We’re in touching distance of the finishing tape but there’s still time for a last stumble in the mud. For once, however, the Spin is early, laden with gongs to dole out to the best, worst, and most memorable events of the 2022 Championship season.
This is a Championship that may – depending on which way the counties vote on the Strauss report, probably before the fixtures come out in November, possibly sometime in the spring of 2048 – be in its final incarnation of two divisions with promotion and relegation. Much then, to celebrate. With no further ado: please put your hands together for …
The Micky Stewart award for team of the season Surrey, a cut above the rest. Well led by Rory Burns, 22 focused players, 10 of them homegrown, who took a 16-point lead into September and didn’t slip up. Most tellingly, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes were desperate to come back and play for their club in the penultimate match of the year and help seal the title. A class act.
The Kwasi Kwarteng award for inept announcements The ECB, for publishing the final results of the High Performance Review on the very day Surrey won the championship. This ensured that players were asked about their thoughts on Strauss’s fine print just after doing a victory lap of the Oval, and were pushed to the side of their own story.
The Joe Root award for outstanding excellence with the bat Harry Brook, head and shoulders above other young English contenders, who dominated the first half of the season before being called up by England. His absence in September proved a glaring hole in Yorkshire’s batting lineup as they fought to avoid relegation.
The are-we-there-yet award The Cricket Disciplinary Committee’s investigation of the Azeem Rafiq saga at Yorkshire, which drags on and on. Interviews are due to happen this autumn with a final report expected before Christmas. Don’t hold your breath.
The canary-in-the-coalmine warning 19 July 2022, the UK’s hottest day on record, where the temperatures around the grounds nudged towards 40C. Most spectators stayed at home with the curtains drawn, but there was nowhere for county cricketers to hide. Hampshire and Gloucestershire and Lancashire and Northants agreed to the ECB’s offer of reducing the playing time to 90 minutes per session with extra drinks breaks. It is a huge issue for cricket to contemplate: as the experts say – this is the coldest summer of the rest of your life.
The Steve Waugh award for brotherly love Surrey’s Jamie Overton, who sent down a bouncer to brother Craig which knocked him to the Taunton turf. As others gathered round, Jamie scowled and strutted away. Not so long afterwards, a beaming Craig handed Jamie his first Test cap.
Moment of madness award for dropping the ball Hampshire, whose chances of winning their first championship since 1973 disappeared in the blink of an eye after being bowled out for 57 at home against the most unlikely opponents, Kent.
The Ciderabad award for interesting pitches Chelmsford, in the penultimate round of the season, where 26 wickets fell on the first day, 14 on the next, as Essex failed to chase 98 and everything was wrapped up just after lunch on the second afternoon. To the gnashing of teeth at Taunton, and despite the pitch being marked as poor, and reports of unexpected holes, no points were deducted because it couldn’t be proved that Essex had done it on purpose.
The Jordan Clark award for hat-trick of the season There were three in 2022: Gloucestershire’s Tom Price against Kent, Hampshire’s Kyle Abbot against Gloucestershire but the prize goes to Lancashire’s 21-year-old George Balderson, who pulled the rug from under Essex in the crazy final run chase at Chelmsford.
The cricket diplomacy award for image of the season Mohammad Rizwan and Cheteshwar Pujara batting together for Sussex – joyful to see after India and Pakistan had played no bilateral cricket since 2012-13.
The New Coke award for worst product launch The 2022 Dukes ball, which for reasons still unclear – the hides? The dye? – behaved erratically, often not lasting 80 overs. At the Riverside, there were five unscheduled ball changes in one day and the sight of disgruntled players watching the umpire squeeze a ball through his callipers became one of the images of the season.
The Ben Stokes award for making an entrance Ben Stokes, who celebrated his first match for Durham as England captain by rolling-pinning an 88-ball 161 against Worcestershire. Later that evening, Stokes texted a note of sympathy to 18-year-old left-arm spinner Josh Baker, who he’d battered for five sixes in a single over.
The John Emburey and Graham Gooch award for bromance Hasan Ali and Jimmy Anderson. Hasan took 25 wickets in five games for Lancashire at the start of the season, and referenced “Jimmy-bhai” as his reason for coming to Manchester and living in Old Trafford’s Hilton hotel with his wife and baby daughter. Anderson called Hasan “an absolute legend” and, as he presented him with his Lancashire cap in front of the pavilion said: “I know you expected a bit more grass – sorry, maybe next time.”
The Rahul Dravid award for a classy goodbye Kent, who dubbed 27 September Stevo Day to mark the retirement of the legendary Darren Stevens, retiring his No 3 shirt and giving the old boy a lap of honour at lunchtime.
The Muttiah Muralitharan award for best overseas signing Almost impossible to call after the first part of the season was brightened by an influx of high-class players from Pakistan, unable to play in the IPL, with bowlers as brilliant as Shaheen Shah Afridi taking their turn to fathom the Dukes ball. Left-arm spinner Zafar Gohar has toiled away for struggling Gloucestershire but the prize is shared between Cheteshwar Pujara at Sussex and Shan Masood at Derbyshire – who both made over 1,000 runs and became figureheads at their counties.
The shop-window award for winter tour ware-waving Shared between Keaton Jennings and Sam Cook. Jennings, long-discarded by England, is the leading run scorer, and, until Jamie Overton trapped him lbw for 199, was on course to join Frank Watson as the only players in Championship history to score a triple and two double centuries in one summer. Sam Cook, Essex’s reliable seaming Little Chef, edged ever closer to England honours, playing for the England Lions against South Africa. His Essex captain Tom Westley called him the natural successor to Jimmy Anderson. Durham’s Matthew Potts, who caught England’s eye this summer, is the model to follow.
The Ashes recovery award He cut a sorrowful figure in Australia, a veritable walking wicket after scoring only 28 runs in his last six Ashes innings, but Haseeb Hameed quietly had a golden season. He upped his scoring rate, making four centuries on the way to scoring more than 1,000 runs, and helped steer Nottinghamshire back towards Division One.
The Sterling Award for precipitous decline To last year’s champions, Warwickshire, who had a rotten summer, plagued by injuries and loss of form and – with two days to go – look very likely to join Gloucestershire in Division Two for 2023. They’ll follow in the footsteps of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Middlesex – all winners relegated the following year.