Friday, 28 September 2007

All Change

Well, I go away on holiday for a couple of weeks and everything changes.

There is no doubt that Mark Greatbatch was no longer the right person to lead the team, if he ever was, and his departure is a blessed relief for almost all Warwickshire fans. Colin Povey has taken a brave decision in appointing Ashley Giles as director of cricket, given that he has virtually no qualifications, or experience of coaching at the highest level. It also seems slightly odd that only a few months ago Ashley was trying to forge a fledgling career in broadcasting. There is also a nagging doubt that Povey has gone for the popular choice to boost his own stock with supporters, rather than risk a prolonged hunt for a more qualified applicant. He may also have felt the pressure coming from the bungled attempts to land several players and felt a long application process could have led to more embarrassment as various coaches indicated they weren't interested. But of course this is all speculation.

Having said all this, I am of the opinion that Giles has never done anything without putting all his dedication into it, and I feel he has the professionalism and love for the club to make up for his lack of experience. I hope he'll be as great a success as a coach for Warwickshire as he was as a player. He has given a typically candid interview to the BBC, that can be watched here.

Today Warwickshire have announced an really big coup in landing Allan Donald as first team bowling coach. His exact role has not been clarified, but there is speculation that he will have a much wider brief than with England. Possibly being responsible for scouting as well as developing talent in the second team. Where Giles' appointment is a bit of a leap into the unknown, Donald is already a proven performer as a coach at international level and I can only hope he will have the same impact at Warwickshire as he had with England. With the likes of Anyon, Woakes, Daggett, Gronewald and Tahir the raw materials are there and the hope is that AD can mould them into consistent performers.

Although the season is barely over there is already cause for some optimism for next season. The next step will be for Warwickshire to land a quality overseas player who is available for the majority of the season. As well as someone with experience to take care of the batting side of the coaching, alongside Neil Abberley, who although an excellent coach, can surely not shoulder the whole batting coaching on his own.

Finally today the groups have been announced for the re-re-vamped one-day cup. Warwickshire are in "Midlands and East"; with Ireland. Make of that what you will.


VIDEO: Donald 6/53 against England

Before he was a coach Allan Donald was a pretty handy fast bowler.

Watch out for Chris Adams and Gavin Hamilton (two of the cheapest international wickets going!?! and Andy Caddick trying to hoist Donald over long on for 6)


Friday, 14 September 2007

All change in cup competitions

There have been a couple of announcements towards the end of this week that will affect domestic cricket next season in England.

The first, and probably most minor, is the reorganisation of the two domestic cup competitions. The Friends Provident Trophy (The C&G to most!) will be operating with a different league structure from next season, with 4 groups of five teams, (the 18 counties with Ireland and Scotland) each playing each other home & away. These divisions will be regional in the same model as the Twenty20 cup in previous seasons. This will help eliminate the farcical dead games from this years competition, but whether it will instil greater excitement is not clear. I am personally disappointed that there is so little difference between this and the Pro40 and Twenty20. I would much prefer a proper cup format with the chance of upsets, by all means with a league section (like the UEFA cup, or Champions League in football), but most importantly with all the minor counties involved in qualifying rounds. The romance level would significantly raised by the possibility of ties like Northumberland v Middlesex at Lords, than any contrived league system.

The Twenty20 Cup meanwhile will be modified so that each of the groups (of 6 teams) play each other home and away, but apart from that remains unchanged.

Both these changes raise the possibility of playing the same sides throughout the season and risking spectator apathy. For instance it is perfectly possible that Warwickshire will now be playing Northants a minimum of 8 times over the season in various competitions, when there is not really any degree of local rivalry to speak of. I am also concerned that with every competition being a league there is a chance that many of these games could be "dead games", and that is where the possibility of match-fixing rears its head. The ECB will need to be very careful that with so many meaningless repeat matches, and the low rewards on offer, that we don't get our own domestic Cronje, or Azharuddin.

The other news, which might not have a direct impact on Warwickshire next season, is that India will host a "Twenty20 Champions League" with the top two teams from Australia, India, South Africa and England (i.e. the finalists). With prize money totally £2.5m, including £1m for the winners. Considering test-match and one-day revenue is reckoned at about £2m a match, and a ODI £500k (gross - from flicking through Wisden). This raises an interesting prospect of counties aiming for a different "golden egg" and tailoring their squads for Twenty20. Although good news for the importance of Twenty20 and good news in terms of more money for a few counties, it does mean the fun of Twenty20 might start to be stamped out of the game by the administrators. It being what they are best at.

