County Championship 2023 awards: the last word on the season

The shiny Championship trophy has been safely handed over to Surrey’s captain, Rory Burns. The covers are on, this time for good, so time to rustle around in the tote bag for this year’s County Championship gongs.

The Manchester City award for squad rotation

To Surrey, who retained the Championship on the penultimate day of the season – though not without a scare or two from the chasing pack. It wasn’t a win defined by individual brilliance – though there was plenty of that – but the victory of a well-oiled group who understood their role and slid seamlessly into position aware that they might, at any time, as coach Gareth Batty likes to put it, “be pit-stopped for a game”.

The Bazball award for outrageous overperformance

To Durham, for being every bit as go-getting as their pre‑season word. Ben Stokes’s county embraced Bazball in all its glory, powering to the Division Two championship. They galloped along to 352 for seven on the first day of the season and continued in the same vein throughout, finishing with seven wins and a ridiculous 54 batting points, 23 more than anyone else. They now throw down the gauntlet to Division One, seven years after their relegation by an England and Wales Cricket Board edict.

The Diana Ross award for entrance of the year

To Middlesex’s batters, who found themselves four for four after three and a half overs during their first innings of the season – Nos 1, 2, 3 and 4 with nought to their names. It didn’t get much better from there, with the club picking up only five batting points in the entire summer. Middlesex, promoted to Division One for the first time since 2017, found themselves relegated despite a desperate charge at the last. For an extra kick in the teeth, they also received sanctions from the ECB for financial mismanagement. Time to close the book quietly and try again next year.

Dark clouds over Lord’s
Dark clouds over Lord’s, a suitable metaphor for Middlesex’s season. Photograph: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

The Mike Procter award for outstanding achievement

To Tom Price, for lighting up the third week of the season when he strolled out with Gloucestershire 45 for seven and pancaked 12 fours and three sixes in his maiden first-class century, before filleting through Worcestershire’s top order with a hat-trick to finish the day. It was a bright spark in a miserable Championship season for Gloucestershire that ended without a win but Tom, 23, and his brother Ollie, 22, promised hope for the future.

The Who Are You award for services to cricket

To Hampshire who, allegedly, refused Pep Guardiola the penthouse suite when Manchester City stayed at the Rose Bowl’s Hilton hotel. The reason? Those rooms belonged to The Mohammad Abbas.

The Michael Gove award for twisting the knife

To Alec Stewart who, with the strains of Dancing on the Ceiling drifting down from the victorious Surrey dressing room, gently gave the ECB both barrels. “I always want England to be the best, but also trying to find a way of being more respectful to the county game because that is where your players are made to go on to England,” he said. “That’s what we’re up against.”

The Simon Harmer award for overseas player of the year

A smorgasbord of overseas players graced the Championship this year – from Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne warming up for the Ashes, to Matt Henry, Shan Masood, Peter Handscomb and Cheteshwar Pujara, and even brief autumn visitors such as Karun Nair, who nearly saved Northamptonshire from relegation single‑handedly. Simon Harmer (61 wickets at 28) was as phenomenal as ever, but this year’s prize goes to Kemar Roach, not so much because of his figures but what he represents at Surrey – an overseas player who bookended the season with the champions and who is genuinely in love, and loved by, the county game.

The Parent Trap award for career confusion

To the Parkinson twins: Matt, whose career with Lancashire dripped to a conclusion and who was sent out on loan to Durham, and Callum, who spent a final season at Leicestershire, before packing his bags for … Durham. Matt now moves to Canterbury and, thanks to Kent’s last-gasp escape from the drop, the brothers will play each other again next year.

The Joe Biden retirement-plan award

To Alastair Cook, whose retirement, and small celebratory drinks party at Chelmsford, was predicted in print in mid-September. Essex released a statement saying no decision had been made, but it didn’t stop the press crowding into the County Ground for his “final” game. Cook made two quiet single-figure scores – it was never going to match the Oval 2018. But if he does retire, he goes out on a high: only Sam Robson made more runs as an opener in the top division.

The award for excellence after being written off

Shared between Hampshire’s Liam Dawson (49 wickets and 840 runs) and Essex’s Jamie Porter, who after a miserable, injury-hit 2022 had his best season since 2017, and finished the third-highest wicket taker (57) in Division One. If Porter’s England chances have drifted past, Dawson, overlooked as a replacement for Jack Leach for the Ashes, must have a sniff of a berth on the Test tour to India.

The Graeme Hick award for ridiculous youthful achievement

To Somerset’s James Rew, with five hundreds and 1,000 runs to his name aged 19. Handy behind the stumps as well.

The Ready for Rishi award

No not that one, but Rishi Patel of Leicestershire who made 1,000 runs and was emblematic of a county that had a Championship renaissance: from perennial wooden spoonists to promotion candidates.

The Climate Change award for grace under pressure

To the nation’s ground staff, who were flung from a soaking March to the UK’s hottest June, followed by the wettest summer for 100 years.