Recalling 2005: Thrills, spills and the fox who stayed for three days

The best, the worst and the frankly baffling. As cricket in England draws to a close this weekend, 'Independent' writers select the special moments that defined an extraordinary season

They didn't do too badly, did they? Well done, Michael Vaughan, Duncan Fletcher and everybody involved. You made us proud to be English and proud of our sport. You played it hard but fair and deserved your success. Enjoy the moment. If you win in Pakistan and India this winter and in Australia in 2006-07, then you will rightly be the labelled the best team in the world.

WORST TEAM OF THE SEASON: DERBYSHIRE

The side propping up the Second Division of the County Championship have not won a four-day game for 14 months and only one in the last two seasons, in which time they have lost 11 of their 21 games.

MOST IMPROVED TEAM: DURHAM

Bottom of the Championship Second Division in 2004, they were promoted in both league competitions in 2005.

WORST PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON: MIDDLESEX

During John Emburey's career Middlesex used to pride themselves on conceding fewer than 300 runs in a day's play, so you can imagine how the club's coach felt after watching Sussex score 522 on the opening day of a Championship match. But it got worse. Much worse. The following day Middlesex were bowled out twice in 88 overs to lose the game by an innings and 232 runs.

CALL YOURSELF A TEST BOWLER? MATTHEW HOGGARD

Hoggard took 16 wickets during the Ashes but while at Yorkshire he also suffered the ignominy of having the most expensive Twenty20 figures. After conceding 36 runs in his opening two overs against Lancashire, Hoggard was removed from the attack. He returned but did only marginally better, getting hacked for a further 29 in his last two overs, to earn the figures of 4-0-65-2.

CALL YOURSELF ANY SORT OF BOWLER? SURREY AND WARWICKSHIRE

A bowl-out was used to settle Surrey's Twenty20 quarter-final with Warwickshire after the game was tied. Both teams bowled 10 balls at a set of stumps but only four deliveries out of 20 hit the target. And you wonder why umpires give so few lbw decisions?

DEAD-EYED DICK AWARD: GARY PRATT

One of many England substitute fielders used throughout the summer, Pratt ran out the Australian captain Ricky Ponting at Trent Bridge to help his country to a vital victory.

CHEATS NEVER PROSPER: SURREY

It was only at the end of the domestic season that the importance of Surrey's eight-point penalty for ball-tampering became apparent. It was thought the loss would hamper their Championship chances, but it actually hastened their relegation.

MORE THAN MY JOB'S WORTH: THE YORKSHIRE BUS DRIVER

A late finish in the Roses match meant that Yorkshire had to travel from Manchester to Southampton on the eve of their C&G semi-final against Hampshire. The journey took longer than expected and Yorkshire arrived at their team hotel at midnight. The coach driver failed to inform the Yorkshire team that he was not allowed to drive for nine hours, and when the players met in the hotel lobby at 8.30am, ready to set off for a 10.15am start, panic set in. Craig White, the Yorkshire captain, ran the three miles to the ground while his team-mates sat in heavy traffic. They arrived late, had no time to prepare and were comprehensively beaten.

THINGS THEY WISH THEY HADN'T SAID (1) STEVE RIXON

During Surrey's match against Gloucestershire their coach, Steve Rixon, said that he expected Surrey to go on and win the Championshipafter they had beaten the West Country side. Gloucestershire hung on for a draw, and Surrey failed to win another match before they were relegated to the Second Division for the first time in their history.

BEST BATSMEN IN COUNTY CRICKET: OWAIS SHAH

Who must be wondering what he needs to do to get back in England's one-day side. The Middlesex batsman passed 50 on 25 occasions during the summer and scored over 2,500 runs. A middle order containing Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and Shah would give England an imposing look during the 2007 World Cup. Selectors, get him into the side.

BEST BOWLING OF THE SEASON: ANDREW FLINTOFF

Australia were looking good as they chased down a target of 282 in the second Test at Edgbaston. Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer had taken the Aussies to 47 for 0 when Michael Vaughan asked Flintoff to bowl. Fred bowled Langer with the second ball of his first over and found the outside edge of Ricky Ponting's bat with the last. The double strike changed the course of the Test and possibly the series.

IMAGE OF THE SEASON: FLINTOFF AND BRETT LEE

England had just beaten Australia by two runs - the narrowest margin in the history of the Ashes - and Michael Vaughan's team were all going wild with joy. Well, all but one. Before celebrating with his team-mates Flintoff went over to console Lee, down on his haunches in despair. It was the most refreshing and moving moments seen in sport for a very long time.

