Rankin earns plaudits after victory
Warwickshire 448 and 23 for 0 beat Somerset 262 and 208 by 10 wickets
It took less than an hour for Warwickshire to wrap-up victory on the final day of their Championship match against Somerset.
When Nick Compton's obdurate resistance was finally ended - Compton, with only the hapless Charl Willoughby for company, was caught on the long-on boundary just five short of his second Championship century of the season - it left Warwickshire requiring only 23 runs for victory. They raced to the 10-wicket win in just 20 deliveries.
In truth, this game was defined on the first afternoon. An unusually hostile spell of fast bowling from Boyd Rankin ensured Somerset were unable to take advantage of winning the toss on a flat pitch. Generating sharp pace and gaining steep bounce from his towering six feet, seven inch frame, Rankin also found enough swing to claim three wickets for four runs at one stage. It was a point not lost on Somerset captain, Marcus Trescothick afterwards.
"Rankin just blew us away," Trescothick admitted. "It was a really good spell of hostile fast bowling - right up there with anything I've faced this year - and it was too good for us. He was easily the fastest bowler on either side.
"It's the best I've seen him bowl. He's up there in terms of pace, but it's his bounce that really causes the problems. And now he's swinging the ball, too. He hit me four times - that doesn't happen very often - and I just couldn't pick him up. There was nothing wrong with the pitch - it was a bit slow, if anything - and the sight screens are fine. He's just improved massively."
Trescothick is no stranger to fast bowling, of course. So to hear him talk in such terms of the 26-year-old Irishman is noteworthy. England have quite a pack of tall fast bowlers at present, but if Rankin keeps performing like this, he'll force himself into contention.
Trescothick also credited Rikki Clarke as being "a very clever bowler." That may surprise a few but the four wickets Clarke claimed in Somerset's second innings take his Championship tally this season to 30 at just 21 apiece. He's quietly become a bowling all-rounder. And a very good one.
It might be stretching a point to suggest that Warwickshire should now be considered genuine title contenders. The way that Durham and Lancashire blew them away undermines that theory. But Warwickshire have now won five games this season - as many as when they won the title in 2004 - and, at full strength, have a battery of seamers to rival any side. The one worry is the slightly disappointing form of Chris Woakes. By the very high standards he has set himself, Woakes has yet to find his best form this season.
Ashley Giles, Warwickshire's director of cricket, rated the performance as his side's "best of the season" and had particular praise for Ian Westwood, who made the top score in the match in recording his first Championship century since September 2009.
"Losing the toss could have ended with us facing a big deficit, but we were hugely disciplined throughout," Giles said. "Westwood has had a tough time, so I'm overjoyed for him. From the outside, people don't see the whole package a guy offers a team, but Ian is a pleasure to work with and really deserves his success."
Giles also had praise for Rankin. "He's a big bastard," Giles said, both simply and accurately. "And facing him upsets teams. He has a presence about him and you can see them talking, and worrying, about him.
"We always knew he had the attributes: the height, the pace and the bounce. But now we're seeing him become more consistent. That's largely because he's fitter now. In the past he was always in and out because of injuries."
Somerset's season is now at something of a crossroads. Tipped by many as prospective champions at the start of the season, they've lost half of their first eight games and, on this form, look a side more likely to finish nearer the bottom than the top of the table. Their mis-firing middle-order, perhaps cosseted by the flat tracks of Taunton, is simply not performing in these post-heavy roller days.
"We're getting off to good starts, but then it's clear to see where we're going wrong," Trescothick said, referring to his side's middle-order woes. "We're probably just lacking a bit of experience in the middle-order and losing Zander de Bruyn [to Surrey] is part of that. We can't afford to keep losing."
Tellingly, Ashley Giles admitted he was "a little surprised" at how intimidated some of Somerset's batsmen appeared to be by the pace of Rankin and Clarke.
Meanwhile, the game marked the end of an era. By the time the next Championship game begins, in the best part of a month, Warwickshire hope to have moved into their new pavilion. The hand-over date - the day the club take possession of the new facility from the builders - is just one week away and there appears to be an enormous amount of work still to be completed. With 380 builders working at the ground today, however, the club are still confident that they are on track.