A Credit To Newell
Comment and Analysis | 30th August 2010
In county cricket, the holy grail for coaches and chief executives alike is to have a team that achieves success in all forms of the game, one that earns the prestige and respect that comes from winning the County Championship but which pulls in the crowds as a force in one-day cricket and Twenty20.
It is a hard nut to crack, particularly since the addition of the 20-over game created a need for even more versatility from the players. Even in the pre-Twenty20 days, there have not been many down the years who have dominated across the board.
The Kent side of the 1970s, which won three John Player League titles, three Benson and Hedges Cups and a Gillette Cup, also shared the Championship in 1977 before winning outright the following year. In the next decade Essex won four Championship titles as well as three one-day prizes and Middlesex supplemented their three Championships with five one-day trophies.
Between 1989 and 1997, Warwickshire won six one-day trophies and three Championships, reaching a peak in 1994 when they won a “treble” of Benson and Hedges Cup, Sunday League and Championship.
Yet Lancashire, who won six one-day competitions between 1969 and 1975 and another seven between 1989 and 1998, have not won the Championship since finishing joint first in 1950, while the Gloucestershire side that dominated limited-overs cricket between 1999 and 2004, winning seven trophies in six seasons, spent most of that time in Division Two of the Championship.
Firing on all fronts since Twenty20 was added to the mix looks likely to be even more taxing, as Sussex -- three times four-day title-winners between 2003 and 2007 -- discovered when they won the T20 and Pro-40 competitions last season only to be relegated to Division Two in the Championship.
It has been particularly pleasing for Nottinghamshire, then, that 2010 has seen their status as a force in Championship cricket confirmed alongside clear improvements in their one-day game, exemplified in a good showing in the Clydesdale Bank 40 and an appearance at finals day in the Friends Provident t20 when, but for Duckworth-Lewis and the time limits imposed by the match schedule, David Hussey might even have got his hands on the trophy.
“We are not successful as a one-day side yet because success is defined by winning trophies." - Mick Newell.
Yet it has not happened by chance. The signings of Steven Mullaney and Graeme White last winter were made specifically with short-form cricket in mind, while Dirk Nannes was hired as a T20 specialist.
“It was the first time we had gone out to sign players primarily for one-day cricket,” director of cricket Mick Newell told me.
“Traditionally, Notts have regarded four-day cricket as most important. You are judged as a club by your standing in the Championship and members have wanted us to sign players with four-day cricket as the starting point.
“But one-day cricket is important for attracting spectators, for generating interest in the city and county. There are people who will only come for Twenty20 and they will come more regularly if you are winning, which is in the club’s interests because it is the only form of cricket in which you can make a profit on the day.
“We’ve been competitive as a four-day side for the last eight years but we have not been particularly good as a one-day side. Our fielding has not been good enough and we have not been dynamic enough as a batting team.
“We’ve needed to have younger players who wanted to play one-day cricket. Some of the older players here see four-day cricket as the primary game and perhaps are not so keen to push themselves in the one-day game, yet there are younger players who see Twenty20 as the most enjoyable form -- they enjoy the crowds, enjoy throwing themselves around in the field, enjoy the pressure, enjoy the fact that they might not bat for very long but that what they do might be very important.
“We signed Mullaney and White who were champing at the bit because they had been sitting in other county’s second teams and they have both made important contributions, with Mullaney making his mark in four-day cricket as well.”
The more senior players, meanwhile, have had to keep pace with the rapid evolution in the technical aspects of the game that Twenty20, in particular, has sparked.
“For the batsmen, it’s things like using your feet more to spin bowlers,” Newell said, “playing more aggressive strokes, walking down the pitch to seam bowlers, playing more unusual shots. There is a need, too, to be fitter, to be quicker between the wickets.
“From the bowler’s point of view, it is having lots of variations. Slower balls and yorkers have been used for a while and now we are increasingly seeing the slower ball bouncer, which would have been called a long-hop 10 years ago but can now be a skilfully controlled delivery.
“For spinners there is less pressure to spin the ball, more to be consistent and accurate and frustrate people, which is why some of the slower bowlers like the white-ball game better.”
Indeed, Newell warns that the specialist four-day player might find it more difficult in future to find a willing employer as the need for versatility combines with the tightening of the purse-strings at many counties.
“You can live with one or two who don’t move easily between the different disciplines but they are a bit like a left-arm spinner who cannot bat and they may get wheedled out of the game. Players are better paid these days and not all counties can afford 25, 26 or 27 on the staff. So you don’t want too many players who don’t play all three.”
After this year’s advances, Nottinghamshire will hope to make an impact again next summer, especially in the money-spinning Twenty20 arena, although Newell acknowledges that more progress has to be made.
“We are not successful as a one-day side yet because success is defined by winning trophies,” he said. “But what we have done is make ourselves more competitive and more consistent.”