Golden summer of silver

Nick Knight, the England batsman, says teamwork and graft stole the crown
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The Independent Online
After summers of unrivalled triumph, the silverware gradually disappeared from Edgbaston's trophy cabinets last season, with the most prized possession of all, the County Championship title, making its way a few miles up the M69 to Leicestershire.

If this rankles, the new champions deserve their accolades. The consistency and teamwork of the 13 players they used was remarkable. It is not without coincidence that these were the attributes most closely associated with Warwickshire's success.

The Leicestershire captain, James Whitaker, and coach Jack Birkenshaw have clearly been influential. They seemed to create a perfect atmosphere for their squad in which to work, and duly received a magnificent response. It is difficult, if not imprudent, to single out individuals within a mighty collective effort but Phil Simmons merits mention.

His feats as Leicestershire's overseas player surely single him out as the player of the season, and the Cricketers' Association duly voted him as such. He was not among the recipients of the awards in the Whyte & Mackay rankings which were also presented last week, but his combined points for batting and bowling easily put him ahead of his rivals. But it was not only his batting and bowling - he took some stunning catches at slip. Such an inspirational contribution allied to the team spirit proved too good for the rest.

Surrey came through to win the Axa Equity and Law Sunday League, which was hardly a shock. From the start it was hard to imagine that the Brown Hatters, with the Australian Dave Gilbert as coach, would fail to win at least one trophy. As it turned out, it was just the one, but up until August they were well placed in all competitions. In the end they may well have been relieved.

Lancashire sustained their grip on the two one-day knockout trophies. They appear to have made Lord's finals their own for the moment, and the way in which they took the NatWest Trophy - that memorable spell of bowling by Glen Chapple underlined a vast potential - confirmed them as being among the great limited-overs teams.

So where does that leave Warwickshire? Have the others caught up with the Bears? Not so. All opposition sides enjoy beating the champions, and this approach can easily lead to a substantial rise in level of performance. As if that were not enough to contend with, Warwickshire had other disconcerting problems. The loss of their captain, Dermot Reeve, was an unexpected blow which was bound to have a profound effect. Individual players know they simply to have get on with their duties but the team as a whole cannot fail to be disturbed.

There were injuries to other key senior players - not for Warwickshire of 1995, which had the luxury of sticking with a squad of 13 - and there were some uncharacteristically inconsistent performances. But this did not leave the county without hope, expectation and some sense of achievement. The advance of Ashley Giles was especially heartening.

He emerged from a crop of young players given an opportunity to make an impression, and the experience he has gained at 23 as an intelligent left-arm spinner whose batting grew in assurance will only benefit him. His development in a single year is testimony to hard work, dedication and an off-season spent abroad. Giles was in South Africa last winter, and his improvement was evident when he returned to Warwickshire. Similar application during the season resulted in a place on the England A tour. Sometimes, it is said, there are no finger spinners coming through. Giles is definitely one for the future.

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