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Will Rhodes caps fine Warwickshire display in Division Two title fight

Will Rhodes in action for Warwickshire Getty Images

Warwickshire 148 for 0 (Rhodes 102*) trail Kent 167 (Wright 3-29) by 19 runs
Scorecard

The sides may have come into this game level on points, but by stumps at the end of day one it appeared there was a chasm between them. Warwickshire, with all 10 first-innings wickets in hand, trialled by just 19. A commanding century from Will Rhodes - his fourth of a breakthrough Championship season - coming on the heels of another excellent bowling performance from his colleagues, has given them a good chance of claiming the Division Two title.

Kent, by contrast, were left to rue what their coach, Matt Walker, admitted was their "worst cricket of the season".

There was a time when late-summer matches like this counted for little. As a consequence, they would often lack intensity or purpose and provide unsatisfying fare for spectators. But the prospect of silverware (and a sunny-if-chilly day) had encouraged Edgbaston's largest Championship crowd of the season - albeit a modest 1200 or so - and ensured motivation for the players of both sides. You might well ask why anyone felt the need to tinker with such a system.

In truth, it is promotion that matters most. The trophy, and small financial bonus, that comes with winning Division Two is welcome, but it is very much secondary to what both these sides have already achieved. Whatever happens here, Kent have enjoyed an excellent season and may well be considered the most improved team in the land. In recruiting wisely, building an improved team spirit and then achieving both promotion and reaching the knockout stages of the limited-overs competitions, they have won more games than any other county across competitions.

This may well prove an especially good year to be promoted, too. If the structure of the Championship is changed again ahead of the 2020 season - and it probably will be - it is currently expected the divisions would be reorganised along the lines of a 10-team top division and eight in the second. These teams might, therefore, have a better chance of retaining a Division One place at the end of 2019.

If Warwickshire are to stay up next season, they will need to rely on several new faces. At least two of this side - Jonathan Trott, who is retiring, and Chris Wright, who is moving to Leicestershire - will be gone and it seems likely that Keith Barker will depart, too. The club have offered him a new deal but it is understood not to be quite as attractive as the package he enjoys at present or, crucially, as attractive as deals available elsewhere. Andrew Umeed, Sunny Singh, Boyd Rankin (all released) and Josh Poysden (Yorkshire) are also departing, while the club says it does not anticipate adding to Liam Norwell, Craig Miles (both Gloucestershire seamers) and Rob Yates (a top-order batsman) among those joining.

This apparent imbalance between those departing and those arriving is not, Warwickshire insist, anything to do with budget - they are due to make a substantial repayment of up to £4m on the loan taken out to fund their redevelopment towards the end of 2019 - but rather a desire to provide opportunities to those already here and an inability to persuade others to join them.

On the evidence of this performance, Barker would be substantially missed. While the pace he generates these days is sedate, the swing he gains is lavish, the variety is useful and the footmarks he creates for Jeetan Patel an underrated asset. Here he had Sean Dickson and Sam Billings trapped by sharp inswing, bowled Harry Podmore with one that may have held its line and came within an ace of dismissing Joe Denly without scoring when the batsman left one that swung sharply to clip the off stump. But while the bail was slightly dislodged, it refused to fall. Even after Trott - with a broad smile - stomped up to the stumps.

He was complemented by Wright, who nipped one away beautifully to take Zak Crawley's edge in his first over and later beat Darren Stevens with one he persuaded to move the other way, and Olly Stone, who has the pace to harass batsmen into errors. Even on this somewhat sluggish surface, Stone hurried them. Twice he induced reckless drives from full deliveries well outside off stump - Denly and Heino Kuhn were both smartly caught at second slip off somewhat loose shots - while Ollie Robinson played across one that swing from leg to middle. That was Stone's 40th Championship wicket of the season. More impressively, they are coming at a strike rate of 22.5.

Stone was, by some distance, the more impressive of the two men called up by England in recent days. While Denly timed a couple of shots beautifully off Stone, he looked uncomfortable against the spin of Patel which, given England's touring destinations in the coming months, is a worry.While he has an excellent record against spin in county cricket - CricViz figures show he went into this match averaging 93.28 against spin since the start of 2016 - he seemed intent on charging the offspinner and carting him over mid-on. He was fortunate to survive on a couple of occasions. In the end it took a 10th-wicket stand of 42 - the highest of the innings - to even lift Kent beyond 150. The pitch, used for T20 Finals Day, was blameless as was the decision to bat first. It was simply a case of fine, relentless bowling and modest batting.

It speaks volumes for Warwickshire's bowling strength that this performance ensured they had taken maximum bowling bonus points in every game of the season. But they also have three batsmen in the top four run-scorers in the division.

Certainly Rhodes has thrived on the opportunity provided to him this season. Given the chance to open only a couple of days before the match against Durham MCCU, he goes into the second day here in sight of 1000 Championship runs for the first time. Whether he achieves the milestone or not (he needs to reach 138) he has enjoyed a fine season and established with Dominic Sibley - who also has three Championship hundreds this campaign - a strong opening partnership that should serve the club well at the higher level.

While he gave one chance - he was dropped on 38, Billings failing to cling on to a regulation edge - this was a highly impressive, remarkably dominant performance from a man who started the season without a first-class century to his name. Driving delightfully straight and putting away anything short with something bordering on the disdain, he took a particular liking to the offspin of Adam Riley (who bowled three overs for 32) and put his side well on course for the trophy. Just one day into this match and it is already hard to see how Warwickshire can be denied.