Nottinghamshire’s 2015 season was a very strange one. At the start of the year they were plagued with relegation rumours; a run of poor form in the County Championship saw them struggling at the bottom of the table whilst their failure to progress from the group stages of the Natwest T20 Blast Competition rubbed further salt into the wounds. A heartbreaking end to their Royal London One-Day Cup hopes left the Trent Bridge team without a trophy but the mid-season arrival of one Peter Moores saw their fortunes change and finish third in the Division-One table, their highest placing since winning the Championship in 2010. They were favourites turned underdogs; waiting until the final act to find their bite.
In the aftermath of such a season, coaches, players and analysts spend time seeking answers for the questions posed by a seemingly irregular pattern of performance. Much will be made of Moores’ influence; which appears directly responsible for the sudden, fortuitous, change of fate. At the start of the season when wickets were few and top order collapses frequent, Nottinghamshire appeared to be imploding. On paper they looked like a force to be reckoned with, batting heavyweights with International credentials and a powerful, varied bowling attack with both pace and spin in strong supply. The points table, however told a different story.
Their red ball season began at the Home of Cricket which, despite being a high-scoring game for both sides and Captain Chris Read having scored a century, ended in a draw. This first fixture of the summer essentially provided the mould from which their County Championship season would be formed with Director of Cricket Mick Newell concluding it was ‘the one that got a way’ after the team failed to bowl Middlesex out on a pitch which favoured their pace-driven attack.
From then on it was a familiar story, consecutive drawn games against Yorkshire and Hampshire starved Nottinghamshire of much needed points, not to mention confidence. At the start of May they were comfortably defeated by Durham despite having posted what looked to be a healthy target on the first day.
It became a concerning pattern. Losing early wickets demanded increased efforts from the middle-order and when sizeable targets were posted the bowling unit struggled to obtain wickets in quick time. Games were getting away from Nottinghamshire with alarming ease and they appeared unable to stop the rot.
The pattern of losing and drawing games saw their place in the table lowered, like a metaphorical coffin, into the dust of the Division One table. They were made to wait until June, a quarter of the way into the season, before a win was produced. At home to Sussex, Notts knew they needed something special and they needed it soon. It arrived in the shape of 19-year-old all-rounder Luke Wood, playing only his fifth first-class match, who batted the team to safety from a perilous 55-6, scoring a maiden century and securing his team their first victory of the season.
The tide didn’t fully turn however. A crippling defeat to Yorkshire by an innings and 8 runs, in spite of Stuart Broad’s inclusion, suggested there were still some ghosts of games past haunting Nottinghamshire.
In the mist of this harrowing four day form, their T20 campaign looked to be suffering collateral damage. Their first home game announced the start of the domestic game’s showpiece and took place under Friday night floodlights and the glare of the TV cameras. Fireworks ensued; after putting the Birmingham Bears into bat the Notts Outlaws were able to reduce the visitors to 8-2 after just three overs. Bears captain Varun Chopra did his part to keep his team in it scoring 80 but after a blistering display of pace bowling which saw homegrown star Luke Fletcher engage in hilarious, impassioned celebrations after picking up 3-24, momentum was clearly with the Outlaws side. Hales posted 86 from 43 balls in an innings which included six successive maximums. There was a definite sense they had a one way ticket to Finals Day.
However, Hales left for the IPL the next day and there were instant fears his absence would be the game changer. Their next fixture saw them host Durham where it fell to Wessels and Patel to protect their T20 aspirations. They delivered and it was two wins from two.
Thereafter however, the wins were harder to come by. Losses to local rivals Leicestershire and Derbyshire were particularly hard to swallow for players and fans alike and this, compounded by defeats at the hands of Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire failed to add much needed points. To progress from the group stage they had to win against Leicestershire, only for the fixture to be rained off and ultimately deny them a quarter-final spot.
Disappointment and dejection appeared to have descended over Trent Bridge. They steadied themselves in the Royal London One Day Cup competition, winning their first five fixtures consecutively. Their success secured a semi final spot against Surrey at The Oval and the game’s fascinating pendulum of momentum swung wildly throughout the game. The Surrey bowling attack took control in the final over however, leaving Notts needing six from the final ball. It was not to be and yet again they’d come so close but failed to cross the line.
