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Liam Norwell: 'All the emotions came out, I was nearly in tears'

Bowler glad to have repaid Warwickshire's faith after injury-wrecked season

Liam Norwell almost single-handedly bowled Warwickshire to victory  •  Getty Images

Liam Norwell almost single-handedly bowled Warwickshire to victory  •  Getty Images

It says a lot about Liam Norwell's drive that he hopes his 9 for 62, which dragged Warwickshire to safety with a five-run victory over Hampshire, will allow his team-mates and fans to forgive him for his absences this season.
Norwell's figures - the 12th best in first-class cricket for Warwickshire - saw a fourth-innings target of 133 defended on a remarkable final day of the 2022 County Championship season. It brought just a second win of the season for Warwickshire but one that lifted them above Yorkshire, who will play Division Two cricket next season after defeat to Gloucestershire on Wednesday opened the door for their relegation rivals.
Warwickshire were spared the ignominy of going down as defending champions, a success Norwell was very much a part of, with 49 dismissals at an average of 18.26 in 2021. This season, however, back issues, a concussion sustained in the second match of the season against Essex and a right elbow injury restricted him to three Championships appearances coming into this last round. Such ailments are an occupational hazard for bowlers but Norwell seems to have taken them to heart.
That he was even available to play here was a surprise to many. Following consultation with doctors, his prospects of playing again this summer were rated at "10%". After getting through all eight games in the Royal London Cup, the club felt the best course of action was to sit out the remainder of the season to avoid pushing it too far.
However, with the bowling stocks low, especially after Jayant Yadav and Mohammed Siraj returned to India, Norwell put himself forward to head coach Mark Robinson as a possible solution. And how. Even with little preparation and lacking full match fitness, he dug deep to bowl all but three of the 23.5 overs sent down from Edgbaston's Pavilion End, and was relentless throughout.
"I feel like I've let the lads and the management down quite a bit this year," an exhausted Norwell said afterwards.
"Personally, I'm as frustrated as anyone about how the season has gone. Back issues, concussion, tearing my elbow - I'm as frustrated as anyone. I believe, without trying to sound arrogant, if I played more this season, we wouldn't be in this position… I just have that confidence in myself. And I hope I proved that today."
Of that, there can be no question. His performance, which began with 4 for 36 in the first innings, will go down as one of the most remarkable in the club's history. Indeed England have closely monitored Norwell, as someone with both the frame and skills to challenge batters of the highest quality. This display simply confirmed what they saw in the former Gloucestershire man.
Back in March, he was the first bowling reserve for the tour of West Indies, and was close to a full call-up as Mark Wood struggled with an elbow injury of his own in the first of the three Tests. Norwell, however, revealed he would not have taken the call, let alone the opportunity. A couple of weeks after he was told to wait on standby, his newborn contracted meningitis and nearly lost his life.
Thankfully, his son - their second child - is healthy now. And after such a finish, the attention of selectors will be piqued once more. Test captain Ben Stokes was clearly impressed, championing the spell on social media. Norwell, however, feels his time has passed.
"I'll be honest, now I'm 30 and there are younger lads come in like [Matthew] Potts, I don't think I have got a chance. But I will keep putting in performances and you never know."
After not wishing to be arrogant by rightly claiming greater availability would have prevented Warwickshire being involved in a dog fight at the end, dismissing his own England prospects is perhaps a dip too far into modesty. Understandably, his focus is on resting up, getting fitter over the winter and playing all of next season. But the skills on show, whether unerring accuracy or clever use of the knuckleball, were sure signs of a bowler with a strong command of his craft.
The mindset, evidently, is already there. Not just coming back from injuries, or the character showcased in the two match-deciding spells but even at the tea break when he took himself to one side to maintain his focus. "I sat by myself, to be honest with you," he said.
"I felt quite emotional at tea and I wanted to make sure I was the man to drive us over the line. I got our physio to get me some food and I just sat in the table in front of the viewing area and just looked out onto the pitch. It's what I did last year when we won the Championship, just to try and keep myself focused. I thought if it worked last year it might work this year. Luckily it did."
He did admit to one moment of weakness. Upon taking the wicket of Keith Barker, bowling the left-hander to make it 91 for 7, his left hamstring began cramping, causing more discomfort than the right elbow which was sore but manageable. At the end of the over - Norwell's 14th - he asked his captain Will Rhodes if he could come off. The reply could not be misinterpreted.
"I have to give Will credit. I tried to take myself off after the Keith Barker wicket. I was cramping. I won't use the language he used but he basically said 'you're bowling until the end of the game'. Him and Dom Sibley just kept getting around me and they kept pumping me up and getting me going."
Along with encouragement from his team-mates, he had Warwickshire's physio for company down at fine leg. At the start of his last over, defending just five, he produced a beauty to uproot James Fuller's middle stump when the bowling allrounder looked set to win Hampshire the game. Four balls on, a full, inswinging delivery wrapped Mohammad Abbas on the pads to confirm the win and survival.
"I just went a bit mad," Norwell said of the final celebration. "All the emotions came out, I was nearly in tears. It means a lot to me - I feel like I've let everyone down this year by not playing.
"Helping us stay up and put in that performance I hope is repaid the lads and supporters for not playing." It is safe to say it has.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo