Northamptonshire are worthy candidates. Having finished only one place off the bottom of the County Championship in 2012, they won promotion this season and, having been the least successful limited-overs team in the land in 2012, won the Friend Life t20 and only missed out on a Yorkshire Bank 40 semi-final on run-rate. They were, without doubt, the most improved side. Yorkshire, who jumped from second in Division Two at the end of 2012 to second in Division One in 2013, are also worthy of a mention and appear to be developing players who could go on to contribute to the England side for years to come. But the team of the season is Durham. By shrugging off the loss of several senior players at the end of last year, by managing without an overseas player or other big-name recruits due to financial troubles, by overhauling the points penalty with which they started the season for an historic breach of the salary cap and by failing to be derailed by illness to their director of cricket, Geoff Cook, they won the Championship using a team bursting with locally developed players.
It was not just the weight of runs that Moeen Ali scored - 1375 in the Championship alone - but the elegant style in which he made them. Yes, his runs were in Division Two but, in a struggling side he showed composure and a much-tightened technique that might, had England been visiting the subcontinent this winter, have won him a place in the Test squad. Trent Copeland rated him the best England-qualified batsmen he encountered. Gary Ballance and Wayne Madsen, who scored their runs in Division One, also enjoyed outstanding seasons, while Darren Stevens, who scored 1,268 Championship runs at a strike-rate of 80.30 runs per 100 balls, was excellent in a struggling Kent side.
Michael Hogan, who was excellent in limited-overs cricket and played a huge role in helping Glamorgan reach a Lord's final, might well have been the best bowler across all three formats, while Alan Richardson, despite carrying an ankle injury for much of the season, still claimed 69 Championship wickets and remained one of the best two or three seamers in the lower division. Tim Murtagh was as reliable and admirable as ever. But Graham Onions's excellence played a vast role in helping Durham to the Championship title and finished the season with more first-class wickets - 73 - than anyone else and at the remarkable strike rate of one every 37.1 deliveries. While his skills were overlooked by the England selectors, they remain potent at any level: he makes batsmen play more than any bowler in the game and he moves the ball both ways. In a different playing era, he could have expected to take the new ball for England for several years.
Graham Napier enjoyed an excellent season in all formats. He scored nearly 800 runs and claimed more than 50 wickets in first-class cricket and, with a sharp bouncer and penetrating yorker, remained a potent force in limited-overs cricket. His 7 for 32 against Surrey in the YB40 included the wicket of Ricky Ponting and a spell of four wickets in four balls. He remains unfortunate to have been overlooked by England in T20, in particular. While Chris Woakes's progress with the ball stalled a little, his class with the bat becomes more apparent and Steven Crook, who might have been the signing of the season, contributed with bat and ball in all formats at Northants. So, too, did his teammate David Willey. Will Gidman, who is developing a remarkably good record for a man who hardly warrants a mention when England possibles are being discussed, continued to contribute impressively at Gloucestershire, while Peter Trego averaged 82.77 in List A cricket with the bat and took more than 30 first-class wickets when armed with the red ball.
It bodes well for England that there are several serious contenders in this category. Few made the impact of Ned Eckersley, who enjoyed an outstanding season for Leicestershire, scoring 607 more first-class runs than anyone else at the club, while Alex Lees was the latest player to emerge from the Yorkshire system and hint he could have a future in the England side. Jamie Overton and Reece Topley, meanwhile, might turn out to be the most talented bowlers to emerge in English cricket since Stuart Broad, and Sam Robson looked an opener in the image of Mike Atherton. Laurie Evans is a little older but deserves a mention after enjoying a fine season with Warwickshire, while Mark Stoneman looks an unusually talented player and played a large part in Durham's title win.
There was a common theme among spectators watching Simon Katich accumulate runs for Lancashire this summer: why do Australia ignore such a well-organised, competent player? Now aged 38, Katich is batting as well as ever and contributed 1097 first-class runs in 16 innings. Murray Goodwin, whose performances at Sussex had deteriorated in recent years, justified the faith that Glamorgan showed in him by amassing 1263 first-class runs at the age of 40, while Darren Stevens, 37, scored 1304 first-class runs and 600 more in the limited-overs formats to add to his 51 wickets in all competitions. Glen Chapple continues to bowl with pace and skill for Lancashire, too. But the older player of the season is Alan Richardson who, at the age of 38, continues to use the new ball with rare skill for Worcestershire. In a struggling side, he delivered many marathon spells in filling the role of both strike and stock bowler and remains a class above anything else his side had to offer.
When Paul Collingwood inherited the Durham captaincy midway through the 2012 season, his side were bottom of Division One and appeared doomed to relegation. Little over a year later, he had transformed them and instilled values - team spirit, an understanding of the fitness levels required and a determination and unity of purpose - that saw the side finish the season as worthy Championship winners. Collingwood is rarely mentioned among the likes of Brearley or Vaughan as one of England's finest captains of recent years but, having led England to the only global trophy in their history - the World T20 of 2010 - and Durham to the Championship despite great adversity, he is surely deserving of more acclaim.
Deemed surplus to requirements at Surrey at the end of 2012, Chris Jordan ended 2013 as an England player and with 61 first-class wickets for Sussex. While few were surprised that he managed to bowl with pace, the fact that he managed to sustain it all season was as pleasing as it was surprising. Lancashire, who were relegated at the end of 2012, bounced back quickly and proved themselves the best side in Division Two by a distance. But the most heartening comeback of the season came from Geoff Cook, the Durham director of cricket, who suffered a serious heart attack in June, but was back at work by the end of the season. Early reports of his condition suggested not just that he had no chance of returning to work, but that his life was in severe jeopardy. So to have recovered sufficiently to see the team he was so influential in shaping win the title was a wonderful sign.
There was a time when the county game could boast the biggest names in cricket - Sir Garfield Sobers, Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne among them. So it speaks volumes for the way in which times have changed that, these days, a good overseas player is seen more as someone who is reliable, low-maintenance and available for a decent length of time. There were still some fine performers: Steve Magoffin claimed 65 first-class wickets for Sussex and was invariably skilful and controlled with the new ball; Chris Rogers was sorely missed by Middlesex when he departed for Test duty but demonstrated his commitment by rushing back for the end of the season. Copeland, Katich and Michael Klinger also enjoyed fine seasons. But the overseas player of the year is Jeetan Patel. He may not have excited spectators when his signing was announced, but he played in all formats and contributed with bat - five half-centuries in 18 Championship innings - and ball - he was the only spinner to claim 50 Division One wickets. He is the type of reliable cricketer every side needs. Indeed, with such figures, a decent case could be made to suggest he should be in the allrounder category, too.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo