Warwickshire subside to Lancashire's spinners
Lancashire 227 and 189 beat Warwickshire 172 and 97 by 147 runs
For many years Lancashire have been considered the 'chokers' of county cricket. Despite possessing some of the most talented squads of players, they've not managed to win the County Championship outright since 1934.
Despite that record, hardly a season has started since without someone predicting that 'this could be their year.' And, bearing in mind the talent at their disposal, Lancashire's lack of success is remarkable. But not this year. A Lancashire team lacking a host of departed senior players - the likes of Flintoff, Law, Cork, Loye, Sutcliffe - and unable to afford replacements or the big-name overseas players that have become familiar at Old Trafford, was seen by most observers as probable also-rans in this season's championship. Some even predcited a struggle to avoid relegation.
Yet, here they are, with a quarter of the championship season played, sitting on top of the table with three wins out of four. Perhaps this really could be the year, after all.
If that is to be the case, they will have to rely on some young and relatively inexperienced cricketer. But if the evidence of this game is anything to go by, they have the strength in depth to sustain a challenge.
Here, Simon Kerrigan rose to the challenge. Just 21 years old, this was Kerrigan's first Championship appearance of the season. And he seized his chance superbly. Kerrigan claimed five wickets for just seven runs as Warwickshire, set an improbable 245 to win, subsided to just 97 all out.
Kerrigan, making excellent use of an unusually poor pitch, sparked a remarkable collapse that saw Warwickshire lose their final seven wickets for the addition of just 11 runs. In all, Lancashire's two left-arm spinners, Kerrigan and Gary Keedy, took eight wickets for nine runs between them.
Afterwards, Lancashire's coach, Peter Moores, was honest enough to admit that Kerrigan would not have played had one of the five injured seamers been available.
"Simon would have missed out had one of the seamers been fit," Mooores said. "But we've always known he's a good bowler. He's been in every squad and he took three five-wicket hauls last year.
"There are opportunities at this club. Everyone knows we've lost lots of senior players and that we don't have the cash to sign an overseas batter. But we've a squad of 19, 16 of which are Lancashire lads, and they're all excited about playing. There are some good young players coming through here and maybe the fact that no-one was expecting us to challenge as much this season has done us a bit of a favour."
Ashley Giles, a man who knows a thing or two about left-arm spin, was also impressed by Kerrigan. As Warwickshire's director of cricket put it: "he's a very, very good bowler and he could become very good." Well, you know what he means.
It may be worth noting that, aside from England selector Giles, both England coach, Andy Flower and Academy Director David Parsons were at Edgbaston to watch this performance. It should be no surprise if Kerrigan is named in the England Lions team which is picked next week.
But having been said, he won't play on many pitches, anywhere in the world, that suit him as much as this. It was, by any accounts, a shocker. Despite Warwickshire subsiding to their lowest first-class score this century (not since April 1999, when they were dismissed for 86 by Essex at Chelmsford, have Warwickshire been dismissed for under 100), Giles refused to blame his batsmen.
And that's what makes this defeat even more galling from a Warwickshire perspective: they had to come to terms with the fact that their own groundsman had prepared a pitch pretty much tailor made for their opposition. It was a point not lost on Giles.
"The pitch suited their attack too much," he said through gritted teeth afterwards. "We gave away home advantage. There was too much reliance on the toss and it was too much like Russian Roulette. Our spin department is a little thin at the moment [first choice spinner, Ant Botha has just undergone a knee operation] so we didn't want to play on a wicket that turned square.
"I can't fault the fight our batsmen showed. The odds were against them. They were up against two top-class left-arm spinners on a pitch that was perfect for them."
Not all Warwickshire's batsmen demonstrated much resistance, however. Mohammad Yousuf, supposedly the most experienced batsman on either side, charged down the wicket and, with his head in the air, attempted to hit Kerrigan into Staffordshire. It was a wretched shot.
Ian Bell wasn't the victim of a great ball, either. Faced with one slanted down the leg side, Bell attempted to flick it through the leg side, but lobbed a leading edge to square-leg. Jonathan Trott, who simply missed a sweep, battled hard, but never looked fluent.
Most of their colleagues, however, were blameless. With the ball spitting and turning sharply, Moores admitted that batting became "a lottery." And, with Essex having won the toss and batted first, when the wicket was at its most docile and least indented, it was a lottery for which Warwickshire didn't have a ticket.
To make matters worse, Rikki Clarke faces the prospect of being penalised for dissent. Clarke, adjudged lbw to a Kerrigan arm-ball, left the pitch brandishing his bat to show that he had made contact with the ball. He'll be very fortunate if he escapes censure.
It wasn't just about Kerrigan, of course. Stephen Moore, Luke Procter and Gareth Cross set the platform in Lancashire's first innings, while Steven Croft batted well in their second.
Lancashire were grateful to James Anderson and Keedy, too. Earlier on the final day, they suffered a collapse of their own, losing five wickets for seven runs at one stage, before the tenth-wicket pair put the game well beyond the hosts with a stand of 35.
In the end, however, the target was well beyond Warwickshire, who are left to ponder two defeats in two and the annoying sense that, by preparing such a pitch, they had all but committed suicide.