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George Dobell at New Road
September 5, 2012
Worcestershire 60 and 100 for 2 trail Warwickshire 471 for 8 dec. (Chopra 195, Blackwell 84) by 311 runs
On the face of things, Ashley Giles' admission that the anxiety of his side's Championship challenge is causing him sleepless nights might be somewhat surprising. After all, it will take something approaching a miracle to deny Warwickshire now.
But, bearing in mind how close Warwickshire came to the title last year, the nerves of their director of cricket are understandable. Going into the final day of the 2011 campaign, Warwickshire required only seven wickets against Hampshire, who were already assured of relegation, to secure the Championship. On a slow and flat pitch, however, Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie batted with admirable resolution to deny them. It left Warwickshire bitterly disappointed and, as Giles had his first cup of tea at 1.30am on Wednesday morning, it was the pain of that disappointment that lingered on his mind.
"It was pretty desperate," Giles said on the second day of this game at New Road. "I wasn't suicidal, but it was desperate, I think everyone in the team felt the same and it's why we have driven so hard during the winter. It comes back sometimes. You are just driven to keep going, keep working hard and keep up the discipline and then you find yourself in this position as a result of all the hard work.
"But my message to the team ahead of this game was: there is an opportunity; go and get it; don't let it pass you by. Championships don't come very often.
"We talk a lot about legacy. For a long time we talked about the Warwickshire teams of the 1990s. But this is our chance to create our own history. It is about this team, not about what happened 20 years ago.
"So yes, in the last few weeks I have had some trouble sleeping. There's so much going on. There's this; there's the CB40. As soon as I wake-up I'm thinking about cricket."
There should certainly be no doubt about how much Giles - or his Warwickshire side - want this title. He won the Ashes in 2005 and played a part in teams that won Championship titles in 1995, when he played half the season, and 2004, when he played one game, but he admits this success would be "right up there" in terms of his achievements.
"As a coach, winning the Championship is the ultimate," Giles said. "The true test of a cricket team over a whole season is winning division one. And you see the guys who have won it as coach - Bob Woolmer and John Inverarity - and you think 'that's nice.' That team of the 90s won so much. Maybe this would mean more.
"I'm probably a far better coach now than I was two years ago. You learn from every experience and you move on. Let's not talk about coaching England: I've always said I'd love to do it someday, but I've plenty to do here for now."
If - perhaps that should be when - Warwickshire do secure this title, they will have particular cause to thank Varun Chopra. The 25-year-old ensured a huge first innings lead by extending his overnight total to 195 and passing both 1,000 first-class runs and 1,000 Championship runs in the process. It is the second year in a row he has reached the landmark. Only two men, the Somerset pair of Nick Compton and James Hildreth, have scored more this season.
He might have also made a decent case for a place on England's Test tour of India. Geoff Miller, the national selector, was among those at New Road and, with England searching for a new opening batsman, cannot fail to have been impressed by the elegance of Chopra's strokeplay. He cuts, pulls, drives and glances beautifully and, if one or two bowlers might fancy their chances against his high back-lift, it did Graham Gooch and Brian Lara little harm.
Chopra survived a couple of chances - on 44 and 149 - when he flashed through the slips and will surely face far sterner challenges if he is promoted to the next level. Alan Richardson, whose figures are a travesty of justice after another wholehearted performance, tested him here, but few would pretend this is a daunting bowling attack. Three of the bowlers conceded more than four an over; the main spinner almost as much and the fielding became ragged.
"Everyone knows what's up for grabs," Giles said. "And with no obvious candidate, there is an opportunity for someone. I'm pleased for him: he has scored 1,000 runs back-to-back. He still has some polishing to do, but when he is good, he is very good."
Warwickshire eventually extended their first innings lead to an eye-watering 411. Ian Blackwell and Keith Barker thumped the ball around New Road merrily, the latter hoping to persuade Warwickshire to offer him a longer-term deal. But this was barely competitive cricket. Worcestershire, tired and seemingly resigned to relegation, cut a dispirited sight.
Worcestershire, requiring their highest Championship score of the season to avoid an innings defeat, started poorly. Phil Hughes, with negligible foot movement and scant regard for the situation, launched into a horrid slash in the second over that was well held at third slip, though Matt Pardoe and Daryl Mitchell then displayed far more resistance in adding 76 in 25 overs.
Perhaps Chris Wright and, in particular, Keith Barker, failed to make the batsmen play as much as they might have done, but this was an encouraging partnership that spoke of the character and ability within the dressing room that hints at encouraging times ahead. Pardoe, cutting a long hop to cover, fell shortly before the close, but it is around such young men that the future of Worcestershire must be built.
If they need any further encouragement, they need only consider the example of their near neighbours. In 2007, Warwickshire were relegated in both the first-class and limited-overs leagues and, with players leaving, the ground decaying and their coach sacked, the future looked grim. Transforming Worcestershire will not be easy but, with calm heads, some vision and good management, it can be done.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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