June 17, 2013

County cricket 2013

Time for champions to show some adventure

Andy Bloxham
Keith Barker acknowledges the crowd after making his highest first-class score of 125, Surrey v Warwickshire, County Championship, Division One, Guildford, 2nd day, June 6, 2013
Keith Barker's return was very welcome against Surrey, but Warwickshire batted on too long  © Getty Images
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I have been somewhat ambivalent toward Warwickshire's season. It just hasn't quite got going, has it? Then Guildford happened (more of that later), at which point I became as aggravated as a vertically challenged Australian opener furiously attempting to swat a bandy-legged youth donning a false beard.

Debate rages at the prospect of the formative stages of the County Championship taking place overseas. If that decision belonged to Warwickshire, they'd probably take it. An exceptional performance against the MCC in the Champion County fixture in the UAE displayed an ability to adapt to alien conditions, where a return to the more pluvious climes of Blighty has seen them struggle for consistency amid a mass of rain curtailed draws.

It's not been the ideal start to Dougie Brown's tenure at the helm. For a man under pressure to emulate the triumphs of the departed Ashley Giles, a series of troubles have combined to leave the reigning champions in an unfamiliar, and slightly precarious, position. Defeat at Durham failed to reignite hopes of successfully defending their crown: a loss which has seen fears of the only emulation being that of Lancashire's meteoric demise last year begin to creep in.

Weather, injuries and England call-ups are unfortunate occurrences that will affect most counties, but a crushing innings defeat to Yorkshire is precisely the type of aberration noticeably absent during Warwickshire's 2012 march to success - a campaign in which they lost but once to Somerset, and that being a closely fought thriller.

Recent events have not been well received by the faithful; spend but one session on the bleachers and your ears will be bombarded with all manner of grievances. England pillage our assets with greater ferocity than Genghis Khan's Mongolian hordes did Chinese strongholds; quad muscle strains are the new bubonic plague, and that cowin' rain is costing us wins. There is an element of lesser embellished truth to each, though none can be unexpected in professional cricket. Success comes at a cost, in the case of the former, but Brummies are a measly bunch.

An unadventurous approach almost enduringly adopted by the Bears should be of greater concern. After the aforementioned deluge of draws it would arguably be wise to try and force results from a position of strength - a tactic wholly ignored during an eminently winnable stalemate on a Guildford pitch resembling a freshly resurfaced Autobahn.

With over 550 runs already on the board, and the invaluable Keith Barker (my goodness we missed him) having just completed an excellent century, captain Jim Troughton inexplicably batted on. Whilst sending out confused messages that reek of indecisiveness, it allowed Surrey to cling on for a draw, despite being asked to follow-on.

Granted that rotten luck did rear its head in some capacity, though, as premier strike bowler Chris Wright was unable to bowl through illness. All the more reason to have declared sooner: Warwickshire couldn't be more conservative if they wore blue ties, relocated to Hampshire and participated in a fox hunt.

I spoke in my previous column of a brittle top order: a conundrum that is yet to be remedied. Injury to the impressive Laurie Evans has only added to the quandary, and illuminated further the continued masquerade being performed by William Porterfield as a batsman of Championship winning quality.

Asking Porterfield to contribute to a solid platform from which a destructive middle order can go to work is akin to utilising Jade Dernbach at the death of an innings - it works on occasion, but will most often fail spectacularly. On the basis that he couldn't do any worse, it'd be nice to see 17-year-old Sam Hain (who, interestingly, made the squad against Surrey) given a chance. Rave reviews of his talent are plentiful.

That aside, and ignoring the bitter blow that is the loss of Chris Woakes to England, there's not a whole lot wrong with us, which perhaps fuels my frustration. It's been a drab and underwhelming season to date, but with a few slices of luck, players returning from injury and a modicum of badly lacking intent there is a slim chance that a late push for the summit can be mustered. There is an old adage within sporting circles that it is harder to defend a title than to win one, a maxim that has quickly proved itself accurate to those of us at Edgbaston.

We need to start winning soon, though. It'll take a mammoth effort from here.

After receiving a golden duck on debut, Andy Bloxham opted to write about cricket instead. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (June 17, 2013, 19:24 GMT)

Our top order, Chopra apart, were lucky to be part of a Championship winning side last year. Now, unfortunately, our lower order have not been able to match last season's heroics with the bat, so our weak top order has been seriously exposed for what it is.

Porterfield just isn't good enough in the longer form of the game, surely there must be someone in the background who deserves a chance. I'd rather see a youngster averaging 25 and getting experience than Porterfield failing consistently.

Our bowling resources have been ravaged this season, but hopefully that is behind us now. I feel we'll have Woakes back for an extended spell after this Champions Trophy.

If we can recover to finish in the top half, it won't be a disaster.

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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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