Woakes stars on day of awful batting
Kent 111 and 131 for 5 v Warwickshire 294 and 140
Perhaps it is fitting that, in a week where a shadow has been cast over the unpredictable nature of cricket, the County Championship should produce a game as inexplicable as this.
Under clear blue skies and on a blameless pitch, Warwickshire and Kent somehow managed to lose 22 wickets in a day. Had Varun Chopra, at cover, not put down a simple chance offered by Martin van Jaarsveld off Darren Maddy when the batsman had just 17 in Kent's second innings, it might have been all over by now. As it is, Kent go into the third day requiring another 193 runs, with Warwickshire searching for five more wickets. Whoever wins will substantially ease their relegation fears.
A glance at the scorecard might lead you to believe this game has been played on a minefield or under the influence of dodgy bookmakers, but it is not so. Yes, the ball swung and there was some assistance off the seam. But it is batting coaches more than pitch inspectors who should be hurrying to Edgbaston.
The bowlers deserve some credit, too. Neil Carter and Chris Woakes, in particular, harnessed the conditions beautifully, with the latter claiming a championship-best performance in Kent's first innings. Bowling at a lively pace, he swung the ball both ways and brutally exposed Kent's lack of confidence.
He also produced a telling contribution with the bat. With Warwickshire, as ever it seems, in disarray at 54 for eight in their second innings, Woakes scored a classy half-century full of elegant drives and powerful pulls. He brought up his 50 (from just 38 balls) with his ninth boundary - a commanding hook - while there was also a superb pulled six off Azhar Mahmood.
His colleagues, however, were hopeless. Even by the standards of this summer, where Warwickshire's batting has been, arguably, the poorest in their history, for the top-order to subside so feebly in both innings was verging on the pathetic.
Darren Stevens bowled well enough. He probed a decent line, found some away swing and, several times, claimed wickets with deliveries that held their line and didn't swing.
But Stevens is no Richard Hadlee. He claimed just two first-class wickets during the 2009 season and, at such a gentle pace, should not be troubling good batsmen. Mahmood bowled decently, too, but is now a 35-year-old with a lot of miles on the clock. The truth is that the technique of many contemporary batsmen against the swinging ball is awful and, in conditions like these, they are found wanting.
One thing of which Ashley Giles cannot be accused is a lack of patience with his batsmen, however. Warwickshire's director of cricket has stuck with them through thin and thinner, with Maddy, Chopra Ian Westwood, Jim Troughton all experiencing horror seasons. Troughton - 27 championship innings without a half-century and counting - now looks so devoid of confidence, that it seems almost cruel to persevere with him at this level. Were he a sick cat, he'd surely be put down.
Once again, therefore, it was left to Warwickshire's lower-order to claw them to respectability. Led by Woakes and the admirably consistent Neil Carter, Warwicksire added 86 for their last two wickets, with the ninth-wicket pair adding 72 in 10 overs. It left Kent requiring 324 to win.
Quite what Warwickshire would do without their pair of allrounders is anyone's guess. They've taken 14 of the 15 Kent wickets to fall and contributed more than their fair share of runs. News that Carter, who is out of contract at Edgbaston, has turned down the club's latest offer, will have supporters quaking. Without his efforts this season, Warwickshire would have been embarrassed. Warwickshire, however, will be boosted by the return of both Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott for Saturday's vital CB40 match against Nottinghamshire. They are a different side with their England players available.
Fortunately for Warwickshire, Kent's batting is just as feeble. In their first innings, Kent's five senior batsmen (Joe Denly, Rob Key, Stevens, Geraint Jones and van Jaarsveld) all fell for ducks, with Woakes and Carter claiming four for four in 12 balls at one stage. For the second time in the match, it was a side's tenth-wicket pair who provided the largest stand of their innings, with Alex Blake and Matt Coles adding 39.
When Warwickshire declined to enforce the follow-on, Woakes and Carter must have thought they'd be able to put their feet up for the rest of the day. But it was not to be. They were batting 90 minutes later and, little more than two hours after Kent's first innings ended, they were bowling again.
Not that they will mind against batting line-ups this brittle. If Key, caught down the leg-side, was somewhat unfortunate in the second innings, Denly was once again punished for a hole in his game, when Woakes found the gap between his bat and pad. While Jones and van Jaarsveld briefly raised Kent's hopes with a stand of 95, the excellent Woakes, only 21 but already a senior player at Edgbaston, returned for a two-over spell just before stumps and dismissed Jones, playing around a straight one, to give Warwickshire the initiative going into the third day.