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George Dobell at Edgbaston
August 28, 2013
Sussex 278 for 7 (Wells 65, Nash 59, Chambers 3-51) v Warwickshire
It is, perhaps, a sign of the times that, just as the County Championship season should be reaching a peak, the demands on its resources are at their greatest.
Over the next couple of weeks, teams vying for the title or fighting to avoid promotion and relegation will lose players to England, Ireland and Scotland. Other players will be rested after the rigours of international campaigns. Few of the Ashes-winning squad will make another appearance in the county game this year.
All of that is understandable. The England team pays the bills for the county and the recreational game and it is entirely reasonable to demand the players are used and rested as the team management see fit. Equally, it is quite appropriate for Ireland and Scotland to call upon their best players as they seek to progress in world cricket.
But there is a downside. The endless withdrawals - be they for Lions game or international fixtures - that stretch through the season, not only threaten the integrity of the premier domestic competition, but threaten to drive a wedge between the international game and the county game. And if that happens, the difficulty of county players taking the step-up to international cricket will grow.
There was a time such withdrawals were masked by the presence of experienced, older players or strong overseas or Kolpak registrations. But now, with young player incentives and tougher work permit criteria, that depth has been diminished.
With such factors combining, the dilution of the county game is both obvious and dangerous. It may well, in time, return to bite the England set-up. You could construct a strong argument to suggest it was one of the key mistakes made in Australian cricket a decade or so ago.
Certainly Warwickshire are a shadow of the team that won the County Championship title last season. As well as having lost seven players to various England squads at some stage of the season (Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Chris Woakes, Varun Chopra, Boyd Rankin, Chris Wright and Keith Barker, four of which are absent from this match) they have lost Freddie Coleman (to Scotland) and William Porterfield (to Ireland).
In this game, they are further weakened by injuries. Their captain, Jim Troughton (back) is absent, two of their leading allrounders, Rikki Clarke (ankle) and Woakes (who hurt his thigh batting for England) are absent, several seamers - such as Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Wright, Richard Jones, who has joined on-loan despite carrying an injury - are absent as are two spinners in Chris Metters (who has been released due to injury) and Paul Best. As a result, their attack in this game consisted of a 20-year-old - Tom Milns - and two other seamers - Recordo Gordon and Maurice Chambers - with two first-class wickets between them this season.
But such setbacks offer opportunity. In this game, Warwickshire drafted in Chambers, unwanted at Essex, on loan in a deal that stretches to the end of the season. Chambers, a 25-year-old longer on talent than achievement at this stage of his career, bowled with impressive pace and decent skill and discipline to suggest he may be able to persuade another county to invest in him. He will hope to follow the path of former team-mate Wright, who benefitted considerably from leaving Chelmsford and working with former Essex bowling coach Graeme Welch, who is now at Edgbaston. At present, Warwickshire are interested more in finding a solution to their availability crisis and have looked little further ahead than that.
But they have opened talks with unsettled Somerset keeper, Jos Buttler. They are one of three clubs to have made an approach for the player and are likely to have offered him the chance to keep in all white-ball cricket if he joins. The difficult economic times are likely to result in far less movement in this year's close-season than has been the case in the previous two or three years.
It appeared for the first half of the day that Sussex would take full advantage of Warwickshire's weaknesses and winning an important toss on a flat, dry pitch. Though they played and missed a few times, Chris Nash and Luke Wells put together a composed opening stand of 121 taking full toll of anything straying in line or length and of an unusually short boundary. Indeed, with Warwickshire struggling for pitches after a busy season, they were required to gain special dispensation for the 49-yard boundary on the Eric Hollies Stand side of the ground. Wells, tall and upright, was strong on the drive, while Nash, dropped by Jeetan Patel on 24 at slip off Gordon, cut particularly well.
But Sussex squandered much of their hard work. After Nash played slightly across one, Sussex subsequently lost 6 for 39 runs in 21 overs as their middle-order surrendered their wickets in an array of soft, impatient strokes.
If Michael Yardy, undone by late swing, was the victim of a fine delivery, Wells, caught at mid-on as he mis-timed a flick to the leg side, and Rory Hamilton-Brown, caught at short mid-on at he skipped down the wicket and attempted to drive, had less excuse. Ed Joyce fell to a loose drive at a wide ball, Matt Machan top-edged a pull and Ben Brown, caught on the crease, looked as if he were beaten for pace.
At that stage it appeared Sussex, who are still outside contenders for the Championship title, might struggle to gain even a couple of batting bonus points. But Chris Jordan, perhaps the signing of the season, and Will Beer, demonstrated the patience and determination that so many of their top-order colleagues failed to exhibit, in adding 83 unbeaten runs for the eighth wicket before stumps. It was Jordan's second half-century of the campaign, to complement his 51 Championship wickets.
The Warwickshire attack, green as it was, were impressively tight and, in Chambers and Gordon, had bowlers of considerable pace. The pitch may well provide help to spin later in the game, presenting quite an opportunity for Will Beer and, perhaps, highlighting the absence of Monty Panesar for Sussex.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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