A triumph for democracy

Middlesex 190 and 248 Leicestershire 512 Leicestershire win by an innings and 74 runs
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The Independent Online
It took Leicestershire, the new County Champions just 50 minutes yesterday to remind themselves why the Championship pennant has at last come back to Grace Road. Shaking off Saturday night's hangovers, they blew away Middlesex's last five wickets with the same purpose of mind they have shown all season, David Millns taking 4-21 as the Running Fox finally stopped to count his chickens - about pounds 100,000 when prize-money and club bonuses are added together.

This was their 10th win and in the end their least necessary. Surrey, the only team to have beaten them in the competition, having finally fallen from contention around tea-time on Saturday; rain having forced them to forego the batting points they needed to take top spot.

Which, in contrast to yesterday's more measured poses in front of supporters cameras, is when the celebrations really started, and the groundsman's beloved rose bushes got sacrificed to the unconfined joy of supporters unused to success.

One fan, who had obviously seen the 1975 Championship triumph under Raymond Illingworth admitted to still being "Bloody emotional," but added: "Mind you if we can't win with a side like that, we never will."

It was however, not a sentiment shared by many outside the county at the start of the season, when a new captain finally inherited a talented but underachieving team, from his long serving predecessor, Nigel Briers.

Like Illingworth James Whitaker is a Yorkshireman, though one whose natural bombast had been polished via nearby Uppingham school. With his easy going charm, he and team coach Jack Birkenshaw - another Yorkshireman and one of the spinners in the 1975 side - have managed to forge a triumphant team spirit at a club whose once swingeing reputation managed to oversee one of the more rapid outbreaks of player power, with the likes of David Gower, Phil DeFreitas and Chris Lewis having all passed through.

Leadership is a will o' the wisp quality, and one that is over-hyped by those prone to nostalgia. Whitaker's strength is that he didn't try and lead - at least not in the authoritarian sense - preferring to allow everyone an input. Example may have been by deed, but decision was by democracy.

"We are all stars," was the clarion call he kept feeding his team as the title race quickened. But if they responded, it wasn't to fulfil that statement on an intimate level, rather to know they contributed to the team cause. As Birkenshaw put it: "There is no-one here looking to grab the glory for himself. They are a selfless bunch."

Like the Warwickshire side of the past few years, theirs has truly been a shared effort. Amazingly, even with Alan Mullally away on Test duty, only 13 players have been used. A fluke perhaps, but one whose continuity breeds both confidence and camaraderie.

Whitaker reckons that 36 records - including personal bests like highest scores and total runs and wickets for the year - have been broken during the season. Vince Wells, Darren Maddy, Ben Smith have all got big runs when the occasion has demanded, while six bowlers have taken more than 35 wickets. David Millns topping the tree with 72, with the spinners, Adrian Pierson and Matthew Brimson, sharing 83 between them.

But if one individual should be plucked from the drone efforts of the team, it is Phil Simmons, the club's Trinidadian all-rounder and a man dubbed a "Bloody Marvel" by an appreciative skipper. Simmons now 33, has had a marvellous all-round season. Four hard hit centuries in over 1,000 first-class runs, as well as 55 wickets have illuminated this past season. As have some of the blinders he has held at slip off Millns and Mullally.

He is still desperately keen to play for his beloved West Indies and add to his 22 caps, but believes forces beyond his control are preventing him from regaining his place. "I don't feel it is a matter of my performance that is keeping me out of the side," he said yesterday. "It is more a personal vendetta against me by one of the selectors. All I can do is trust in God and whatever takes place will happen."

With Leicestershire keen to sign him for another two years and the West Indies Board equally keen to prevent their leading players from tiring themselves out in county cricket - by introducing long-term contracts as well as a domestic season that extends into June - Simmons may well have to make a choice between the Caribbean and Leicester.

"If I don't play a Test before May [the West Indies have six home Tests after they finish their forthcoming tour of Australia], my future is finished in the Caribbean." Until then, all of Leicestershire will wait with bated breath and fingers crossed.