Warwickshire v Yorkshire, Specsavers Championship Div One, Edgbaston, 1st day April 14, 2017

Coad the silver lining amid the gloom


Warwickshire 152 for 8 (Coad 4-47) v Yorkshire

Play 01:22
County Championship Round-up: Coad's hot start

Finding the silver lining to the cloud is a necessary skill for the county cricket watcher at this time of year.

It is not just enduring the inevitable bouts of rain and cold weather they will encounter in the early season - we lost almost exactly half a day here - but that, increasingly, they have had to accept their team's needs are so far down the administrators' list of priorities that the chances of putting out a full-strength side are minimal.

Despite all the ECB's talk of communication and transparency - a word that is hard to square with the non-disclosure agreements that have bound county officials to secrecy in recent times - associated with the new-team T20 competition, there is a sense of disenfranchisement pervading county spectators at present that suggests their administrators have stopped representing or even listening to them. Really, they may as well just slap county spectators in the face when they buy a ticket and have done with it. The sooner supporters have a collective voice the better; the Cricket Supporters' Association may be the partial answer.

There was a time when it would have been unthinkable to allow England's best players to grace another nation's domestic tournament during the county season, as is the case with Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and several others at the IPL. And while most people will understand the well-intentioned reasons - they can gain wealth and useful white-ball experience before a global limited-overs event - they might also reflect on the costs: it is inevitable that the standard of the County Championship will be diluted by the absence of its best players.

Just as it is inevitable that England will struggle to produce spin bowlers - or batsmen with experience of playing spin bowling - while so much of the season is pushed into the margins (counties will have played eight of their 14 Championship matches by the end of June) and medium-paced nibblers are disproportionately important. It is many years since England produced a legspinner as talented as Mason Crane; there is something wrong with a system that cannot find a space for him in a side.

The ECB may claim it is keen to prioritise Test cricket, but it is hard to ignore the conclusion that it has prioritised white-ball (especially T20) cricket at every opportunity in recent months. The scheduling of this season's T20, with matches in a block, is the primary reason so high a proportion of the Championship has to be played so early in the season and the introduction of another T20 competition, to be played at the same time as the 50-over competition, will equally compromise England's performances in the World Cup.

Really, it tells you everything you need to know about the future shape of cricket that the new-team T20 competition is scheduled to start on 24/7/2020. Yes, the days of endless T20 are almost upon us. And good luck in the 2023 World Cup if the top 110 players in the country haven't played domestic 50-over cricket for four years.

How, really, can the absence of Jonny Bairstow - who hasn't played first-class cricket this year - in this match be justified? He was, after all, free to go to the IPL but, having not been picked-up in the auction, has been rested from the Championship and is instead summarising for Sky. It is just another example of the way the game's administrators continue to demean and degrade the competition they should protect and promote.

If only they believed in it as much as the 1.1 million who listened to the BBC's commentary on the Championship's first round. If only they believed in it enough to invest the (circa) £35m ring-fenced for the first year of the new-team competition into the NatWest Blast. If only they believed that the return to free-to-air they foresee for the new competition would also revive the old. Alas, it seems the ECB has lost faith in its own products and is therefore prepared to risk their health in search of something new.

None of this is the individual players' faults. They have been encouraged to rest or play in the IPL. But the danger of such policies is that, in time, they weaken the Test side. We saw in India and Bangladesh how England's issues against spin can be exposed and, if the gap between county and Test grows wider, we will see further reverses at Test level. It is understandable that the ECB wants to prioritise white-ball cricket - it may even be right to do so - but it would be nice if they were a little more open about it. You could make a strong case that the ECB represents one of the most serious threats to the future of Test cricket.

The silver lining to all this is that, had Yorkshire been at full strength, it is highly likely that Ben Coad would not have won selection for these opening matches of the season. But with Liam Plunkett, David Willey, Jack Brooks and Ryan Sidebottom all absent against Hampshire last week due to injury, Coad was drafted into the side and responded with eight wickets in the game.

It was similar here. Taking advantage of some early season assistance - there is nothing the matter with this pitch - and the fragility of Warwickshire's batting, he claimed four more wickets to reduce Warwickshire to 77 for 7 moments after lunch. He is currently the leading wicket-taker in Division One.

If one or two of his wickets here owed something to reckless batting - William Porterfield drove to mid-off as he attempted to thrash one through the covers - several others were the result of fine, probing bowling. Alex Mellor edged a beauty on off stump that demanded a stroke, Jonathan Trott's attempt to drive into the leg side was punished by a touch of away movement and Rikki Clarke (who has not accepted a one-year contract extension in the hope of securing his future until the end of 2019), was struck on the back pad as he pushed forward at another that left him.

In between times Ian Bell was, for the second match in succession, punished for attempting a lavish drive unsuited to the conditions or the match context, Tim Ambrose was drawn into a drive at a good ball that left him in the air and Sam Hain was beaten as he played around one that may have nipped back.

It wasn't that Warwickshire batted horribly. It was that they batted without the requisite discipline for such conditions. It was that, when patience was required, they pushed at balls that could have been left and tried to turn balls that should have been met with a straight bat into the leg side. These are early days and they have the quality to turn things round, but they are earning the title of relegation favourites.

This all left Yorkshire in a strong position not only in the game, but in terms of their long-term planning. They had appeared to be entering a transitional phase with the likes of Sidebottom (39 and retiring at the season's end), Brooks (33 in June), Steve Patterson (34 in October), Plunkett and Bresnan (both 32) at the stage of their careers where it would make sense to start lining up replacements. The emergence of Coad, who bowls at fast-medium pace and, on this evidence, moves the ball away from the right-hander, suggests there are good-quality reinforcements on the staff.

