Opinion: Where has it all gone wrong for Warwickshire?

Opinion: Where has it all gone wrong for Warwickshire?

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Pic: Luke Adams

It is not long since Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell were key components of one of England’s most successful Test sides in post-war history. After two crushing defeats in Warwickshire’s first two matches, there is a real prospect that both could be playing in Division Two of the County Championship next season.

On Day Four at Edgbaston, Adil Rashid wrapped up Yorkshire’s win by an innings and 88 runs when he bowled Oliver Hannon-Dalby for 12, the only wicket left to take on the day.

Hannon-Dalby had added 36 for the final wicket with Jeetan Patel, and it was Warwickshire’s second-highest partnership of the match (Patel had previously shared a 53-run stand with Keith Barker in the first innings).

They had recovered from 77-7 in the first innings and 54-8 in the second innings. However bad it looks on the scorecard now, it could have been even worse. Add this to their innings-and-one-run defeat at the Oval in the opening game of the season, and they are in a truly dire state.

It may be premature to sound the alarm bells this early in the year, and there are mitigating factors to Warwickshire’s dismal start. Surrey and Yorkshire, the two sides who have beaten them, are both credible candidates for the title, and Mark Footitt is in the sort of form that might see him carrying drinks or even bowling for England later in the summer.

But with Surrey on their way to Edgbaston on Friday, if Warwickshire do not turn things around soon they could be facing an uncomfortable and unexpected fight for survival.

It would be churlish for Warwickshire to blame the absence of star man Chris Woakes for their early-season slip-ups. While Woakes is a fine all-rounder who would no doubt have been useful at the Oval and at Edgbaston, Surrey were without Jason Roy and almost half of Yorkshire’s side missed their encounter due to England layoffs.

‘No easy games’ is a common mantra among media-savvy county cricketers and their coaches, but the early results have shown that this year, nothing can be taken for granted. Essex, a team many people tipped to return to Division Two based on their limited bowling resources, sit at the right end of the table after a grafting draw against Lancashire and a win over Somerset.

Hampshire, who avoided the drop last year only in virtue of an ECB ruling, have upset Yorkshire and dominated Middlesex in their first two games. Shivnarine Chanderpaul looked timeless and peerless putting Lancashire in charge against Surrey, even before Kumar Sangakkara’s ageless intervention.

All this makes grim reading for Warwickshire, who will probably not see much of Woakes this season and will lose Patel to New Zealand when the Champions Trophy begins.

Woakes played five games in the Championship last season and stands first and second on the sides bowling and batting averages respectively. He is a vital player for Warwickshire’s hopes of survival.

As well as being the front-line spinner, Patel is a batsman with serious backbone: he made 49* out of his team’s dismal 115 all out at Edgbaston, which followed handy scores of 36 and 29 in his previous two innings.

Patel has only taken three wickets this season, though, which leads to the much bigger question for Warwickshire of how they are going to bowl teams out cheaply enough (twice) to win the games needed to stay in the division.

Hannon-Dalby’s bowling average in first-class cricket is nearing 40. Rikki Clarke is nearing 40 in a different way, and has one score above ten (12) in his four innings so far in the Championship.

Chris Wright bowled well at the Oval and Barker is one of English cricket’s most underrated all-rounders, but they cannot be expected to carry Warwickshire’s bowling attack on their shoulders. Division One batsmen will adapt to blunt and tire Wright and Barker and make hay off the other bowlers.

Over the course of the season, fatigue and increased injury risks will diminish their effectiveness as they take on more of the bowling load.

In the batting department, Warwickshire simply do not seem to have a core of players who can post imposing totals on a regular basis.

Trott was magnificently defiant in their losing cause at the Oval and Bell joined him with a characteristically stylish 50, but neither has made a contribution when the game was alive and Bell at times seems to have the same jaded, weary look as in the latter stages of his England career.

