Just like the leaves falling from the trees in the autumn, so it is the time of year when county clubs announce a list of players who will be leaving the staff and also show their hand when it comes to new recruits.

It is a sad time, for while some, like Michael Atherton at Lancashire, decide of their own volition to leave the game, others receive the news like a hammer blow. Simon Hughes, in his book "A Lot of Hard Yakka", recalls the time he was informed by Middlesex that he would not be offered a new contract after 11 years with the county. He had seen it coming, but still broke down and cried when the news was confirmed.

There will have been a lot of tears around the county circuit in recent days as more and more counties say farewell to those who are surplus to requirements for next season.

Some big names have gone. Nottinghamshire have let Greg Blewett go as their overseas player, not because of any lack of success but because they feel the need for reinforcements to their bowling attack.

Essex have said goodbye to another Australian, the prolific Stuart Law. He had a rather public falling out with the club, while former captain Paul Prichard asked for his release. Former Test off-spinner Peter Such has also been released, as have two young men who might have replaced him - Tim Mason and Michael Davies.

Paul Hutchison, a former England A left-arm pace bowler, must have felt a bit on the periphery as Yorkshire's new battery of quicks powered them to the CricInfo Championship title. But having been at those celebrations, he made it down to Hove to join Sussex on the day they took the Second Division title. Another pace bowler on the move is former Hampshire man Simon Francis who has gone west to join Somerset.

Warwickshire have announced the release of their overseas player Vasbert Drakes, along with Gavin Franklin, formerly of the British Universities side, and Ryan Sierra, a South African with a British passport.

Northamptonshire will offer a new contract to Australian opener Mike Hussey in the wake of the left-hander's stunning debut season in county cricket, and have confirmed the offer of a two-year contract to the 25-year-old former Gauteng and Free State wicketkeeper/batsman Gerard Brophy, whose Irish passport prevents him being regarded as an overseas player.

After what has been euphemistically described as "a disappointing season", Derbyshire have released Trevor Smith, Stephen Titchard, Alex Edwards and Zubair Khan. Meanwhile, sadly, after a frustrating season with his fitness,

Richard Illingworth has decided to retire from the first-class game. On a positive note, overseas star Michael Di Venuto is to be retained for 2002 and Derbyshire have completed the signing of Free State batsman Andrew Gait (23), who qualifies through his father's British nationality to play in English county cricket.

Meanwhile, back at Lord's, pace bowler James Hewitt had to go through the same emotions as endured by Simon Hughes in 1991. Mind you, if he needs consoling, as he certainly will, he can take heart from the fact that Hughes went on to extend his career with Durham and is now omnipresent in the British media.