Warwickshire eye dominant legacy
Last year: Champions, CC Div 1; Group stages, T20; Finalists, CB40
2012 in a nutshell: Warwickshire looked the strongest team in Championship cricket by some distance in 2012. A stable squad balanced by several allrounders, a potent seam attack and a batting line-up that stretched beyond the horizon lost only once in the Championship and deservedly won the title. And they did it despite the long-term absence through injury of the two men, Boyd Rankin and Chris Woakes, who were expected to make most impression with the ball. Three bowlers - Chris Wright, Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel, a sound if unglamorous choice of overseas player - claimed over 50 wickets and Varun Chopra was one of only two England-qualified batsmen to score 1,000 Division One runs. They were a force in List A cricket, too, reaching the final of the CB40. While the T20 campaign was a disappointment, the level of rain disruption provided some mitigation.
2013 prospects: There seems little reason to doubt Warwickshire will again feature prominently in this year's Championship title race. Most of the architects of last year's success remain, with youth on their side and the added incentive of international ambitions to fulfil. The attack is impressively well balanced, with pace, swing and left-arm variety and the batting, despite a fragility towards the top, is so deep (15 players on the staff have first-class centuries to their name) that it affords the opportunity to fight back from poor starts. If all the key seamers - Woakes, Wright, Barker, Rankin and Rikki Clarke - are available, Warwickshire will have an enviable opportunity to rest and rotate. If there is a weakness, it could be the top-order batting. More will be required from the likes of William Porterfield, Jim Troughton and Darren Maddy if Warwickshire are to fulfil their talk of creating a new legacy at Edgbaston to match that achieved by the team of the mid-1990s. Warwickshire have often looked the fittest squad in the county game in recent years, with their minimum fitness levels 10% above that of the England sides.
Perhaps Warwickshire's biggest threat is becoming a victim of their own success. Apart from losing their director of cricket, Ashley Giles, to England, they could also be without up to six players at times this summer as England and Lions call-ups bite into their resources. The other possible weakness is the overreliance on Tim Ambrose, who has a history of hip trouble, as the only other keeper on the staff is 18-year-old Peter McKay. They remain favourites to retain the Championship title, though, and should remain dangerous in the limited-overs competitions.
Key player: Clarke balances this side. A fast bowler, middle-order batsman and irreplaceable slip fielder, Clarke has finally developed into the allrounder his talent always suggested he could be. It should be of some concern to Warwickshire that he is out of contract at the end of the season.
Bright young thing: Keith Barker played his first full season in 2012 but he ended it with a reputation as arguably the best left-arm new-ball bowler in the county game. If he can find some extra pace - and his physique suggests he can - he will be of interest to England. The 17-year-old batsman Sam Hain is unlikely to play in the first team this year but looks to be a young man with a bright future.
Captain/coach: Dougie Brown has replaced Giles as director of cricket and, alongside the captain, Troughton, forms a leadership that is steeped in the history of the club. It surely bodes well that they will understand one another and have shared goals and values. It is worth noting that Brown was not the first choice of many in the dressing room, though. Many of the players would have plumped for Graeme Welch, who remains as assistant coach and bowling coach.
ESPNcricinfo verdict: Justifiably favourites to retain the Championship title. Such is the depth and age-profile of this squad that they should challenge consistently for the foreseeable future.
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George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo