Warwickshire make amends with big win
Warwickshire 376 and 60 for 1 beat Nottinghamshire 117 and 318 by nine wickets
The last time Warwickshire left Trent Bridge - last August - they did so having been bowled out twice in a day and as victims of an innings defeat. It was an embarrassing performance. What a difference a few months makes. This time, Warwickshire left with a fourth win in six games and as the top of the table side. That's not a bad record for a team who were tipped as relegation candidates by most bookies.
So, should Warwickshire now be considered as genuine championship contenders? Wins over Nottinghamshire and Somerset - pre-season favourites for the Championship - bode well, but winning the title may prove a bridge too far. For all their improvement this season - and they do look a stronger squad - the real tests lie ahead.
The depth of their squad will be sorely tested in the coming weeks. For a start, Warwickshire are unlikely to see any more of Ian Bell or Jonathan Trott, who now depart on England duty. William Porterfield and Boyd Rankin will play the first two days of next week's Championship game against Durham before leaving to represent Ireland (substitutes will be allowed).
Jim Troughton should be fit to return next week but, with the likes of Neil Carter, Chris Woakes and Ant Botha unlikely to return from injury until the start of the T20 season, the depth of Warwickshire's squad will be tested. Even in this game, Darren Maddy, 37 on Monday, was forced to bowl the most overs in one innings he has managed in his career. New Zealand offspinner, Jeetan Patel, has been signed as an overseas player for the T20.
"That was a very good performance," Ashley Giles, Warwickshire's director of cricket said afterwards. "All I told the guys was to remember the feeling we had when we left here last year. Bell played a class innings and we won the game with our first innings bowling: we went at them hard and it shocked them a bit.
"We're still improving. But, if you can go to Taunton and Trent Bridge and win, then you're doing something right. It doesn't make much difference who is top of the table at the end of May. But if we're top at the end of July then I do think we can challenge, as we tend to finish the season strongly."
Nottinghamshire's chances of retaining the title have clearly taken a heavy blow over the last couple of weeks . In due course, however, they will welcome back the likes of Samit Patel, Alex Hales, Neil Edwards, Darren Pattinson, Luke Fletcher, Andy Carter and Graeme White, and have proved mightily adept at bouncing back from adversity in recent seasons. It would be unwise to write them off just yet.
At least Nottinghamshire made Warwickshire fight on the third day. Adam Voges and Paul Franks stretched their overnight stand to 174 - the club's highest fifth-wicket stand against Warwickshire - with Franks registering his highest first-class score for six years. With a series of pleasing square drives and pulls, Franks looked set for his first century since 2005 until he edged one angled across him. Voges fell to an outstanding slip catch by Varun Chopra, diving full stretch to his right.
A merry ninth-wicket stand of 54 between Andre Adams and Stuart Broad diverted the embarrassment of an innings defeat. Adams, racing to his third half-century in three games from just 29 balls, thrashed Naqaash Tahir for 16 in three balls at one stage, with a pulled six landing on the roof of the Fox Road Stand.
In truth, however, such partnerships only served to highlight the lack of resistance the previous day and delay the inevitable. Nottinghamshire's lamentable batting on the second day - and Bell's excellence in Warwickshire's first innings - had given away too much ground to make up. Set just 60 to win, Warwickshire cantered to victory in just eight overs. Bell, again timing the ball quite beautifully, underlined the impression that he is in wonderful touch. At one stage he took poor Charlie Shreck for four successive boundaries.
Afterwards, Notts' director of cricket, Mick Newell, declined to highlight his side's batting frailties. "Our squad has been exposed a little," he admitted, "but the difference was that we were out-bowled throughout the game. Rankin bowled a quick, aggressive spell; Maddy swung it and we weren't able to cope."
But Newell and Giles admitted that Broad looked a little short of cricket going into the Test series against Sri Lanka. In the two Championship games he played last year, Broad claimed 19 wickets. This year, he's managed just five and they're coming at a cost of 44 apiece. "He's not played any serious cricket since mid-December, so he's still looking for his rhythm and form," Newell said. "The Championship is there to get him back for England, but he's definitely been a bit under-done and the two games he played have looked like extended nets."
Giles agreed. "He's bound to be a bit under-done," he said. "Trott, Swann and Broad are probably not quite there yet, but there's another week until the Test starts, so they should be fine by then."
It was telling, however, that as spectators left Trent Bridge, Swann returned to the middle for some more bowling.