I understand that Warwickshire might be putting in an application to represent South Africa at the Twenty20 club championship as a franchise, if they can secure a couple more Kolpaks.

- "two kolpaks short of a franchise". Is that a euphemism? It should be. It is now.


VIDEO: Waqar Younis Removes 2 Stumps

Before he was an outstanding coach Mark Greatbatch was a handy batsman.


Thursday, 13 September 2007

Division Two

So it was finally confirmed this afternoon that Warwickshire were going to be playing in Division Two of the County Championship, a mere three years after winning the competition. Although not a surprise by any means, given their recent form, the relegation is still a bitter pill to swallow.

There is now little doubt that Mark Greatbatch will leave his position as director of coaching, the only thing that remains to be seen is the timing of this change. Greatbatch again stated his desire to remain in the job and said he would be disappointed to not be coaching the club next year.

It is unclear whether he still genuinely feels he has a job to do at the club and whether he can contribute, or whether this is an example of the continuing "football-isation" of cricket - With an under performing head coach unwilling to do the honourable thing and resign, and risk missing out on a lucrative "golden handshake" package when fired. Greatbatch still has a year to run on his contract and it does not make financial sense for him to quit. However in staying on, he has arguably ruined his chances of employment elsewhere. If he had walked a month ago after Scarborough he could have claimed a player revolt, lack of board support, any old cock-and-bull story and retained some kind of credibility. However in sticking around and proving beyond any doubt that he was incapable of reversing the slide he started, he has shown himself to be completely incompetent as a coach and very unlikely to gain other employment, in England at least.

Let us hope that there is better news to follow in the coming months as there is no doubt that a section of the membership, your correspondent included, will be monitoring the announcement regarding the coaching and playing staff with interest, with a view to whether they renew their membership or not.


Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Warwickshire on the brink

Every time you keep thinking it can't get any worse this season, Warwickshire managed to find new depths to plumb. Thankfully as I am still in full time employment it is not easy for me to get to away games, so I was not at Old Trafford today to see Warwickshire capitulate in outstanding fashion.
To sum up; Warwickshire were bowled out for 106, having won the toss and chosen to bat, and Lancashire were 156/4 at stumps; Ant Botha removing the dangerous Horton in the last over of the day. This translates into 1 bonus bowling point (with 2 more to play for) and 0/5 batting points.
Meanwhile at Southampton, Kent had made the not inconsiderable total of 342/5. Which translates to 3 bonus batting points (with one more on offer for 350 and a fifth for 400 tomorrow).

The live table tonight therefore reads:

Warwickshire 16* 2 4 0 9 0 137
Kent 15* 2 4 0 7 1 130
Worcestershire 15 1 7 0 5 2 91

With the Bears having 2 more bonus points to play for and Kent having 5 to go for. It seems increasingly likely that Kent will overhaul us without needing the extra game. And confirming this as Warwickshire's worst season for some time, possibly ever.

George Dobell in today's Post writes a good article on their current woes and where it has all gone wrong, also picking out some telling statistics. Now I accept that statistics cannot tell the whole story, however there are some gems in there. I have updated them as of today's match;

- The fewest wickets every taken by Warwickshire in a first-class season is 188 (185 in the championship). This season Warwickshire have [currently] claimed only [163]. A new record is certain.

- The fewest wickets taken in a season by Warwickshire's highest wicket-taker is 39 by Waqar Younis in 2003. The leader this year is Jimmy Anyon with [32].

- The highest bowling average of Warwickshire's leading wicket-taker in a season is 36.60 by Vasbert Drakes in 2001. Anyon's average is currently [43.75].

- The worst strike-rate (the number of balls taken to claim each wicket) in Warwickshire's history is 78.81 in 1979. This year it is 81.03. The next worse by any side in either division is Worcestershire, who take a wicket, on average, every 70.93 deliveries.

- Tim Ambrose, with 840 first-class runs, is the only player in the squad with a realistic chance of achieving 1,000 runs in the season. The last time that Warwickshire failed to produce a single player who reached that target was in 1919. [As at the moment he has 842 with one innings to go....]

Another interesting stat I have heard a few times, first relayed to me by Mrs Raggy Bear who heard it in the bus queue for the No1 outside the ground is that;

- The last time Warwickshire produced a home-grown specialist seamer that went on to win his county cap was 1977. His name was Steve Perryman.

There is no easy fix for Warwickshire, but to continue to deny that anything needs changing and to continually look for quick fixes is going to send this club right to the wall.