Against all odds though, Nottinghamshire were able to rescue their Division One status by completing something of a circus act to see them rebuild their County Championship season and go into their final fixture vying for second place. Their last game against relegation-fearing Hampshire ended in a loss but in those dark days in May when victories appeared to be a myth and mirage, a third place finish would have been a dream come true.
LV County Championship: 3rd, Division One
Royal London One-Day Cup: 1st, Group B
Natwest T20 Blast: 5th, North Group
Leading LVCC run-scorer: Riki Wessels – 1,033 runs
Leading LVCC wicket-taker: Harry Gurney – 41 wickets
Win % (all comps): 48%
Player of the Season
2015 was always going to be a memorable season for Nottinghamshire wicket-keeper and captain Chris Read. Needing just a handful of dismissals to reach 1000 first-class in his career, he had a clear goal going into the summer. An untimely hamstring injury meant he was made to wait until September for his honour guard and jubilant praise but in the time between he contributed 959 runs from his 26 appearances across all three formats. An astute tactician and calmly cool captain, Read is the backbone of this Nottinghamshire side and his absence was felt on every level. The team are stronger with Read at the helm and now having reached his career milestone, one would expect next season to be even more successful as he plays without the pressure of a mile-cum-millstone around his neck.
Nottinghamshire’s Second XI and academy are amongst the game’s best and this season they began to reap the reward of such a strong set up. Several young players made their debuts this season whilst last season’s new faces began to prepay the faith shown by their selectors. The stand out name however, was that of 20-year old Luke Wood. His aforementioned maiden century secured a vital victory for his side and his bowling ability make him a valuable and reliable addition to their squad. He banked 420 runs in his 11 appearances and leaves 2015 with 30 wickets and an economy of 3.67. His century earned him comparison with Kevin Pietersen but Wood could reasonably expect to enjoy better relations with the England set up going forward. His recent inclusion in the ECB’s Potential England Performance Program suggests he’s already well on his way.
Could have done better
After being signed from Leicestershire ahead of this season, Greg Smith surely looked forward to an opportunity to experience and contribute in the Division One arena. His season almost entirely encapsulates that of Nottinghamshire’s; early season struggles spiralled but when it mattered most he arrived. After scoring just 14 runs from three games, Smith was primarily posted to the Notts Second XI where he played a vital role in their securing of the Second XI Trophy. His big moment came in the RLODC semi-final against Surrey where he scored a steady, intelligent 124 to bring his side within touching distance of a Lord’s final. Frustratingly, they were unable to obtain a win but Smith’s solid century surely gave him the confidence he needs if he’s to become a force in Nottinghamshire’s 2016 season.
Areas to Improve
This season suggests Nottinghamshire have little room for complacency despite the substantial prowess of both their batting and bowling powers. Many of their International signings: Imran Tahir, Darren Sammy, Dan Christian and Ben Hilfenhaus provided vital contributions but once again they failed to acquire that one name around whom games can be built. With three players now out in the UAE seeking Test spots, the Nottinghamshire selectors and scouts would be well advised to seek long-term replacements as they cannot afford a compromised batting order going into another season. All too often this year Notts were faced with small margins having huge consequences; next year they will need to address that problem and ensure they maintain winning momentum throughout.
Tweet of the Season
I'd be amazed if one cricketer in the country enjoys this schedule. Changing formats every week is detrimental to skill level
— Alex Hales (@AlexHales1) July 24, 2015
A season which promised so much yet produced so little. The inconsistencies in both selection and performance were costly for Nottinghamshire this year, however The Outlaws appear to posses a never say die attitude which allows them to minimise the damage which could see other teams all but destroyed. Their season was far from ideal but nonetheless admirable. They were dealt difficult hands in relation to injury, D/L method decisions and their washout against Leicestershire denied them the chance to address old wounds. As such it was a season to forget for many of the players but yielded vital lessons for all involved. To finish 3rd in the table and to have come so close in the 50 over competition suggest Notts have all the makings of a formidable force for the future. 6/10