Final, Lord's, September 28 - October 01, 2021, Bob Willis Trophy

Warwickshire won by an innings and 199 runs


Warwickshire blow Lancashire away at Lord's to underline champion status

Craig Miles takes five before Rob Yates, Dom Sibley drive Warwickshire into lead

George Dobell
George Dobell
Craig Miles claimed four wickets in his opening spell, Warwickshire vs Lancashire, Bob Willis Trophy final, Lord's, 1st day, September 28, 2021

Craig Miles claimed four wickets in his opening spell  •  Getty Images

Warwickshire 120 for 0 (Yates 69*, Sibley 49*) lead Lancashire 78 (Wood 46*, Miles 5-28, Johal 3-29) by 42 runs
Warwickshire went a long way towards confirming their status as the strongest first-class team in the country with a dominant first-day performance against Lancashire at Lord's.
Having bowled out Lancashire for just 78 - their third lowest first-class against this opposition in first-class history - Warwickshire surpassed that total without losing a wicket. By stumps, they had a lead of 42 with all 10 wickets in hand. Coincidentally, the score at the close on the first day was identical to that in the Leeds Test between England and India in August.
It probably bears reiterating that this match isn't a final. The County Championship campaign ended last week; this is a standalone match for an entirely separate trophy.
But there is a danger such a fixture could muddy the waters when it comes to judging the finest first-class team in the land. The Bob Willis Trophy was an excellent solution to the unique problems confronting the game in 2020 and a fine tribute to a great of the English game. But now? It feels like a weekend guest who has stayed until Tuesday. A schedule creaking with the volume of games really doesn't require such a match and, judging by the size of the crowd - 928 was the official figure - there isn't much appetite for it. It seems most unlikely it will be played next year.
So perhaps it will aid clarity if Warwickshire, who clinched the Championship title last week, go on to underline their success. Certainly, they have ended the first day in an overwhelmingly strong position having reduced Lancashire to 12 for 6 at one point. While Luke Wood led something of a counterattack with an unbeaten innings of 46, the fact is only four men in the Lancashire side scored more than one and only Wood scored more than 17.
Some will look at the scorecard and presume this was some sort of horror track. And it's true, there was some surprisingly steep bounce from just back of a good length which would have made any sensible batter a little hesitant to prod forward. It may be relevant, too, that only once this year has a team reached 300 in a Championship innings at Lord's, and even then, the total was a modest 313. This is a tricky place to bat, no doubt.
But it would be disingenuous to blame the wicket for all these dismissals. Luke Wells, for example, missed a straight one; Dane Vilas was hit on the boot by a full ball; Alex Davies was athletically caught-and-bowled by Craig Miles after an inside edge saw the ball balloon off his pad and Josh Bohannon pulled a long-hop to midwicket. You couldn't blame the pitch for any of that.
It would be wrong not to credit this Warwickshire attack for another outstanding performance, too. In Miles and Liam Norwell, Warwickshire have a lively and skilful pair of opening bowlers - both wooed from Gloucestershire - who have played important roles in their season's success. Norwell, blessed with sharp pace and an action which tends to angle the ball at the batter but has the ability to move the odd one away - surpassed 50 first-class wickets in the season with another impressive display, while Miles claimed his third first-class five-for of the season.
He bowled very nicely, too. Operating from the Nursey End, he maintained an admirably full and straight line and length and worked on the basis that if the ball didn't move, the stumps were in play, and if it went down the slope, the slips would be. While the caught-and-bowled was, he admitted, somewhat fortunate, he also gained two leg-before dismissals and one clean bowled.
Warwickshire may have been especially delighted to see the bright start made by Manraj Johal. If there's one cloud on the horizon of their Championship success, it is in the relative scarcity of home-grown players and home-grown players of colour, in particular, in their first team. We all know the challenges cricket is facing in this area. In a city such as Birmingham, in particular, the game needs to do more to reflect its local community.
In Johal, at least, it appears Warwickshire have a player who could have a bright future. Bowling at a lively pace - around 80mph, you would think - the 19-year-old jagged the ball around on a helpful surface, trapping Tom Bailey with one that nipped back at him sharply before Jack Blatherwick fenced at one outside off stump. He'll bowl to tougher batters on tougher surfaces, no doubt, but Johal looks to have the basic ingredients to carve out a career at this level. It has been, to date, an impressive first-class debut.
Perhaps the pitch had eased a little by the time Warwickshire began their reply, but Rob Yates hit five of his first 18 balls for four and with Dom Sibley looking more confident and fluent than he has for some months - he timed his first ball through the covers for two and shortly afterwards drove a boundary through point - Warwickshire soon passed the Lancashire total. With better weather expected on day two - the first was curtailed by recurring showers - Warwickshire have an excellent opportunity to bat Lancashire out of the match. Their lead means that even if it ends in a draw, they will lift the trophy.
Lancashire did themselves few favours in the field. Sibley was missed on 29, when Davies was unable to cling on to an outside edge, while Yates was dropped at second slip by Rob Jones. Wood was the unfortunate bowler on both occasions. Lancashire may also have been unfortunate not to win a leg-before decision against Yates when he had 47, with Bailey the unlucky bowler.
"When the scoreboard looks like that, you can't blame it on being unfortunate," Mark Chilton, the Lancashire assistant coach, told ESPNcricinfo afterwards. "There was a bit of life in the pitch early on and Warwickshire's bowlers extracted it very well. They put us under pressure and we weren't able to react. It was a tough toss to lose, but I don't think we covered ourselves in glory.
"We couldn't get the same life out of the pitch - maybe due to the heavy roller - and we were a bit ordinary with the ball before tea. But the captain had a few stern words at tea and we were much better afterwards. Then we dropped a couple of catches."
Given the lateness of the season and the early starts, Lancashire will have an opportunity to claw their way back into the game on the second morning. But Mark Robinson, who is returning to this ground for the first time since he oversaw England's women winning the World Cup here in 2017, will be much the happier of the head coaches at this stage.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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