ALTERNATIVE IMAGE OF THE SEASON: FLINTOFF (AGAIN)

After a gruelling last day of the drawn third Test, Flintoff, who had bowled England to within one wicket of victory, wandered off to the groundsman's hut to have a couple of cold beers with Peter Marron and his staff. The sight of the Lancashire all-rounder sat on a wooden stool with his feet on a table, chatting away among the lawnmowers, forks and bags of grass seed with his bowling boots and whites on summed up his character beautifully.

OOPS... I DID IT AGAIN: JASON GALLIAN

The Nottinghamshire captain ran himself out on 199 twice this season. A direct hit spoilt his celebrations against Sussex in the second game of the season and in the penultimate game against Kent he came up short attempting a fourth run. Maybe Australian-born Gallian takes running tips from Ricky Ponting.

CATCH OF THE SUMMER: ANDREW STRAUSS

Damien Martyn's effort to dismiss Kevin Pietersen at Lord's wasn't bad. Neither was Paul Collingwood's to dismiss Matt Hayden in a NatWest Series game at Bristol. But the brilliant diving, one-handed catch Strauss took to dismiss Adam Gilchrist at Trent Bridge takes some beating. Strauss was horizontal when he extended his left arm and hung on to the outside edge. He did well not to let it bounce out when he hit the ground, too.

USELESS TOSSER AWARD: RICKY PONTING

Ponting had just lost the services of Glenn McGrath, after his bowler had twisted his ankle during his warm-up for the second Test. This made Shane Warne Australia's likeliest match- winner. Yet on winning the toss Ponting chose to bowl, thus depriving Warne of the best conditions. England scored 400 in the day and went on to win the game.

SHOT OF THE SUMMER (I) KEVIN PIETERSEN

K P played many glorious strokes over the summer, but the six he hit off Jason Gillespie during a NatWest Challenge match at The Oval was something else. Pietersen charged down the wicket at the fast bowler, who saw him advance and dropped the ball in short. But rather than admit he had been outfoxed Pietersen swatted the ball, in the style of a tennis player serving, over the long-on boundary.

SHOT OF THE SUMMER (2) SIMON JONES

In a NatWest Series match at Edgbaston Hayden pushed a Simon Jones delivery back towards the bowler. But rather than pick the ball up and walk back to his mark Jones hurled the ball in the direction of the opening bat, hitting him on the shoulder and causing a stand-off between Hayden and three of England's players. Jones v Hayden would have been an interesting fight, but Hayden v Strauss or Collingwood would have been a mismatch, even if they had gone for him at the same time.

BALL OF THE SUMMER: BRETT LEE

The leg-break from Shane Warne which bowled Strauss behind his legs was an amazing delivery, as was the slower ball from Stephen Harmison that castled Michael Clarke. Yet the best must be the slower ball from Brett Lee which knocked Strauss's off-stump out at Old Trafford. Lee had softened him up with a bouncer that hit him on the head and delivered the sucker punch in the next over. Strauss was left groping like a teenager on a Saturday night.

DROP OF THE SUMMER: SHANE WARNE

The Australian dropped a sitter at first slip off Pietersen when he had barely troubled the scorers and the Ashes were in the balance. Pietersen hit 158 and England won the Ashes.

WORST FIELDER OF THE SUMMER: KEVIN PIETERSEN

Seven drops, zero catches.

CRICKET MAY BE SEXY BUT THIS WAS A DAMP SQUIB: GIRLS ALOUD

At the Twenty20 final at The Oval the all-girl group "performed" a couple of their "hits". It was lashing down with the rain, there were about six spectators in front of the stage, and the girls, who had refused to be interviewed as they admitted knowing nothing about cricket, looked like they would rather have been anywhere else. Shame they weren't.

THINGS THEY WISH THEY HADN'T SAID (2) JEFF THOMSON

"Matthew Hoggard is like a net bowler when you compare him to Glenn McGrath and Michael Kasprowicz," the former Australian fast bowler Jeff Thomson, said in an April interview in which he also predicted a 3-0 series win for his compatriots, "worse if it doesn't rain." Hoggard took 16 Ashes Test wickets, Kasprowicz four.

MOST PERTINENT COMMENT OF THE SEASON: WAQAR YOUNIS

"It is strange the manner in which the English media is praising Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff sky high," the former Pakistan captain and fast bowler remarked about the changing perception of reverse swing. "In 1992, when myself and Wasim Akram had time and again dismissed English batsmen through this 'art' we were accused of ball- tampering."