Monday, 10 September 2007

Thoughts on the Member's Forum

Mark Greatbatch is quoted in The Post today saying:

Asked whether he was surprised by the hostile reception he received at the club 'forum' last week, he countered: "Not really. There were some good questions, but there was a lot of beer drunk beforehand and there were some idiots there."

I've seen this has been greeted with some derision on the Edgbaston Forum but I have to say he wasn't far wide of the mark. I am no Greatbatch fan and to be fair I don't think there was that much drunkenness (apart from one bloke at the back, by the door), but I was shocked by the behaviour of some members. It wasn't that it was unacceptable or anything of that nature, it was just so counter-productive.

I know that Dennis Amiss originally proposed a cut off of 8.15 before having to relent, but he did repeatedly say everyone who wanted to would have their say and I think this was borne out - at the end there was no-one who had their hand up. It therefore seemed to me completely unnecessary and idiotic to shout things out while people on the panel were trying to speak. I was really surprised that there was a sizeable minority that clear either did know, or had forgotten, how to behave in a meeting. That emotions were running high is no excuse, I went to the forum to hear a panel of WCCC staff answer some tough questions, I did not go to listen to people heckle them. Sadly I was disappointed on both counts.

I feel that part of the problem was the general lack of organisation and focus, which when feelings were running high just contributed to the feeling of "them" on the panel and "us" in the audience. The result was very few probing questions, members of the panel cut-off mid answer because some idiot in the audience didn't agree with what they were saying, and a general let-off for the people in charge. I'm sure this won't be a popular view, but on the remote chance someone at the meeting reads and disagrees with me, I would say; imagine you have stood up to ask a question and are constantly interrupted by either other members or even Dennis Amiss shouting "rubbish" at you. They may have a point, but its just not an acceptable way to behave.

Going onto the questions;
* The car parking is a shambles
* It took me half-an-hour to get out the Priory Road entrance after the ODI
* Why were their no tank-tops in the shop during the ODI, when the whether was quite cold?
* Will there be a reduction in membership if we are relegated?
* Why was a whole car park reserved for SKY during televised games?
* Why do members have to pay a booking fee on other tickets?
* Why wasn't the "greatest ever" match publicised more?
* Are we donating money to charity for the event?

Were these people having a laugh? We are facing a double relegation and some bloke is moaning about the club missing out on tank-top royalties and having to drive round the block before being able to park!

OK, so I've got that off my chest, but what to do? Well I have two very simple solutions.

i) The members forum is run by the members. At the moment the club organises the event, which in itself is fine, but it is chaired by a club representative (this time DA, but I believe Povey would normally take it). Instead get a sensible member to act as chair, we must among the members have people experienced in chairing meetings. If one of them took it they would have more respect from the members and I believe would be better placed to keep more control than someone perceived as part of the problem. It may also be necessary to introduce a clear, simple code of conduct so every member knows what is expected of them; although I'd be in favour of only doing this if necessary.

ii) Get people to submit in questions beforehand to the chair, or a committee of members. They can then select the ones to be asked to help ensure a smooth meeting, where we as the members focus what we want to say. By all means the most relevant person on the panel can provide written answers to any other questions that aren't asked, possibly publishing these on the website. There would also be an open floor later on, but I anticipate the number of pressing questions should be reduced by the organised question section.

If we had done this for the last forum then we could have given Povey, Greatbatch and the others a real rough ride and could have got some answers, instead of missing an opportunity.


Sunday, 9 September 2007

All still to do

As expected the Bears went down to Surrey just after lunch today by 9 wickets. I didn't go down to the ground today, but instead followed the score on Cricinfo. It appeared that as with so many games this season, it wasn't so much the result that mattered, quite so much as the way the result came about.
It is a damning indictment of the type of cricket that Warwickshire have been playing recently, that left with realistically nothing but pride to play for this morning, they were again found wanting. On a forth day pitch, which had been offering a small degree of turn on the second day, and some help to the seemers throughout, they were only able to muster one wicket between them. And not to mention Surrey knocked off the runs at a rate of just under 4 - faster than the other three innings, indicating that they were not exactly cautious, at least not after the opening 20 or so overs.

Warwickshire must now pick themselves up and get at least a draw at Old Trafford to stay up. They are 9 points ahead of Kent, having played a game more. Both teams will play on Tuesday before Kent make up their game against Durham a week on Wednesday (19th). Realistically they will have to match Kent's points tally this week, forcing Kent to win their last game.


