With just days to go before their 2015 campaign begins, cautious optimism has been seeping out of Trent Bridge recently but a number of questions will need to be answered before they can clear a space in their trophy cabinet.
Such as; who will replace Phil Jaques’ calm assurance and 894 Championship runs in 2014 at the top of the order? Will someone step up to replace departed club legend and chief wicket-taker Andre Adams? Can Will Gidman reproduce his Division 2 statistics in the top flight? And exactly how many of their talented line-up will feature for England and when?
At one point last season, during July and August, Nottinghamshire were on fire losing just two games of cricket and hunting glory in all three competitions. However, a mix of international call-ups, Peter Siddle being bizarrely recalled to Australia and a couple of inspired performances by opposition batsmen led to their campaign disappointingly fizzling out.
In an effort to prevent a repeat this year, Mick Newell has made some shrewd additions to strengthen what is clearly a hugely talented squad. Joining the likes of Alex Hales, Michael Lumb, James Taylor, Samit Patel and Chris Read will be Will Gidman – arguably the best English all-rounder yet to play internationally, Leicestershire’s Greg Smith – an aggressive batsman yet to fulfil his potential, and Brendan Taylor, much to the disgruntlement of those against the Kolpak system.
The latter’s acquisition could prove to be a masterstroke with the former Zimbabwean skipper, who scored 433 runs at the World Cup, retiring from international duty in order to forge a career in the UK. With plenty of experience and ability in all formats, the 29-year-old should be a class addition to the already high calibre Notts batting line up.
Things with the ball are less certain – in first-class cricket anyway. Ajmal Shahzad, who never seemed to settle at Trent Bridge, has joined Sussex while, more importantly, the talismanic Andre Adams has joined Hampshire on a short 3-month player-coach deal, leaving the attacking looking a little workmanlike.
Overseas players Vernon Philander and Ben Hilfenhaus should take wickets but, even if Gidman hits the ground running too, someone like Luke Fletcher or Harry Gurney will need to break out of the ‘competent county performer’ ranks and take 60+ wickets if the Midlanders are to make a title charge.
The Outlaws’ biggest weakness, in terms of skills, remains the spin department where, as per the last few years, Samit Patel will continue to ‘do a job’. Although an effective white-ball twirler, the England international averages 41.24 per first-class wicket and rarely decides games. Of course, as long as the Trent Bridge wicket produces its usual prodigious seam and swing movement, the slow-bowling vacuum will only be a minor issue.
Ins: Will Gidman (Gloucestershire), Greg Smith (Leicestershire), Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe).
Outs: Andre Adams (Hampshire), Ajmal Shahzad (Sussex), Phil Jaques (Retired), Sam Kelsall (Released).
Boasting impressive statistics over his career so far, when it emerged Will Gidman was available last year, Mick Newell moved swiftly to bring the highly regarded all-rounder to Trent Bridge.
The ex-Gloucestershire man has been something of a late bloomer and, despite turning 30 in February, has only played 56 first-class games. However, 194 wickets at 22.13 and a batting average of just under 40 make him arguably the most impressive all-rounder in English cricket with just one caveat – those runs and wickets came in Division Two.
Capable of performing various roles with both bat and ball, if Gidman can take the step up in class, he will become an integral part of Nottinghamshire’s team for years to come. Unless England come knocking of course.
Player to Watch
At the age of 29, last season can’t exactly be considered a break out year for Riki Wessels but he certainly stepped up a level, moving from squad player to becoming one of the first names on the team sheet.
In full flow, the South African-born strokemaker makes scoring runs seem effortless and he topped Nottinghamshire’s charts in the Championship with 1197 runs at an average of 47.88. Similarly, some belligerent innings in the 20 and 50 over competitions earned him a surprise winter sojourn to the Big Bash League where he performed well for the Sydney Sixers.
If he can produce more of the same in 2015 then Wessels, who had a spell captaining the team on a pre-season tour of Barbados, could find of the world’s T20 leagues becoming aware of his skills.
First on deck is Vernon Philander, who, having represented Somerset and Kent previously has plenty of experience in English conditions and will hope to dine out on some Trent Bridge green tops. With an exceptional record across all formats, the South African paceman should help Notts make a strong start in the Championship and NatWest T20 Blast.
Then, in early June, experienced Australian seamer Ben Hilfenhaus takes over and will lead the attack into the business end of the season. Having seemingly been discarded by the Aussie selectors, the 32-year-old, who has 99 Test wickets, should be fresh and his style of seam bowling seems tailor-made for English conditions.
Additionally, T20 finisher Darren Sammy will be at Trent Bridge for four NatWest Blast games and could provide some vital late-order firepower to help the Outlaws cure their case of the quarter final yips.
How they’ll fare
Boasting a stronger squad than last year, Notts will expect to be there or thereabouts in all three competitions but County Championship success might prove a bridge too far.
True, with Read and Gidman potentially coming in at 7 and 8, Notts will boast one of the deepest batting line-ups in the country – a key requisite for winning the four-day title. However, the sheer strength of the top 6/7 teams aligned with a bowling attack that could rely on their overseas stars a little too much in order to take 20 wickets, make this the least likely area for success.
Much more plausible is an assault on the limited overs formats.
Their top eight, led by former England opening pair – Hales and Lumb, is packed with brutal firepower and possesses a universal ability to clear the ropes at will. While the bowling unit, sometimes rendered toothless on unhelpful Championship wickets, excels when the ball is white.
Indeed, Luke Fletcher, who was almost regarded as a red-ball specialist at the start of last season, emerged as arguably the best death bowler in the country and possesses a devastating yorker that could yet propel him into the England ODI side.
Don’t bet against the Outlaws making a long overdue return to T20 Finals day and also gracing the Lord’s stage in September for the final of the Royal London One Day Cup.
v Middlesex, Sunday 12th April at Lord’s
Season Odds (via SkyBet)
LV County Championship Division One: 9/2
Royal London One-Day Cup: 7/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 6/1