Fleming's deal brings early title

Notts 486-8dec & 170-3dec Kent 237-5dec & 205

Nottinghamshire win by 214 runs
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A handful had turned up from somewhere near the Trent to see the title clinched in the penultimate game and there were the usual 2,000 or so stalwarts from Kent, one-eyed as ever and still refusing to exclude their team's prospect of winning when they needed 10 runs an over with one wicket left.

In the event, the new champions won by 214 runs. There were 17.3 overs (and a match next week) to spare. They were assisted in their endeavour by Kent, who felt they had no choice but to agree to an improbable and contrived run-chase to try to sustain their own fading title hopes, and then played with an inadequacy approaching surrender.

The Championship remains the blue riband of domestic cricket and the new holders, by and large, have acquired it without superstars. True, their overseas players Stephen Fleming and David Hussey have each managed batting averages above 70, and Fleming is generally recognised as one of the world's best captains (second now to Michael Vaughan), but neither perhaps compares with Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee, who were so pre-eminent 18 years ago.

Of yesterday's team, six were above 30 and none younger than 26, so it can be safely predicted that they are not in it for the long haul. Nor did a single one of them learn his cricket in Nottinghamshire, which shows a canny appreciation of a transfer market that does not officially exist, but should bring the academy inspectors sniffing around. No fewer than eight of the visitors had previously played for other counties.

Significantly, they did it without Kevin Pietersen, the new star of English cricket, who vied for popularity with used jockstraps in the Nottinghamshire dressing-room before leaving it last year.

At least cricket has not bred the sort of irresistible élite that exists in football, of which, we are led to believe post-Ashes, it is the new version. Five different clubs have won the title in consecutive seasons (though not Kent, runners-up four times since they won in 1978).

Fleming, the captain of New Zealand, said: "I liked the club and thought that they could do well because of how they played last year, and I had a connection with a few of their players. It gave me the opportunity to develop my leadership skills further with a new team. I've scored a few runs at Trent Bridge and I like living there, it's a good place." All sound reasons, and he will return there next summer.

It has been a proper team effort by their old sweats. Both the openers, Jason Gallian and Darren Bicknell, have made 1,000 runs and their seam-bowling quartet, led by the 36-year-old Mark Ealham, have taken 194 wickets between them. Ealham has 56 of them, the biggest tally of his long career, and he ensured the title yesterday with a stinging catch in the gully at the club where he played with distinction for 15 years (in which they twice finished runners-up).

Kent agreed to declare at their overnight 237 for 5 and effectively give the visitors 170 runs, to make the equation 420 in 70 overs. That was always likely to be unattainable, and the way they set about the task suggested Kent knew it.

With their best batsman, Robert Key, playing on one leg because of a severe groin strain and batting with a runner, it made the unlikely impossible. So it proved.

Andy Harris returned his best figures of the season, 6 for 76, with a largely impressive display of aggressive seam bowling. All hail Nottinghamshire.