Top three is top priority
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the five Fireside Poets, once said "into each life some rain must fall." It is rumoured, without testimony I hasten to add, that Longfellow continued "but into each cricket ground where Warwickshire County Cricket Club are playing, and particularly if victory is all but assured, a deluge to make even Gene Kelly hastily seek shelter must intervene."
And thus the theme persists. Warwickshire's lingering title hopes are dashed by the elements, and I continue to lament the injustice of it all like a member of the Australian press corps would a comprehensive Ashes defeat.
There is change in the air at Edgbaston. Dougie Brown remains a disciple of an enormously successful Ashley Giles regime - and possesses the same tools with which to accomplish grand feats of his own - but much as David Moyes must impose his own style of management in the post Sir Alex era at Manchester United, so Brown must follow suit with the Bears.
The realisation that trust can no longer be vested in a delicate top three that's been bailed out more times than a Cypriot bank by its lower middle-order colleagues has at length registered. The outstanding Varun Chopra aside, it is an area of conspicuous weakness.
In response, Warwickshire have looked to flex their financial muscles by serving 28-days notice of their interest in Somerset duo Nick Compton and Jos Buttler. Compton, an obdurate opening batsman and the player most apposite to the Bears top order needs, has since committed his future to Somerset. It would have been an exceptional signing, but nevertheless demonstrates that Brown has astutely highlighted his key areas for improvement.
Buttler, on the other hand, has doubtless been targeted with Warwickshire's limited-overs strife in mind. Whilst his precocious talent unquestionably has a fine future in first-class cricket, it is his unconventionally destructive capabilities against a white ball that have seen him forge his reputation with both Somerset and England. On the back of yet another doomed FLt20 campaign, and a truly dismal YB40 effort after which the sole object adorning the Edgbaston trophy cabinet is a wooden spoon, Buttler's would be a momentous signature.
Such a maverick might also facilitate supporters paying greater heed to the cricket, as opposed to travelling opposition fans. The Eric Hollies stand, infamous in international circles for engendering a raucously carnival atmosphere, was not an altogether pleasant place to reside during the Bears' home Twenty20 fixture against arch rivals Worcestershire. It began with verbal baiting, escalated with the hurling of £4.50 pints of lager (a profligate recklessness, no doubt), and culminated in minor skirmishes that even spilled outside of the ground upon the winning runs being struck. Therein lies the issue with Twenty20 cricket taking place of a Friday evening.
Attendances will be up, so too will the proceeds as thirsty punters feverishly endeavour to keep themselves well oiled, but it rapidly adopts the air of a football match - only with beer permitted inside the viewing area. It's no place for a family, and it remains to be seen whether an adequate balance for cricket lover, beer glugger and those that fall under the banner of both can be achieved. Alternate between Friday's and Sunday's, perhaps? Families are the lifeblood of most cricket clubs, and the wants of that demographic mustn't be lightly cast aside.
Thankfully, yours truly and a few pals do not constitute a family. After leaving the boxing gloves at home we did our bit for the Edgbaston coffers whilst concurrently staving off dehydration, and ultimately had an enjoyable time watching first 'The Beard That's Feared' (Moeen Ali) then Rikki Clarke treat bowlers with utter disdain. The atmosphere wasn't entirely ghastly, either; the vast majority were exceedingly vocal in support of their teams and cheered each boundary as one would a dropped glass in a crowded pub. One could almost pronounce, ignoring the unsavoury aspects for a moment, that English Twenty20 had found its niche.
Faith in the Warwickshire devotees was, however, briskly restored upon venturing to Edgbaston for the final YB40 fixture of the season against Northamptonshire. A bank holiday allowed for a reasonable crowd - consisting primarily of those aforementioned families - to generate a warm atmosphere as we bid farewell to a marvel of the English game in Darren Maddy.
In keeping with Warwickshire's YB40 campaign he had an absolute stinker, of course, but that is beside the point. Northants formed a guard of honour upon Maddy's turn to bat, and the belligerent David Willey paid a personalised tribute by repeatedly smiting anything that Maddy bowled at him in to the stands. As a batsman that fashioned his own reputation upon the sabotage of bowling figures, it was a gesture he's sure to have appreciated.
Maddy departs leaving a fine legacy and fond memories but, of equal importance, having contributed significantly to domestic cricket throughout a stellar career. It may well come to pass that, years from now, Darren Maddy is looked upon as the pioneer of Twenty20 batting. In an age seemingly destined to be dominated by cricket's youngest format, that would be a tremendous accolade indeed. We wish him all the best in his future endeavours; it has, quite literally, been a blast.