'IT WAS BETTER IN MY DAY': ALEC BEDSER

England's cricketers may have captured the imagination of the nation, but some of their predecessors were less impressed. "Today's players have 10 days' rest before a Test, yet the bowlers seem to break down a lot," Alec Bedser mused before the final Test. "That's because they don't bowl enough. If you bowl in the nets for 10 days your muscles aren't toned and ready for the effort you put into a Test match. In my day there was no question of resting. I bowled 1,200 overs for Surrey in 1953. I played at Leicester on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the last Test, which began on the Saturday. I bowled 21 overs on the Friday, drove home, got back at 10pm, got up the next morning and drove an hour to The Oval to play in the Test. We also didn't have a coach. We were England players: we understood the game and didn't need coaches... Today they have 12 players and 16 people behind the scenes. Everyone's a hero if they take two wickets. You'd think they'd been at Dunkirk."

SHORT BUT SWEET: GRAEME SMITH

The South Africa captain may have played only four Championship matches for Somerset but in that time he hit the joint highest individual innings of the summer, 311, against Leicestershire at Taunton and his eight innings realised 472 runs at 67.4.

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: ALASTAIR COOK

The Essex opening batsman is 20 years old but has played like a veteran this season passing 1,000 runs for the first time, averaging almost 45, scoring three Championship hundreds and one for MCC against Warwickshire at the start of the season. His composure, shot selection and all-round batting talent have impressed everyone who matters.

ENGLAND'S FUTURE IN HIS HANDS? STEVEN DAVIES

Well maybe. The Worcestershire keeper has looked sharp behind the stumps, but more importantly this stylish left-handed batsman scores runs.

GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN (1) ANDY CADDICK

The England selectors may have written off Somerset's 36-year-old fast bowler, but the man himself has been snapping and snarling at batsmen for most of the summer, claiming more than 50 wickets in a season.

GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN (2) MARK RAMPRAKASH

Who has also said goodbye to England, but passed 1,000 runs this summer for the 15th time in his career - at the age of 36.

BUT IT'S GOODBYE FROM HIM ... GRAHAM THORPE

Who carved his last bat handle this summer. Thorpe used to take each of his bats apart when he got them. The left-hander has small hands and would spend hours shaving the handle before attaching pieces of tape so it fitted snugly in his palm. Thorpe began doing this after watching Viv Richards, the great West Indian batsman, do the same. In his career he will have gone through this procedure on hundreds of occasions. What a lunatic.

AND FROM HIM... WARREN HEGG

Lancashire wicketkeeper was forced into retirement after suffering a hand injury. The 37-year-old Hegg, who made his debut in 1986, played two tests for England, both against Australia on the 1988-89 tour.

AND HIM... ALAN MULLALLY

Who played 19 Tests between 1996 and 2001, has announced his retirement from first-class cricket. What will he do now? In his dreams it would be to become a roadie with U2. When Mullally is about the dressing-room sound system reverberates to the sound of Bono and The Joshua Tree.

BIZARRE SIGHT OF THE SEASON: THE FOX WHO STAYED FOR THREE DAYS

Midway through the Championship match between Surrey and Sussex a fox was spotted galloping frantically round and round on top of one of the gas-holders. It had clearly hopped on when the container was empty and had possibly dozed off. Mercifully, when the gas-holder was empty three days later the fox escaped.

MOST POPULAR NEW NEIGHBOURS: MICHAEL AND NICHOLA VAUGHAN

Who are selling their £700,000 home in Sheffield to move to a 17th-century period property in the picturesque Peak District village of Baslow.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO? CHRIS SCHOFIELD

Once hailed as England's answer to Shane Warne, the 26-year-old leg spinner, who won an unfair dismissal claim after being released by Lancashire at the end of last season, enjoyed a rehabilitation by helping Littleborough win the Central Lancashire League and Cheshire to a joint share of the Minor Counties Championship, taking 6 for 78 in the drawn final against Norfolk.

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER: STUART BROAD

The 19-year-old fast bowling son of former England opener Chris Broad's took 31 wickets at 11.75 in 10 first-class matches for Leicestershire in his debut season, bagging the scalps of Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee when the Australian tourists visited Grace Road, and starred in England Under-19's whitewash series win against Sri Lanka.

AND WHAT NOW? IT'S A LONG WINTER

What do cricketers do when their legs pack up and the clubs treasurer sends them their P45? The very good ones migrate to the commentary box, a couple of the less good ones go into journalism. Talking of which...

WORST PUNDIT OF THE SUMMER: ANGUS FRASER

The Independent Cricket Correspondent predicted Australia would win the Ashes 3-1, and that Surrey would win the County Championship. England for the football World Cup in 2006, anyone?

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM

Angus Fraser, David Llewellyn, Jon Culley and Matt Gatward

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