Willey's return slightly ahead of schedule following shoulder surgery was also welcome. If he was understandably a little rusty in terms of his line, he generated decent pace and will have encouraged the selectors ahead of the Champions Trophy squad announcement in about 10 days.

Contrast all this with Warwickshire. Only three members of this Warwickshire side are aged under 30 and perhaps only Hain would gain selection in a full-strength team. Their relative strength in recent years has made it harder for new players to force their way into the team and, of those that have, a couple (Varun Chopra and Laurie Evans) have left and a few others (Ateeq Javid and the likes of Jonathan Webb and Freddie Coleman) have not kicked-on as anticipated. As a result, Warwickshire are reliant on diminishing returns from a very talented group of players, but one that is - in several cases - just a little bit past its sell-by date.

Here Jeetan Patel and Keith Barker provided something of a fightback with an eighth-wicket stand of 53 in 56 balls as the softer ball rendered batting slightly easier. But when Adil Rashid came into the attack and promptly bowled Patel with a googly, it left Yorkshire well on top.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Alex on April 16, 2017, 10:01 GMT

    Alfers: I take your point but I wonder how many of the 1 million plus people supposedly following the season in the media really understand what the ECB is up to and the threat it poses to the long-term future of County cricket? It's not just the pros and cons of the T20 competition, its all the other centralising tendencies on show, the marginalising of FC cricket, the control over who plays where and when, the ideas about regionalising Academies - and so it goes on. The problem is that many Counties are financially-weak and appear to be unwilling to challenge the ECB's policies and plans given their dependence on the ECB for financial hand-outs. So those of us with our eyes open can see a real possibility in the next 10 years that County cricket will be reduced to a rump of counties playing a second-tier competition while white ball cricket dominates the calendar and the media. Is that what you want?

  • ian on April 16, 2017, 8:59 GMT

    Alfers: the reasons for reading any article by any reader cannot be ascertained or ' presumed'! I rather like George Dobell's take on cricket, cricketers and - inevitably these days - the political hinterland that's almost always present. Thus, I am likely to read an article like this. If I only wanted the bones of the game, I'd check the scorecard. Every game, like every human activity, takes place in a social context. It lends colour and relevance to the cricket that is being reported. You have a great deal of wisdom: you know, for instance, that the ECB don't "read this stuff". Maybe they don't, but allow (pls) that they very well just might! After all, it's rather tied in with their day-jobs. Politicians tend to read articles on their areas of concern, I would hope! You like to see cricket uncomplicated by its setting in political terms; I prefer the whole picture. My POV is as valid as yours. I find the prospect of the city-based t20 an anathema - and will say so at every opp!

  • andrew2711976 on April 15, 2017, 20:59 GMT

    @Nutcutlet - The audience for this particular article is presumably those who want to read a match report. That's certainly why I came here, not to read the well rehearsed, repetitive and somewhat hysterical arguments around city based T20. The idea that people at ECB Towers read this stuff, let alone take any notice, is somewhat fanciful. I'm not sure which I find more of a turn off - city based T20 or vitriolic media campaigns which purport to speak for every 'life long lover of the game'. Hence I prefer to indulge my obsession by following a cricket match which I sadly cannot attend by reading the words of someone who can.

  • B on April 15, 2017, 15:44 GMT

    I agree with Etterby1. The "proper cricket" pages are hard to find, and you have to wade past a lot of tedious IPL stuff to find them.

  • Tony on April 15, 2017, 15:32 GMT

    The ECB has to go. Now.

    I could understand resting a hard -worked fast bowler, but they let Steve Finn play in the last game of last season and kept Root and Bairstow out.

    This can only have been done to give an advantage to Middlesex. The relationship between the ECB and Middlesex is far too cosy.

  • B on April 15, 2017, 14:37 GMT

    Just remember that if Root and Bairstow had been available for Yorkshire's last match of 2016, against Middlesex, then it is quite likely that Yorkshire would now be the champions. We must congratulate Strauss of Middlesex for helping to ensure that they were forbidden to play. The handicapping continues now. Finn is allowed to play for Middlesex. Stokes and Buttler to play for the tip-and-run snoozathon in India, but can Root and Bairstow represent their own counties? No.

  • Paul on April 15, 2017, 14:33 GMT

    Another excellent piece by George. However, Cricinfo could play their part in giving due attention to the county championship. In the "UK edition", the championship news & reports (and those of other UK domestic competitions) are routinely shown below those relating to the IPL. I don't understand why that is.

  • ian on April 15, 2017, 13:27 GMT

    Alfers: those arguments that you say are "repeated" by George Dobell only show that GB knows his audience. We, ordinary life-long lovers of our game, know that his articles are likely to be read by the very people who are charged with being the custodians of cricket in England & Wales (and we could all mournfully name them). GB has his finger on the collective pulse of cricket-lovers - and the radical reorganision of domestic cricket is hugely important to us. The ECB cannot be bothered with us; we are treated like irritating flies to be swatted away, and certainly our views are garbage to them. We have never felt less valued. We do not believe that they are planning anything that is consistent with the culture and cricketing tradition in this country. Their ideas are crackpot and unsupported. At base, it's nothing more than a power-grab by the ECB.They're autocratic, coercive, and enjoy no public support. They 'win' arguments by threats and bribery. It's no way to do things. Tawdry!

  • David on April 15, 2017, 13:23 GMT

    For the first time I have watched some IPL games. Goodness, after a bit it gets very boring. If this is what Graves and Harrison see Springsteen the future of English cricket, forget it

  • geoffs8103821 on April 15, 2017, 13:17 GMT

    Warwickshire are a joke of a Club and will finish bottom Bell Troughton out before it's to late.

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