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George Dobell at Wantage Road
June 17, 2014
Northamptonshire 312 and 51 for 3 trail Warwickshire 602 for 9 dec (Hain 134, Barker 102*) by 239 runs
It has always seemed a bit odd that fishing and shooting are considered 'sports.' Perhaps, were the trout and the pheasants issued with hooks and guns of their own, there might be a competitive element to such pastimes that justified the 'sport' tag. As it is, the rules seem rather stacked in the favour of the team with the weapons.
So it was at Wantage Road on the third day of this game where it seemed Warwickshire were armed to the teeth with anti-tank guns and Northamptonshire had all the menace of a pacifist kitten. The gulf in class between the sides offered all the competitive edge of a day of seal clubbing. It was appallingly one-sided.
It all means that, with less than half the season gone, Northamptonshire seem doomed to relegation. Unless it rains on the final day, they will surely succumb to their sixth defeat in succession. In the last 12-months, they have won just one Championship match.
It is hard to say which discipline has let Northants down more: the batting or the bowling. Having conceded in excess of 550 twice in a week - this was the first time they had conceded 600 since 2010 - it might be tempting to say the bowling. The season averages of some of this attack (Steven Crook: 80.50; Maurice Chambers: 52.81; Matt Spriegel 62.25) should probably be hidden from the young, the old, the pregnant and those with heart problems.
But they have also failed to reach 400 yet this season. Only one man, Rob Newton, has scored a century and there have only been two century stands. Only two men average above 30. A team that went into the season with such hope now looks tired, dispirited and beaten. David Sales has already been dropped and it seems unthinkable that Andrew Hall will return next season.
Nor do they have the money to bring in new recruits. The retirement of Graeme Swann cuts off a valuable source of the club's funding - a performance-related fee payment worth around £100,000 as the county that developed Swann's talents - and the club anticipates declaring a financial loss this year. A crowd of almost 5,000 at last Friday's T20 match will help, but there is some rebuilding to do here. The presence of talented young players such as Ben Duckett, Olly Stone and Newton at least offers hope for the future.
Perhaps they have been unfortunate. Northants were hampered by the loss of their overseas players - Jackson Bird, Rory Kleinveldt and Sohail Tanvir all pulled out of deals with the club - while injury to David Willey also denied them the use of a key figure with bat and ball.
Crucially, though, it may have been the inability to re-sign Trent Copeland that proved most damaging. Due to a tightening in work permit regulations, Northants were unable to bring back the overseas player who was so crucial last year. It is telling that, the last time they won a game - against Glamorgan in August - he played a key role with bat and ball. Where once Northants' lower-order would routinely double totals, they have now become routine victims of the same
The shame of their capitulation is that it will deflect attention from an impressive achievement from Sam Hain. Hain, aged just 18 years and 336 days, became the youngest man to score a first-class century for Warwickshire with his calm, assured innings here. This was only his fifth innings at this level and he surely has a golden future.
Hain's achievement seems all the more impressive when you consider that the previous record holder was Ian Bell. Bell, who will start the 100th Test of his career at Leeds on Friday, might well be remembered as the best player produced by Warwickshire, so to break one of his records bodes well for Hain's future.
Bell was 19 years and 56 days when he made a century against Oxford University in 2001 and 19 years and 144 days when he made his maiden Championship century against Nottinghamshire at Edgbaston later that season. Paul Smith was the previous record holder to Bell, making his maiden century aged 19 years and 61 days against Oxford University in 1983.
He has a fine array of strokes and a sound defence, but it is Hain's temperament that impresses most. Resuming on 87, it took him almost an hour to reach three figures, but he remained calm and finally glanced one off his hip to the fine leg boundary. More pertinently, he looked furious when he was finally dismissed. A hatred of being out and a love of crease occupation are not such bad qualities in a batsman.
Born in Hong Kong to two British parents, Hain was brought up, in the most part, in Australia. He even represented their U19 side as a 16-year-old. But he insists he has no qualms about committing himself entirely to England.
"I'm a fair dinkum pom, to say the least," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Definitely. The Australia U19 thing happened, but I was always set to play in England, ever since I was 14."
Hain was 14 when he was spotted by former Warwickshire captain, Michael Powell, while on an exchange scheme at Loretto School in Edinburgh, where Powell now works, and was sent for trials at Warwickshire. He made his debut for the club's second XI that year and impressed sufficiently to win the club's most promising young player award.
As Hain accumulated, Warwickshire's innings was given impetus first by Rikki Clarke, then by Chris Woakes and finally by Keith Barker. Taking full toll of a weary attack, Barker thrashed the fourth first-class century of his career from only 108 balls, taking Warwickshire's lead to 290. The last three wickets had added 207.
Barker had only scored 64 when Warwickshire's last batsman, Chris Wright, joined him. But so broken and dispirited did Northants look by that stage, that it was little problem for Barker to score the bulk of the 63 the pair added for the tenth wicket. He was dropped, badly, by Richard Levi on 77.
Their was a grim predictability about the start of Northants' second innings. Stephen Peters steered one he could have left to gully, Richard Levi gloved one down the leg side and Rob Keogh completed a pair when he reached nervously for one and edged to the slips. It gave the slippery Woakes three wickets in his first 25 balls and left Northants needing to bat all day to avoid another confidence destroying defeat.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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