Division 1, Birmingham, September 21 - 24, 2021, County Championship
367 & 294/3d
(T:273) 389 & 154

Warwickshire won by 118 runs


Warwickshire seal Championship glory as Somerset are overwhelmed

Victory vindicates savvy recruitment, not least that of head coach Mark Robinson

George Dobell
George Dobell
Warwickshire begin their celebrations after sealing the County Championship, Warwickshire vs Somerset, Edgbaston, County Championship Division One, September 24, 2021

Warwickshire begin their celebrations after sealing the County Championship  •  PA Images/Getty

Warwickshire 367 and 294 for 3 dec (Yates 132*, Rhodes 62, Sibley 50) beat Somerset 389 (Gregory 68, Davies 52) and 154 (Miles 3-26) by 118 runs
It was, as Mark Robinson put it, "one of those days you live for". Certainly from a Warwickshire perspective.
Robinson, the Warwickshire head coach, has been this way before, of course. He's won a World Cup. And every domestic trophy during his spell at Sussex.
But, having been sacked as England women's head coach in 2019, less than a year after leading the side to the World T20 final, this one will have felt a bit special. This was his first year in the job, after all. And he's taken a side that have been also-rans and turned them into champions. "It's makes you think you must be all right," Robinson said without a hint of arrogance afterwards. "When you've had a year out, it's nice to be reminded you know a bit."
The fact that a crowd was present was a reminder of better days, too. There were only around 2,000 in by the end of this game but, buoyed by the unlikely title challenge, they produced an atmosphere to be savoured in the final hours. Championship cricket still matters to many of us. It's nice to be reminded of that sometimes.
It was pleasing, too, to see the trophy presented by Warwickshire's cricket operations manager, Keith Cook. Ian Watmore, the ECB chair, was in attendance. But, with various Covid protocols prohibiting his ability to interact with players, the decision was made to allow Cook, who has spent 48 years working for the club and is adored and respected in equal measure round these parts, to make the presentation. It was a nice touch. It is Warwickshire's eighth Championship title in all. Only Yorkshire, Surrey, Middlesex and Lancashire have won the title more often.
To have turned this Warwickshire side into LV= Insurance County Champions is an achievement as significant as it is surprising. Warwickshire, it might be remembered, didn't win a first-class game in the abbreviated 2020 first-class season. And they only won three in 2019 when, but for a change of criteria, they would have been relegated. They were nobody's favourite after failing to win the first match of the season against a modest Derbyshire side.
The title looked unlikely far more recently than that, though. Having won neither of their first two games once this tournament split into divisions, they needed to win both their last two to be in with a shout. Even over the last couple of days, that has looked unlikely.
Having performed brilliantly to claim a fourth batting bonus point on the second day, they failed to gain a third bowling bonus point on the third and so no longer had their fate entirely in their own hands. They then had to watch on as Hampshire and Lancashire contested the tightest of matches, with Lancashire's eventual victory opening the door for them once more.
Even on the final day, this result looked unlikely. While they performed admirably in adding 115 in the first 15 overs to set up a declaration, there was nothing in the surface to hint at the drama that was to follow. Indeed, a target of 273 in 79 overs looked generous. The pitch was flat and Somerset's run-rate of 3.46 looked achievable.
But it proved an astute decision. Lured into a few strokes that a more demanding target may have discouraged, Somerset collapsed from 31 without loss to 106 for 8 before Lewis Gregory led some late resistance. Azhar Ali, Tom Abell and Lewis Goldworthy all edged catches to the slips as they poked at balls away from their body while Ben Green was perhaps unfortunate to be caught down the leg-side. Steve Davies was then beaten by a searing yorker from Liam Norwell, who deserved more rewards for an outstanding spell of bowling, before Craig Overton received the ball of the match - a wobble-seam delivery that pitched on middle and hit off - from Chris Woakes.
It was probably fitting that victory was achieved deep inside the final session on the final day, though. It was the fourth time this season Warwickshire have won a game in such fashion and it reflects a side who play a slightly old-school style of cricket.
