As the county season dribbled to an end in balmy autumnal sunshine on 1 October, and the Bob Willis Trophy was raised alongside the County Championship by Warwickshire on the Lord’s balcony, thoughts drifted towards the annual Spin awards. These gongs, without prize money or gravitas to commend them, celebrate the good, bad and downright peculiar of the Championship season.
The Chris Woakes award for the year’s unsung hero Radio 5 live’s county cricket champion Kevin Howells spent his season zipping across the country at the arse end of the summer in search of the game to best satisfy his insatiable listeners. Even during the last week of September, he was forced to climb back into the driver’s seat and hotstep it from Aigburth to Edgbaston in search of a decent radio connection. Good humoured, dogged and an energetic wearer of a waterproof coat he is a brilliant broadcaster and a tireless advocate for the county game.
The Dorian Gray award for not going gently For the third year running, Darren Stevens. It turned out he saw last year’s Wisden Cricketer of The Year award not as an end-of-career gong, but a mid-career catalyst, launching into yet another summer of derring-do. He bustled into the spring with a hundred against Northamptonshire, the oldest player since 1986 to score a championship ton, and bettered it with 190 against Glamorgan, something that inspired more than 90,000 people to watch online. He finished the season as Kent’s leading wicket-taker, the third-highest run-scorer and with a new one-year contract.
The avocado award for seasonal hors d’oeuvre The blizzard that played ping-pong over the Pennines in early spring, killing the games between Yorkshire and Glamorgan and Lancashire and Sussex. In the Old Trafford press box, red fleecy blankets and heaters were brought in an attempt to prevent icicles forming while the Sussex players had a snowball fight on the outfield.
The Hardik Pandya award for brotherly love Joe Root’s pat on the back for little brother Billy as he moved to his century with a clip off the legs against his older brother; Matt Parkinson’s Twitter championing of his twin brother, Callum, fellow spinner and Leicestershire captain.
The YTS award for services to under 21s Sussex, who risked giving their longsuffering members a collective coronary by throwing open the red ball team to a cluster of their most talented teenagers. Sometimes it came off – 16-year-old Dan Ibrahim became the youngest player to make a Championship half-century. Sometimes it did not – Sussex finished with the wooden spoon, their first for 21 years, conceding four losses as the summer shimmied towards to a close.
The don’t get mad, get even award Essex, who took out their irritation at being denied the chance to regain their Championship crown by crushing (almost) all before them in Division Two. Their half-hearted celebration of the second-tier championship is a warning to everyone else next year: Essex want their crown back.
The Allan Donald single of the year award Jack Blatherwick’s end of the over moment of madness, which left him to face six balls of Mason Crane turning it out of the dust at Aigburth during Lancashire’s spectacular collapse/thrilling run chase. He survived three balls before edging the next to second slip, leaving No 11 Matt Parkinson to last the over. He did and Dane Vilas took them over the line to ensure the Championship was undecided till the final day.
The Eeyore’s popped balloon award for party celebrations: Lancashire, who set up a big room in the Point for that last day of the season, inviting members and players to watch the final day at Edgbaston on a big screen and cooking up a selection of delicious snacks. Unfortunately, Somerset could not hold their innings together and just a thimbleful of the most loyal turned up to see Warwickshire’s captain, Will Rhodes, catch Jack Brooks at slip to win the match and collect the title.
The Nasser Hussain award for reading the runes Kent looked up at the glowering north-west skies, glanced at the opposition team sheet that included the name James Anderson and decided to have a bat. Anderson quickly snaffled his 1,000th first-class wicket on his way to seven for 19, as Kent were bowled out within a session.
The Ben Stokes award for working miracles Nottinghamshire, under cobwebs after seasons of underachievement and the failure to win a Championship match for almost three years, got one under their belt against Derbyshire and suddenly rediscovered their mojo, finishing top of Group One and third in the final standings.
The fickleness of fate award Haseeb Hameed and James Bracey, whose contrasting fortunes with England after impressive showings in county cricket showed how cruel the game can be. Here’s to Bracey finding strength from Hameed’s comeback.
The ECB award for worst press release of the year Yorkshire, who released a summary of their long-awaited report within an hour of the Old Trafford Test being called off and whose inability to just straightforwardly apologise to Azeem Rafiq continues to baffle.
The NatWest Trophy award for grabbing your chance when you can Warwickshire’s Rob Yates, who made a glorious autumnal century in the Bob Willis Trophy final, in front of the Sky cameras and a host of influential eyes, just as the selectors (probably) prepare to pick an Ashes tour and a shadow A squad.
Quote of the week
“We would like to be consulted before they announce the decision on the Bob Willis Trophy final. They might just scrap it altogether. If they want to keep it in circulation, we’d like to discuss how they’re going to do that” – Lauren Clark, Bob Willis’s widow, mulls over the future of the match.
The coach of the new County Champions is one of cricket’s good guys, and a great example of how you do not have to be the best to coach the best. Mark Robinson’s first-class career never really zipped above promising. He played for three counties – Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Sussex – between 1997 and 2002, his bowling dibbly-dobbly, his batting amusingly bad. But as a coach he has excelled.
After Robinson retired, he coaxed Sussex to two Championship titles and a handful of one-day trophies in his decade at the club, had a spell with England Lions and then took over as head coach of England women’s team, winning the World Cup at Lord’s in 2017 and making the final of the 2018 T20 World Cup. He made pivotal decisions, such as letting Charlotte Edwards go and helping Sarah Taylor remain part of the team despite her mental health difficulties.
When he was sacked after a disappointing Ashes, a year of introspection during Covid followed, when the phone stopped ringing and he found himself doing individual coaching. But then the call came from Edgbaston and he took Warwickshire to the Championship in his first season.
At Lord’s, during the Bob Willis Trophy final, he was typically thoughtful: “I know that having a year off was really good for me, I recharged, I did a lot of private coaching, from eight-year-old girls to 55 year old men. I just love coaching. And then the world opened up again, which is why coming to Lord’s is such a special event, I haven’t been here since 2017.
“The older you get, the more wise you get, and we want to savour everything that is given to us.
“At Sussex, I was lucky enough to inherit a good team, then we had to reinvent the team a little bit. The girls’ thing was so special, the World Cup win a monumental day and this is different again. The fact I’ve come back into county cricket is good for the women’s game. It shows men can go into the women’s game and come back and be better for it.”
Still want more?
No pressure, Joe Root, but the future of Test cricket depends on this Ashes series, says Barney Ronay.
Geoff Lemon reports on how Australia’s confusing Covid rules are shrouding the series in uncertainty.
Raf Nicholson on how the forthcoming England A tour opens up life-changing opportunities in women’s cricket.
From Carlsen to Yates, Gary Naylor nominates his five county cricketers of the year.
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In last week’s Spin we offered free copies of Graham Coster’s excellent book the Nature of Cricket to three lucky readers who could work out which current England international’s name is an anagram of “cavorting roe”. Very many of you successfully identified Craig Overton – the v was a bit of a giveaway – and from the resulting bulging virtual mailbag the names chosen at random belonged to Masjoe Wilson, Gordon Smith and Adrian Pringle. Congratulations to them. Anyone in search of a copy can find one here, or at all good bookshops.