Tim Ambrose is in a horrific run of form and William Porterfield has been profligate after making four starts. In the first innings at Edgbaston, he sank to his knees in horror after driving a wide ball from Ben Coad straight to Gary Ballance. At the other end of the pitch, Alex Mellor rehearsed a straight drive of his own.

Mellor’s dismissal ten overs later was not as horrendous as Porterfield’s – Coad’s line was perfect, and Mellor had to play at it – but it was the latest in a series of low scores that calls his place in Warwickshire’s XI into question.

At 25, Mellor has played just eight first-class matches, and has one fifty in that time against Oxford MCCU. He showed more circumspection that his teammates against Yorkshire, but looked no more comfortable against the seamers after 40 deliveries than he did after one over.

He cannot realistically be described as a young player (Essex’s Nick Browne is four months older and has 12 first-class tons to his name) and he is struggling to protect Warwickshire’s vulnerable middle order.

This is not his fault exactly – Porterfield has been out first in half their partnerships this season – but when you consider the questions that hang over Warwickshire’s fate this season, Mellor is not likely to answer many of them.

Age is one of Warwickshire’s issues. Of the eleven men who played at Edgbaston, only three – Mellor, Hannon-Dalby and Sam Hain – are under 30. Hannon-Dalby is a much stronger bowler with a white ball in his hand and it is hard to see how a Championship-winning (or Championship-surviving) squad could be built around him.

Hain has long been touted as Warwickshire’s next big thing, and his straight drive is so beautiful that you half-expect his bat to sound a deep cello note rather than the more prosaic crack of leather on willow.

However, the 21-year-old endured a tough 2016, racking up four ducks in 15 games with an average of just 22. He is still young, but Haseeb Hameed and Dan Lawrence are younger. If you are a hotly-tipped county opener, life comes at you fast – just ask Sam Robson.

This season, Hain has just one duck to his name after four innings. Sadly for him, his three other scores are also single figures.

As the sole representative of the 18-24 age bracket in Warwickshire’s first team he may be entitled to some slack, but he is a long way from fulfilling his immense promise and might struggle to justify his place if he has a second lean year in a row.

If there is a future for Warwickshire in the top division, their senior players will need to recover form quickly. In the longer term, they will need support and relief from younger players.

Warwickshire do have them – not in the quantity or of the quality that Yorkshire do, perhaps – but players like Josh Poysden and Sunny Singh are largely untested in the four-day game. With Ashley Giles’ first picks offering such limited returns, perhaps now would be the time for the Bears to gamble on the cubs and let them show what they can do.

Nor could Warwickshire expect an easy return to the top flight in 2018. Division Two looks highly competitive this year, and with Durham presumably starting 2018 on 0 points rather than -48, next year could be even tougher.

If their academy cannot supply them with enough quality reinforcements to make up a competitive team, Warwickshire are also likely to have a difficult time recruiting Kolpaks as the ECB seek to stifle criticism by tightening the rules on Kolpak signings. In the medium to long term, Britain leaving the EU will also restrict the free movement of players with EU passports.

While it is not too early to speculate on Warwickshire’s relegation prospects, it is too early to discuss the team’s new management and coaching structure.

Giles was at the helm when Warwickshire last lifted the County Championship in 2012, and he needs time to develop his team from what is obviously an inauspicious starting point.

Giles was part of arguably the finest moment in recent English cricketing history – the 2005 Ashes – and arguably one of the lowest – the defeat to the Netherlands in the 2014 World T20.

Perhaps he was unlucky not to be given more time to shape the England side, but the fact remains that it was an undignified and, according to the ECB at least, unpardonable ignominy.

Giles was also a junior part of the Warwickshire squads that dominated the landscape of county cricket in the mid-1990s, and won the Championship as coach in 2012.

If he is to avoid being part of a disaster comparable to the 2014 World T20 as Warwickshire’s sport director, he will need to think and move very quickly indeed. The big question is whether he has the tools to pull off a great escape.

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