It was a funny old season. We started it like a hundred metre runner in a suit of armour, came through towards the end like Usain Bolt, then tripped, just before the finish line.
A rude awakening after the expectancy and joy of 2012 and with some players obviously struggling at a level of greater intensity and skill. I was unsure of the differences back in April and that intensity at this level appears to be what sets the good sides apart. They never let up, a skill we acquired for a few short weeks but too late ultimately to escape the drop.
Only two batsmen looked consistently up to the level. Wayne Madsen stood head and shoulders above them all, with over 1200 championship runs made with considerable style and fine technique. Shiv Chanderpaul finished with just under 900 and only one century, less than was expected, but was one of many batting 'victims' of the result pitches that were part of a 'need to win' strategy at home.
The rest struggled, some of them badly. Richard Johnson made it to 500 runs, but an average of 26 was only that, while Chesney Hughes suggested a breakthrough with a monumental 270 at Headingley but made only 342 runs in his remaining nineteen innings. Paul Borrington played some useful knocks and looked a stronger player physically, while Ben Slater emerged from university to do the same. Both will be aware of greater expectations next summer and will doubtless be working hard over the winter to claim an opening berth for 2014.
Two young all-rounders, Peter Burgoyne and Alex Hughes had limited opportunities but showed enough potential to be optimistic. The challenge for both is now to establish themselves in the first choice side and improve both their techniques and their fitness for the county game. The jump from outstanding club player to county professional is substantial, but they will now be aware of what is required.
There were disappointments. Wes Durston played some good one-day hands, but looked out of his depth in the championship game. Dan Redfern never got going and we can only hope has the desire to get his career back on track. At his best he is wonderful to watch, but he seems to give it away too often for someone of now considerable experience. Ross Whiteley opted for pastures new mid-season and may never realise early potential. Billy Godleman came north for his third county, but managed only one fifty.
Such struggles for the batsmen put weight on the lower order but most were found wanting. Tom Poynton won the battle for the gloves and played some pugnacious innings while keeping to a high standard, but Jon Clare missed most of the campaign, while David Wainwright made only one fifty. With Tony Palladino missing half of the season, last season's effective lower order often passed with barely a whimper.
The bowling, as the batting, was dominated by one man. After a slow start, Tim Groenewald missed only one match and bowled consistently in four day as in all forms of the game. The team's 'Mr Reliable' is, like the captain, a model professional and could have done no more, while Mark Footitt emerged from an injury-ravaged career to a fine season. There were still erratic days, but his left-arm pace can be a potent weapon that we were glad to see secured for the next two seasons.
Tony Palladino's injuries were a blow, but he returned in the closing weeks to take wickets and be a constant threat. Few sides will look forward to facing those three next summer. Jon Clare had the best strike rate of the attack, but bowled only 124 overs on early season tracks that offered more help. His long-term county career appears to be dependent on improved fitness and a hard-working winter has to be in store.
Matt Higginbottom showed potential in August with some controlled displays, but Mark Turner had a summer to forget with only six wickets at 67. Next season is a big one for a whole-hearted player whose strike and economy rates are too high.
As for spin, we struggled. David Wainwright took only seventeen wickets at over fifty each, while Peter Burgoyne bowled with control but needs to do more with the ball at this level to get good players out. Time is very much on his side though, as it is with Tom Knight, who was curiously ignored for a player with the proven ability to dismiss good players. If he can improve his batting, there is an obvious challenge to Wainwright as top spinner, albeit as a different style of slow left-arm.
I expect a much-improved summer next year and another promotion challenge if we can get a good start. Much will depend on winter recruitment, something I will discuss in the near future. It was hard going, but we took it to the last game and that, at least, shows that the fighting spirit is largely intact.
We'll need that again in 2014.