Awards season – Paul Nixon gives out his gongs for this year’s cricket stars

By Paul Nixon

WITH the season end comes the awards for the year. This week saw the PCA hand out their annual gongs, with the counties up and down the country giving out their prizes at the end of season bash.

The Cricket Writers Club had their annual lunch in London this week, where they acknowledge the season’s top performers, and now I’m doing the same.

It’s been another wonderful year of county cricket with Essex romping to the Division One title, having only been promoted back to the top tier in 2016. And we can’t forget Nottinghamshire coming so close to a treble, though I’m sure they’ll be delighted with promotion even though they didn’t top Division Two.

But those counties don’t necessarily romp home with my awards…

Player of the year

It has to be the legend that is Kumar Sangakkara. The Sri Lankan hung up his international spikes but he clearly still has the appetite to score big runs, and he will be a huge miss for the game having now called time on his first-class career.

He has a huge amount of respect for the game and is a class mentor for all who play with him. I worked closely with the great man at the CPL with the Jamaica Tallawahs, and everybody there was learning from Sanga.

Despite closing in on his 40th birthday, he was one of the most consistent performers at the CPL, and even more so for Surrey in Division One.

He made an astonishing 1,491 runs, and that’s despite missing four Championship matches. He made three figures eight times and averaged a remarkable 106.5. To put his stats into comparison, the second highest scorer in the division was Sanga’s Surrey teammate Mark Stoneman, but he was over 300 runs behind him in the run charts.

Sanga is a true legend of our game and his career will always be fondly remembered.

Young spark: Jamie Porter fought off competition from Jofra Archer, Ben Coad and Craig Overton to pick up the PCA Young Player Award, and he receives the same award here (photo: Getty Images)

Young player of the year

This is a tough one. I’ve limited it to players 24 and under, and we are seeing more and more younger players coming into the game and being given their chances in the first XI.

Liam Livingstone could be one of the country’s finest players in the years to come but I’d just like to see him score plenty of runs in back-to-back seasons. He made 803 this season for a Lancashire side that probably surpassed expectations but he’s a young man with a huge future.

He doesn’t quite pick up my award, though, which goes to Essex bowler Jamie Porter. I met Jamie on the brilliant Tom Maynard Foundation Coaching trip to the quality Desert Springs resort at the start of 2016 and his attitude and focus were plain to see.

To win big games under pressure tells you a lot about this young man’s desire and pedigree. To bowl on many flat wickets in county cricket all year is a wonderful effort and seriously hard on your body and mind, so to finish with the stats he did is remarkable.

He was the top wicket-taker in county cricket, ending with 75, and he led Essex to their first title in 25 years alongside Simon Harmer.

Porter picked up the Cricket Writers Club player of the year this week and can add my award to his mantelpiece.

Held high: Essex head coach Chris Silverwood led the Eagles to an undefeated season in the County Championship (photo: Stephen Pond / Getty Images)

Team of the year

Essex are my team of the year having been well led by Chris Silverwood. They have gone from Second Division champions to winners of Division One – it’s a a wonderful sustained effort. They added to their squad very cleverly over the winter, with key signings like that of Simon Harmer.

They worked well as a complete unit throughout the year, with runs coming from Nick Browne and Alastair Cook, then Harmer, Porter and Co consistently took 20 wickets throughout the year.

A close second for this award is Notts, though. They had a good year under Peter Moores but they do have a huge advantage of being able to pay bigger money and entice players to join them over smaller clubs so, for me, success should be expected. Still, they came very close to a domestic treble, and winning two out of three trophies isn’t to be sniffed at.

Burnley brilliance: Jimmy Anderson salutes the crowd at Lord’s after taking his 500th wicket in Test cricket (photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)

Moment of the year

Jimmy Anderson’s 500th Test wicket will always be my memory from the 2017 summer, but, from a county point of view, I have to use this to remember a fellow wicketkeeper in Chris Read.

He claimed his 968th dismissal to set a new wicket-keeping record for Notts a day before his 39th birthday in August, and unstrapped the gloves one last time. He finished with a century in his final game, and was part of the squad that won the T20 Blast and One-Day Cup.

A quiet introvert unlike many of us wicketkeepers, Read has given his heart and soul to Notts. You always knew what you were going to get, he was so reliable and a top guy all round. There were no frills and few spills, and Notts will be weaker without him behind the stumps.

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