Warwickshire win Championship title
Warwickshire 471 (Chopra 195, Blackwell 84) beat Worcestershire 60 (Wright 5-24, Barker 5-36) and 209 (Wright 4-65) by an innings and 202 runs
It was perhaps fitting that Chris Wright should take the wicket that secured the 2012 County Championship title for Warwickshire. Wright, offered a lifeline in professional sport by Warwickshire just over a year ago after he was released by Essex, has bowled with pace, persistence and skill this season and provides an excellent example of what can be achieved in a supportive, positive environment.
But perhaps it was the influence of absent friends that was most telling at New Road. The spirit of Bob Woolmer, who died in 2007, and Neal Abberley, who died in August 2011, lives on in a side and a coaching team that are built in their image and steeped in the character of the club both men served as coaches with such distinction.
Woolmer was at the helm as coach for the majority of the most successful period in Warwickshire's history, between 1993 and 1994 (he was replaced by Phil Neale early in 1995) while Abberley, in whose memory a game will be staged at Knowle and Dorridge Cricket Club on Sunday, served Warwickshire, first as a player and then as a coach, from the early 1960s until his death. Hardly a player at the club has not felt the influence of one or both. Ian Bell and Ashley Giles, in particular, credit Abberley's advice as a batting coach as the defining influence on their careers.
It is hard to define exactly what that influence is. It is more than technical skill - though that is one aspect of it - and it is more than commitment - many players at many clubs are committed to their team. It is a combination of those things and of unity of purpose, too. It comprises values of sportsmanship, honour, belief in the self and the team and, most of all, a never-say-die attitude. Some of those values may seem anachronistic in the modern world, but they retain currency in county cricket.
Every member of the Warwickshire coaching staff - director of cricket, Giles; bowling coach, Graeme Welch; assistant coach and academy director, Dougie Brown and batting coach and, odd though it sounds, groundstaff member, Tony Frost - were on the books in those glorious years of the mid-90s, the period when Woolmer and Abberley, in their very different ways, combined to catapult a club that had enjoyed only moderate success to one that used to delight in calling itself 'the Manchester United of cricket'. Among the young players starting on the club's development path were the current captain, Jim Troughton, and Bell. Chris Woakes recalls Warwickshire winning a Lord's final as one of his earliest childhood memories.
So it was no surprise when Troughton, moments after the trophy was won, said: "I want to officially dedicate this Championship to Neal Abberley. A lot of what has been achieved in the last five years is down to his influence and it needs to be recognised."
They were sentiments echoed by Giles. "Abbers was the heart and soul of the club," he said. "He was someone who gave their life to the club. He was here for 50 years and died while still in service. I certainly wouldn't be here without him. He was the coach who taught me a hell of a lot about myself and my game and also as a mentor when I took over the job as coach."
This was the seventh occasion on which Warwickshire have won the Championship - four of them in the last 20 years - and, with the CB40 final against Hampshire still to come, they may yet win the double.
But counties are not judged purely on winning trophies. They must also be judged on their record of producing players for England. So, with three men - two of whom (Bell and Woakes) graduated through every step of the club's youth development scheme - currently absent on England duty, Warwickshire must be judged high achievers by whichever unit of measurement you apply.
Four other members of the side that played in this match against Worcestershire - Troughton, Ian Westwood, Richard Johnson and Tom Milnes - have also come through Warwickshire's academy. So, tellingly, did the one man who offered meaningful resistance for Worcestershire on the last day of this game: Moeen Ali. His unbeaten 72, studded with elegant strokes and well-judged leaves, delayed Warwickshire until just after lunch but never, for a moment, did it seem they could be denied a result that also leaves their Midlands neighbours as good as relegated.
Other members of the team are the results of wise recruitment but any suggestion that Warwickshire 'bought' this title would be erroneous. The likes of Keith Barker, Chris Wright, Varun Chopra and Boyd Rankin were unproven in county cricket when Warwickshire acquired them, while Rikki Clarke came with considerable baggage. Success can be achieved as a result of either good development, recruitment or coaching: Warwickshire have excelled in all three departments. The successes of Chopra and Wright should be the source of considerable reflection at Essex, too, who allowed special talents to go to waste.
It is worth reflecting on the club that Giles inherited at the end of 2007. Warwickshire had been relegated in both leagues - first-class and 40-over - players were heading for the exit - Mark Wagh and Moeen Ali had both departed for other counties; Dougie Brown and Nick Knight had retired - and morale was low. It was, arguably, the lowest point in Warwickshire's history. The ground, decaying and outdated, represented the club all too accurately. It was a wretched environment.
But rock bottom can provide a strong foundation. Giles, bringing the same attributes to coaching that he brought to his career as a player, patiently rebuilt, recruited and nurtured a team that have gradually improved. They achieved promotion in 2008, escaped relegation in 2010 by the skin of their teeth but won the CB40, narrowly missed out on the title in 2011 and, but for a one-wicket loss against Somerset this season, have looked every inch the best team in the land. No-one can say they do not deserve this success.
The efforts of other non-playing members of staff has been vital, too. It was Welch who suggested bringing Wright to the club and Welch who coaxed the best out of Wright, Barker, Clarke and Rankin. Until Welch's influence, none of them had come close to fulfilling their potential as bowlers.
The contribution of Colin Povey is worth noting, too. Povey, the chief executive since Dennis Amiss' retirement at the end of 2005, inherited a decaying ground, a staff that had grown complacent and cosy, and a team on the decline. He promised a redeveloped ground and a team that consistently challenged for trophies and he has delivered on both counts. Criticism of administrators in sport is often facile and Povey, with his abrasive style and demanding methods, will never be to everyone's tastes. But Warwickshire owe him plenty.
Depth is the key word for Warwickshire. Just as, due to international call-ups and injury, they have been obliged to utilise 19 players without unduly diluting the strength of their team, so they have proved almost impossible to kill-off in games. Often it would be the efforts of men coming in as low as seven, eight and nine who would revitalise a game with match-changing innings. This is a squad bursting with allrounders. Tellingly, Jeetan Patel, who appeared a modest overseas player at the start of the year, produced an unbeaten 43 from No. 10 to win Warwickshire a game against Somerset in April that appeared to have been lost.
It was telling too, that despite losing the bowling of Woakes, Rankin and Clarke to injury for much for the season - the men who bowled them to within touching distance of success last year - they found new wicket-takers: Barker and Wright, unheralded in April, claimed 112 wickets between them at a cost of just above 20 apiece. The catching of Tim Ambrose, back to his best with bat and gloves, and Clarke, surely the best slip catcher in England, supported them superbly.
This may well be just the start of their success, too. Such is the depth of this squad, the age range of the team and the strength of the recruitment, coaching and development system, that it would be no surprise if Warwickshire repeated this triumph next year. The talk at Edgbaston is of legacy.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo