Warwickshire's opening match of the season ended in defeat yesterday. Perhaps fittingly picking out the positive and negative indicators from of the match is as tricky as picking the winner during the first 10 sessions of the match itself.
Firstly I want to start with the positives as I see them. The match was an absolute cracker as entertainment. I might not speak for all Warwickshire fans, but I would much rather have competitive cricket of this type all season and for Warwickshire to get relegated, than having a succession of bore draws and first division status secured on bonus points.
Memory is a tricky thing, but I make this the only properly competitive first class match we've had at Edgbaston for at least 3 seasons, although I'm prepared to be corrected. It certainly makes a welcome change and its a relief that when a pitch which balances bat and ball is delivered, so is the entertainment. Supporters and players have been calling for this for a while.
There are a couple of caveats that need to be said though. The first is that the pitch was not part of a masterplan. Your trusty correspondent emailed the BBC commentary team and Clive Eakin (I believe) said that he'd spoken to Giles the day before and he revealed that the pitch was more a product of the season and the weather, although he added that the general plan was for more life in the pitches than has been seen recently.
The second is that Warwickshire lost. There has got to be a temptation to go back to the flat boring pitches of previous seasons to try and secure first division status with a plethora of draws and batting bonus points.
It is always difficult as a fan to look back at a lost match (however entertaining) and pick out positive performances, the temptation is to focus on the weaker showings and hold them up as reasons for the loss. I make no apologies for doing this, and as a Brummy I also make no apologies for having the common default setting of pessimism with regards to my supported sports team!
Although the match see-sawed from session-to-session, Warwickshire's failure to close out the match, or to put themselves in more commanding positions was down to two simple and fundamental failings which have dogged them since the days of Greatbatch. A failure to score enough runs, particularly under pressure, and the failure of the bowling unit to either hunt as a pack, or (in the absence of the first) to produce/sign a stand out partnership breaking bowler.
The batting really concerns me. Once Bell and Trott go on England duty, the top 5 will be (injury apart) Westwood, Chopra, Maddy, Troughton & Ambrose, which on the form of last season is not particularly imposing.
Below that the worries really start. Ricky Clarke, if he plays comes in as a 5th bowler who can bat in the top 7 and will strengthen the middle order. Our 5th specialist batsman will be either Barker, Javid or Ord. I am not convinced that a line-up of say:
Westwood, Chopra, Maddy, Troughton, Ambrose, Clarke, Barker, Woakes, N.Tahir, Carter, I. Tahir
Is going to be consistently posting 350-450 on pitches with even a little bit in them.
The bowling has hamstrung Warwickshire for years. Make no mistake it is getting better, but that is a relative term. Woakes has a lot of potential to become a great player, but possibly a great England player.. What Warwickshire need is to develop a pack mentality where all the bowlers keep up pressure and contribute to wickets at the other end, not just taking them themselves. To often we see sloppy bowling at one end letting the pressure up.
Carter is a great trier, but this is surely his last season of significant first class cricket, when you look beyond him & Woakes it becomes tricky to pick the best out of the remaining 6 seamers. Essentially we have an awful lot of 4th and 5th seamers; just about 1st change standard. Even Carter and Woakes have mainly heart/experience and potential respectively to recommend them rather than consistent, penetrative performances.
There is no easy fix to this, and I make my comments about the team not to doom-monger, or be unnecessarily pessimistic off the back of one game; but rather to provide a note of caution and realism to reports pre-season of a title challenge and competitiveness in all formats.
Our players who are not quite fulfilling their potential, or living up to the talent we think they have may well come good this season and its certainly possible that we can score 500 and take 20 wickets. However I suspect we will see a battle against relegation from the championship this season, but with some possibility of light relief in the form of a few One Day adventures.
I certainly hope we see much more of the fantastic competitive cricket we were treated to over the past four days.
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