Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Warwickshire 272 for 4 dec (Yates 104, Sibley 54, Holland 3-85) and 177 (Sibley 77, Fuller 4-34) beat Hampshire 311 (Vince 98, Barker 76, Norwell 4-38) and 133 (Gubbins 46, Norwell 9-62) by five runs
At a time when county cricket is at its most paranoid, with the domestic game and all who reside in it trapped in their very own culture war, Liam Norwell produced the kind of one-man performance, in the final throes of the 2022 season, that will live on long after we've all said our goodbyes.
It was victory or bust for Warwickshire as the final day of their campaign dawned. The loss of so many overs to rain on the first two days had left the club needing "snookers", in the words of their relieved coach Mark Robinson. But on the fourth morning, in their rush for quick runs and a defendable target, Warwickshire's innings fell somewhere between aggression and panic, as they collapsed from their overnight 62 for 2 to 177 all out. With a slender lead of 138, it seemed their hopes of leapfrogging Yorkshire and escaping the second relegation place were all but done.
But into the breach surged Norwell, to claim all but one of Hampshire's ten second-innings wickets for a career-best 9 for 62, and keep last year's champions in Division One with just five runs left to defend. His match figures of 13 for 100 were the best of his career too, and brought a timely measure of closure to a season that has been ravaged by back issues, personal issues, a concussion, and a tear in his elbow, all of which have conspired to limit him to four red-ball appearances.
And it speaks volumes of Norwell's pain threshold and mental fortitude that he took only three overs off in the 23.5 bowled at the Pavilion End. His spells, split 8-2-16-3 and 10.5-1-46-6, owed as much to perseverance as high skill, as he changed his approach at the crease and manipulated the seam to challenge both edges.
Credit should also go to Oliver Hannon-Dalby, who has held the Warwickshire attack together this season in the absence not only of Norwell but Chris Woakes and Olly Stone too, and finishes the campaign with 53 wickets at 23.69. And, just as when Woakes claimed his own career-best 9 for 36 against Durham six years ago, Hannon-Dalby was the man to pick off the tenth. All told, he held down the City End to concede just 40 from 18 overs.
The nature of this remarkable victory was evident in Warwickshire's celebrations. This wasn't an outpouring of unbridled joy, with the players running in wildly different directions. Those around the wicket who had appealed with their last breaths of the County Championship season fell to their knees as umpire Richard Kettleborough raised his finger to confirm a plumb lbw against Mohammad Abbas. Everyone else ran directly to an emotional Norwell. The club's glory had come at the end of the 2021 season - this was nothing but relief.
That Hampshire had anything substantial to chase at all was mostly thanks to Dom Sibley, in his 98th and final innings for the club before his return to Surrey, who was last man out for 77 from 101 balls. But the signs were there from the outset that Warwickshire had a puncher's chance, as Hannon-Dalby nibbled his first delivery past Felix Organ's bat before finding the edge midway through his third over, with just six runs on the board.
While Hannon-Dalby held the fort at the Birmingham End, Norwell got into his graft from the other. His first eight-over spell was consistent in pace and threat. Ian Holland lost his off stump to a misjudged leave, and when Joe Weatherley was trapped lbw to leave Hampshire wobbling at 33 for 3, Norwell came within a whisker of two in two when James Vince inside-edged his first ball past his own stumps.
Vince, fresh from a near-perfect 98 in the first innings, saw that let-off as a sign, as he climbed into the first-change, Henry Brookes, with a brace of flowing fours, leaving Will Rhodes no choice but to whip him out of the attack after just two overs for 17. Norwell, however, wasn't so easily cowed, and when Vince flicked his wrist too early into a pull shot, Hannon-Dalby interrupted his rest at fine leg to scamper in and take a smart catch. Of course 33 for 4 would have been preferable, but 49 for 4 was good enough.
The 12-over wait for the fifth wicket, however, felt long enough to take the sting out of the chase and, as Nick Gubbins grew in confidence, some of the enthusiasm ebbed from what was now essentially a two-man attack. Rhodes himself was tidy but ineffective in a three-over burst, and it was only when Norwell returned in his place that the threat did too. Ben Brown was swiftly pinned lbw as he shuffled across his crease with tea approaching. And, nine balls after the break, Norwell completed his deserved five-for when Jacob Bethell took a stunning catch at cover to remove Aneurin Donald.
Keith Barker, the former Warwickshire stalwart who helped the county to their 2012 title, was then squared up by Norwell to leave Hampshire 91 for 7. With 48 still to get, perhaps this was the moment Warwickshire fans truly started to believe and their Yorkshire counterparts started to embrace the fear of relegation.
But Norwell's effort had begun to take its toll. He asked Rhodes to come off and was given a firm, expletive-enhanced "no". The cramps to his left hamstring, however, took a while to forget and the lack of extra bite off the pitch coincided with the emergence of James Fuller who, following a haul of 4 for 34 in Warwickshire's morning collapse, set about killing the game. He is one of the sweeter timers on the circuit and struck his first ball through midwicket, then contributed nine of the 12 runs taken off Norwell's 15th over - comfortably the most expensive of the lot.
The target was approaching single figures, and Fuller and Gubbins looked to have got everything back under control in an eighth-wicket stand of 33. But then, with 15 still needed, the umpires were persuaded into one final change of an out-of-shape Dukes ball this summer. Without question, it was one of the most seismic interventions.
With the first delivery of the newer, harder replacement, Norwell pinned Gubbins on the crease from around the wicket, and prised him out lbw for 46, albeit the impact might well have been outside the line. Fuller however kept going for his shots, clubbing a four down the ground off Norwell to get it to 10, before facing up in the 44th over with six required for victory, but just four for Warwickshire to defend, seeing as eight points for a tie would not have been enough to save them.
An inswinger nipped off the surface and uprooted Fuller's middle stump. Four balls later, a similar but fuller delivery pinned Abbas on the pad. The umpire's finger came up in slow-motion, before cheers from the home dressing room and those that had turned up to watch this great escape filled the air. Norwell summoned what energy he could to let the last gasps of air out before being mobbed by his team-mates.
You can debate all you want about whether this was high-performance or not. What can't be disputed was this was high pressure, high drama and one of the most memorable closing days this competition has seen. And English cricket as a whole felt better for it.
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