Some Thoughts on Next Season

At the moment it is not certain which division Warwickshire will be playing their Championship cricket in next year, but what is clear is that some changes will need to be made before their campaign starts.
I have had a lot of trouble finding out information about who we are signing, who we aren't signing and who we are releasing so more for my own use than anything else I have been trying to compile as much information as possible on our player activities at the moment:

Neil Carter - Has now been offered a new contract following the club's earlier announcement around August 2nd that he was surplus to requirements. It has not been announced whether he will be accepting this deal or not. (members forum, IC Birmingham)

Dougie Brown - Will not be offered a playing deal next season, but curiously is still meeting Povey on 17th September to "discuss his future". On September 06th it was reported that him and Reeve had offered their 'support' to the club, which seems to indicate a coaching function. (Members forum & IC Birmingham)

Alex Loudon - Is out of contract this season, but has expressed a desire to stay with the club (12th August - Post)

Michael Powell - is out of contract this season, but wants to stay (12th July - Mail)

Nayan Doshi - Following all the problems with his registration it seems as if he might not play for Warwickshire at all. He has had an operation on his shoulder and the club will monitor his progress. He has signed some odd contract that no doubt Mr Povey feels is awfully clever, but the upshot seems to be if he doesn't recover he won't really have a contract. It remains to be seen whether he would play with Botha.. (Forum)

Ant Botha - He has signed until 2009. He is not actually a Kolpak, as he discovered his dad was not his real dad, and his real dad was born in England. (IC Birmingham)

Vaughan Van Jaarsveld - Another problem registration, ultimately he will play in the squad from next season, as he is marrying his fiancée in the offseason, who apparently has an EU passport. (Forum)

Heath Streak - Has retired from the end of the season. I must confess I was never completely convinced by him as a bear, but this is a very good article on his contribution to the club.

Ian Bell - Povey has assured the members at the forum that he is on a very long term contract, which is good news following his frustration at not been picked for the C&G semi-final.

Jim Troughton - signed up for next two season (club website)

Tim Groenewald - signed up for next two season (club website)

Alfonso Thomas - he's South African, he's a little over medium pace. What's not to like? No confirmation yet, but I fully expect him as a Kolpak next season.

Michael Barnes - Has been released by the club (club website - updated 11/09)

Adam Shantry - Has been released by the club (club website - updated 11/09)

This is all the info I have on the current playing staff, if anyone knows anything else, please post a comment.

Rumours/potential signings:
Mushtaq Ahmed - at 37, one for the future. I don't think anyone apart from Mr Povey thinks we can get him. Latest news is that the post reported 05/09 that Povey hadn't given up on getting him, despite him agreeing a new contract with Sussex, because there have been "complications" in the negotiations. Confirmed on Cricinfo and the Guardian that he has signed for two more years with Sussex (11/09)

Stephen Flemming - has confirmed he will not be rejoining Notts next year. Although with NZ touring next year do we really need another half-seasoner??

Shane Bond - really? Do we not have enough injured seemers!? Anyway at least he is a real quick, but see above for problems with NZ players.

Boyd Rankin - Appears we might just be trying to raid Derbyshire. Has been reported that we have made a formal approach. But only 4 CC games for mediocre mid-table Div2 Derbyshire tells a story. I don't have any faith in our bowling coaching to bring through talent, so I don't see the point in signing him.

Niall O'Brien - It was reported that we had made an approach to Northants on Aug 15th (IC Birmingham), although it is all based on Tim Ambrose getting an England call. Not sure why he would want to come as an understudy...

It seems to me that our seem bowling department is the one that needs the overseas boost. Mushtaq is going nowhere and each county is only allowed one overseas - so where is Naved-Ul-Hasan going? 50 wickets at 28 in the championship suggests he is no slouch, he is out of the reckoning in the international team at the moment and Pakistan have virtually no cricket during the English summer, so he would almost certainly play every game. We are going after the wrong Sussex player in my opinion.


Warwickshire v Surrey - Day 3

Yesterday's play was another depressing chapter in what will almost certainly be our double relegation season. I have to confess I left at 8 wickets down and went home, unable to watch our tail try and lift us to anything like a competitive target. Today I am going to watch the cricinfo score and I might wander down if we start to take any wickets.

It is looking more and more likely that we will have to rely on the rain up at Old Trafford to get a draw with some bonus points and then home Kent get trashed by Hampshire and Durham. Although I am starting to wonder if it might be better for us to go down, just to increase the likely hood of Greatbatch getting fired...