Strange doesn’t even begin to cover Nottinghamshire’s 2015 in the County Championship. Without a win until June, mutterings were led more to relegation than a title push before a late season surge, remarkably, led to a third-placed finish.
But the upturn in fortunes was no mere coincidence. The arrival of Peter Moores, as a consultant coach, in late June, following an innings hammering to Yorkshire that left Notts rooted at Division One’s base, injected a much-needed emphasis to the campaign.
Wins against Worcestershire, twice, and Sussex coupled with respectable draws against Durham and Middlesex rebalanced the pendulum of a side expecting to push Yorkshire all the way in the four-day game, but the best was yet to come.
Alex Hales’ 189 led Moores’ side to 600 at Trent Bridge – a fortnight after Australia were bowled out for 60 at the same ground. Warwickshire may not boast Stuart Broad in their bowling unit, but the imperious total produced an innings victory nonetheless.
A victory over Durham followed, while rain almost certainly denied a double over the Bears. Even a last week defeat to Hampshire, who themselves completed a turnaround of miraculous proportions, was not to stop Nottinghamshire taking third.
A comeback of sorts, but being 75 points behind Yorkshire represented both the White Rose’s strength and the early season disappointment at Trent Bridge. For reference, 60 points fewer would have seen them bottom.
The early-season blip also took its toll on Notts’ Natwest T20 Blast campaign: Consistent inconsistency blighted their early charge, while defeats to Derbyshire and Worcestershire left the Outlaws needing a victory over Leicestershire to secure a place in the last eight. Rain intervened, however, leaving Trent Bridge frustrated at being denied a quarter-final berth by net run-rate.
The Royal London One-Day Cup was a point of solace as form improved over the year, with a home quarter-final against former nemeses Durham the prize for finishing top of their group. It was Samit Patel who starred to dismantle the holders, but an imperious 166 from Surrey’s Kumar Sangakkara poleaxed Nottinghamshire in the semi-finals, ending the 2015 campaign trophyless.
With the Championship seemingly as strong as it has been for some time, the key is likely to be consistency and the ability to turn early season draws into wins. The (potential) domestic outing of Stuart Broad, coupled with a fast bowling outfit including Jackson Bird, Luke Fletcher, Harry Gurney, Jake Ball and Luke Wood – just to name a few – suggests wickets will be nothing less than a foregone conclusion at the usually pace-friendly Trent Bridge.
As for the limited-overs competitions, the aforementioned bowling unit will offer their threats alongside Michael Lumb, Riki Wessels and – international commitments pending – Alex Hales and James Taylor. As is often the case in these types of competitions, a strong start will be the key, and it seems as though Moores may be the right man for it.
How will the expectation of captaincy impact on the day-to-day work of Chris Read? That will be the question on many Trent Bridge lips this term, with the wicket-keeper adding the One-Day Cup leadership to his Championship mantle as James Taylor steps down due to international commitments.
Despite suffering injury through the 2015 campaign, Read reached the promise land of 1,000 first-class dismissals in September, while also notching close to 1,000 runs in all three competitions amidst his 26 appearances across the season.
Should he stay fit, Read will surely be instrumental in Nottinghamshire’s push for honours as he looks to lead the team from the front in his 19th season of first-class cricket.
Player to Watch
Luke Wood made lengthy strides in what was effectively his debut season in the first-class game, taking 30 wickets in an exhilarating breakthrough campaign for a pace trio also including Brett Hutton and Jake Ball.
Wood also, by some surprised, notched a Championship hundred last term when his side were struggling against Sussex, while notching two further half-centuries to have an average bordering on 30 with the bat. It was his performances with ball in hand, however, that attracted the watch of England, taking a place on the ECB bowling camp in South Africa.
The 20-year-old will therefore be looking to make sure his efforts are not those of a one-season wonder as he continues to learn his game.
Notts have secured the services of Australian Dan Christian for the entire T20 Blast campaign, with the all-rounder taking on the mantle of captaincy in the format.
Christian improved on his form at Trent Bridge as the season developed, taking four wickets with the ball while scoring his runs at a strike-rate close to 130 in the Blast. The 32-year-old has not played for his country since for more than two years, but boasts a T20 career spanning the Big Bash and IPL as well as the Blast, notching up 161 appearances in the format.
A canny all-rounder who, to use a tired cliché, ‘can hit a long ball’, Christian’s repertoire for 2016 is expanding to the Royal London One-Day Cup. He helped the side reach the last four with 48 in the quarter-final, while he will also lead the Outlaws in the Blast after James Taylor stepped down due to international commitments.
Nottinghamshire will also welcome fellow Aussie Jackson Bird for Championship cricket until late July. Bird reappeared in the Test arena in the two matches against New Zealand in February, while he concluded his Sheffield Shield campaign with a ten-wicket match haul in his penultimate game and a five-wicket innings haul in the last.
How they’ll fare
The Championship is at the strongest it’s been for some years, meaning a prolonged spell of consistency will be needed at Trent Bridge. Under Peter Moores, the signs are there for a challenge to be made, while early season appearances of Stuart Broad, James Taylor and Alex Hales will be a major boost. Accolades are more likely to come from the one-day competitions, where Nottinghamshire have grown in experience and skill over recent years
Specsavers County Championship Division 2: 11/2
Royal London One-Day Cup: 6/1
Natwest T20 Blast: 7/1