April 4, 2013

County previews

Consecutive titles is a distinct possibility

Andy Bloxham
Chris Wright is to Jim Troughton what Harold Larwood was to Douglas Jardine  © PA Photos
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Oscar Wilde once coined the phrase "consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative". For all of Wilde's undoubted wisdom, it is a notion that Warwickshire - through inelaborate yet ruthlessly proficient cricket - impugned and ultimately denounced in a Championship winning 2012.

With the appointment of former assistant coach Dougie Brown as director of cricket in wake of Ashley Giles' England summons, and the dual promotion of esteemed bowling coach Graeme Welch to Assistant Coach and Tony Frost to full-time batting coach, the Bears intend to demonstrate that consistency is indeed the greatest bastion of success.

An extensive shortlist including the likes of West Indies coach Ottis Gibson had been drawn up in pursuit of Giles' successor as Warwickshire, quite rightly, sought to explore numerous options. Yet it speaks volumes for an inner belief and intrinsic team spirit that Gibson - and a host of other globally recognised names - was disregarded in favour of continuity and preservation of a core team whose interests and ideologies are synchronous to those of the club.

As Brown prepares to lead his newly acquired charges in defence of their title, it is consistency and an indomitable team spirit that must again be summoned. A batting line-up not dissimilar in depth to the expense receipts collection of an MP - complemented by persistent bowling and exceptional fielding - were the dominant features of Warwickshire's success in 2012, where imposing first innings totals followed by a systematic strangulation of opposition batsmen became habitual. With an operating loss of £668,000 for 2012 limiting scope to enlist additional personnel, similar principals will surely be applied in 2013.

A lack of high profile imports will not concern many at Warwickshire. An experienced squad will merely be supplemented by the youthful vigour of promising youngsters Sam Hain, Freddie Coleman and Oliver Hannon-Dalby, but under the captaincy of Jim Troughton - a man who attracts glowing endorsements from those he marshals - a steely belief and will to win has enveloped Edgbaston. Hallmarks of the Giles legacy and philosophy of Troughton are not difficult to recognise in the personnel that carried the Bears to Championship glory. It is a unit devoid of ego and showmanship; for many, what is now an integral role in a flourishing environment was but a while ago a career constructed on the foundations of setback and disappointment.

In short, Troughton's charges possess a homogeneous discipline and drive to succeed. Several have walked hand in hand with failure at previous clubs, an old companion with which none will be eager to reacquaint. Perhaps tellingly, those very players are often Warwickshire's most outstanding performers, and none more so than Chris Wright. Wright, the revamped leader of an impressive Bears attack, is to Troughton what Larwood was to Jardine. Fast, disciplined and effective, he should again be in the running for Championship leading wicket-taker.

The retention of Jeetan Patel as overseas player for 2013 is shrewd, too. Whilst Patel's 2012 returns were impressive enough to earn a recall alone (51 wickets at 22.76), his preordained appreciation and understanding of Warwickshire values were key factors in persuading the Bears to act swiftly in securing his signature for a fourth tenure.

Patel's returns in 2012 inevitably saw the gaze of New Zealand redirected toward the gates of Edgbaston, but he should still have a key role to play. Additional international call-ups might also prove a hindrance. Whilst the absence of England stalwarts Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell is a predicament to which Warwickshire are well accustomed, the elimination of further personnel could sound a death knell for their title defence. Last season's success did not go unnoticed; England might well come calling for the services of Chris Woakes, and the Bears can also expect to lose Varun Chopra, Rikki Clarke and Chris Wright to the England Lions. A stern examination of squad depth awaits.

It isn't all about consistency, either. Brown's aspirations will surely include reversing the Bears' Twenty20 fortunes, who, in stark contrast to their Championship form, have typically performed abysmally. Likewise, a valiant losing effort in the final of the 2012 CB40 does not mask the need for improvement in that format. Utterances were heard in some quarters of Warwickshire almost playing Test cricket in the Championship, but there is some way to go before limited overs performances approach one-day international standard.

One Bear that did succeed in limited overs cricket last year is middle order batsman Laurie Evans. The former Surrey youngster had a prolific Twenty20 tournament in 2012, and looks set to be granted a belated extended run in first class cricket this season. Surrounded by an experienced batting corps, Evans possesses the talent and flair to score runs aplenty. Keep an eye out for him.

To cite the sagacious Gandalf in Lord of the Rings: "the board is set, the pieces are moving". With the 2013 County Championship season set for takeoff, expect Warwickshire to move much as they did in 2012; utilising unmatched depth of batting to combat tricky spring conditions, supplemented by the bowling nous to exploit them. The rare achievement of consecutive titles is a distinct possibility.

Likely Championship side
Varun Chopra,
Ian Westwood,
William Porterfield (Jonathan Trott when available),
Laurie Evans (Ian Bell when available),
Jim Troughton (c),
Tim Ambrose (wk),
Rikki Clarke,
Chris Woakes,
Keith Barker,
Jeetan Patel,
Chris Wright

What I love: Warwickshire is a club steeped in history. Having played host to some of the greatest names in cricket, and been the scene of that Lara 501, there is a real aura about Edgbaston.

What I'd change: The biggest cause of discontent at Edgbaston of late has been performances in Twenty20 cricket. Perhaps a renowned overseas specialist would inject much needed impetus.

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Posted by CarlP on (April 7, 2013, 0:05 GMT)

One of the best articles I've seen on this site!

Would be good to see one of the younger batsman given a run in the team (you mention Evans) as there is enough depth in the batting to cover over a few failures during the learning process.

On a slightly seperate note, it is disapointing that despite providing a large number of players available to play for England, Edgbaston does not get a test match every year. Perhaps the ECB should reward the hard work being done to develop these players as opposed to relying on overseas, or worse aging Kolpak, players. Plus it's a great ground!

Posted by   on (April 5, 2013, 22:15 GMT)

Thanks, Jack.

Speaking of that seam attack, there are also a couple of young guys in Recordo Gordon and Tom Milnes that, whilst unlikely to play much (if at all), are quite promising. With an injury to Paul Best, spin is the one area that Warks are perhaps thin on the ground.

I think Clarke and Woakes will be fine, both are excellent batsmen and I'd be shocked if either averaged below the mid-30's. Whilst there may not be a single batsman consistently scoring hundreds, what Warks do have is personnel capable of 30's, 40's, 50's from almost 1 through to 11. It soon adds up. Add to that Porterfield and Troughton struggling last year and they should be OK.

You make good points, it'll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Thanks for the comment.

Posted by   on (April 5, 2013, 14:06 GMT)

Great Article. Really enjoyed that!

Like the look of a seam attack with Wright, Woakes, Clarke and Barker with Rankin and Hannon-Dalby in reserves. Looks really well rounded, and lots of depth.

I do worry for the batting though. Although not 'lucky', i doubt that Clarke and Woakes are both going to be as prolific with the bat as they were last year. Chopra looks in great knick, but i worry for the middle with Westwood, Troughton, Maddy etc.. I don't think there are enough runs in there to dominate. If Woakes and Clarke do not continue form with the bat i don't think you'll be able to get the balance right between bat and ball, and ultimately you may struggle vs some of the stronger sides.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Bloxham
After receiving a golden duck on debut, Andy Bloxham opted to write about cricket instead. He is a 25-year-old quantity surveyor by profession but cricket writer by obsession. By virtue of growing up watching England in the 1990s, he regards a spectacular batting collapse as a thing of barbarous splendour, although he rarely induces them with his 12 variations of long hop. He has written for All Out Cricket and blogs at the Huffington Post UK. You can view his personal blog here

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