo, as the new faithful were rewarded with a thrilling sellout final at Edgbaston between Surrey and Leicestershire. Surrey were firmly expected to retain the cup, after reaching the final without having lost a match since the tournament was introduced last year. But Leicestershire stole the match courtesy of Brad Hodge's 77 in a gripping finale.
The averages made for interesting reading. Among the regular first-team batsmen, Kent's Robert Key topped the list with an average of 64.79, and also plundered the most runs - 1896. The bowling figures were led by an unlikely character, Yorkshire's Darren Lehmann, whose 15 wickets came at 18.76 apiece. The highest English-qualified player wasn't far behind Lehmann; Hampshire's Dimitri Mascarenhas took 56 wickets at 18.67. Meanwhile, Gary Keedy spun his way to 72 wickets for Lancashire to be the leading wicket-taker - although this could not save them from the drop.

End-of-season averages

Unexpected victors, unexpected losers. Domestic cricket, it would seem, is not just a funny old game, it is a very peculiar one.

Frizzell County Championship Division One

Champions Warwickshire
Relegated Worcestershire, Lancashire, Northamptonshire

Frizzell County Championship Division Two

Champions Nottinghamshire
Also promoted Hampshire, Glamorgan

totesport National League Division One

Champions Glamorgan
Relegated Warwickshire, Kent, Surrey

totesport National League Division Two

Champions Middlesex
Also promoted Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire

C&G Trophy

Winners Gloucestershire

Twenty20 Cup

Winners Leicestershire