That's not to say there's anything wrong with it. Quite the opposite, really. But whereas there has been a tendency in the county game for sides to produce result pitches and hope they win the resulting shoot-out, Edgbaston has generally produced flat, true surfaces where bowlers have to graft for their wickets but are rewarded with some carry. These are precisely the surfaces we need to see throughout the county game if a new generation of players are to be produced for Test cricket. Warwickshire deserve more credit than they may receive for persevering with such methods when it sometimes seems the rest of the world has been sucked into a get-rich-quick scheme.
"The ECB need to look at the wickets," Robinson said afterwards. "I had a couple of years out of the county game and they've have gone downhill in that time. Medium-pacers dominate and teams try to fast-track results. But we're trying to produce England players and win games and I like to think we're doing things properly."
Despite those flat wickets, Warwickshire failed to score 400 in a single innings throughout the campaign. Not one of their batters scored as many as 850 runs and not one of their bowlers claimed 50 wickets.
But they pay tough, relentless cricket. They have a squad, led by a young captain, Will Rhodes, whose lack of eye-catching personal contributions has been offset by his calm authority as leader. They bat deep, possess a formidable battery of seam bowlers and have, in Danny Briggs, a spinner who can contain in the first innings, attack in the second and is increasingly able to contribute with the bat.
And it's all complemented by some outstanding catching behind the wicket, not least from Tim Bresnan, who pulled off the sharpest of slip catches to make the initial breakthrough on the brink of lunch. With a top score of 63 and just 12 wickets in the campaign, Bresnan may be a declining force as a player but his experience and knowledge mean he retains much value to a side with little experience of such moments. All in all, it's a decent package which probably amounts to a bit more than the sum of its parts.
They have been blessed, in these last couple of matches, by the inclusion of Woakes, the only survivor of the Warwickshire side which last won this title in 2012. He could have been at the IPL, of course. And he had asked for permission from the England management to play in these final two games. He won't be appearing in the Bob Willis Trophy match at Lord's next week. Increasingly that game looks like an unnecessary dessert at the end of a satisfying meal.
The development of Rob Yates will bring particular pleasure at Edgbaston. The club has not produced a home-grown specialist batter who has gone on to win their county cap since Ian Westwood in 2008. But in making four centuries in this campaign (nobody from any side made more), Yates, who only celebrated his 22nd birthday last week, demonstrated the potential that marks him out as a possible future Test cricketer. While it is true his record at home (he averages more than 45 at Edgbaston) is substantially better than his record elsewhere (he averages 18.53 away), it might also be remembered he is still a part-time cricketer. If he is picked for a Lions spot this winter - and his record suggests he should be - Birmingham University will have to agree to give him time off.
It was with another home-grown player - Matt Lamb - that Yates set up the declaration. Bought time by the aggression of Dom Sibley and Rhodes the previous night, the pair thrashed 63 in seven overs, demonstrating the sort of selfless cricket which has become a hallmark of the side. In a perfect world, you may like more than four home-grown players in a side, Warwickshire do deserve praise for the blossoming of Norwell, who might just be a bolter for the Lions, Craig Miles and Briggs, who was unwanted in a Sussex first-class side. You wonder how they are reflecting on the wisdom of that policy now.
The structure of this season might lead some to underplay this success. But, over the course of the campaign, Warwickshire have beaten Essex and Somerset, who have proven the strongest sides of the last few years, with other victories coming against Yorkshire (away), Nottinghamshire (home and away) and Derbyshire (away). There is no doubt this is a deserved success. And there's no doubt Robinson is a terrific head coach.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

AskESPNcricinfo Logo
Instant answers to T20 questions
Somerset Innings
<1 / 3>
County Championship
Division 1
Division 2
Division 3
Group 1
Group 2
Group 3