2018 Season Preview: Warwickshire

2018 Season Preview: Warwickshire

Jeetan Patel backed lead to lead Warwickshire to Division One return. Photo ©Luke Adams

 

For five years from 2012, the Edgbaston-based team, full of experienced and skilled performers, swam high with the tide, winning all three domestic titles in that time. Then, in 2017, the tide went out and the ageing team were collectively revealed, metaphorically speaking, with their swimming trunks round their ankles. It was not a pretty sight.

Relegation from Division One of the Specsavers County Championship was bad enough. What made it worse was that it came by the humbling margin of 61 points. Warwickshire won only one Championship game. They lost nine, five of them by an innings.

In addition, Warwickshire’s bottom place in their group of the Royal London One Day Cup was a humiliatingly inadequate defence of their 2016 title.

Only in the T20 Blast was there any sign that the tide was turning again. A late run in the group stages and a rousing quarter-final win over Surrey took the team to Finals Day. There, they only fell at the final hurdle.

The true test of whether those T20 heroics represented the start of a genuine revival of fortunes will come in 2018.

Paradoxically, relegation to Division Two of the Championship may prove to be more of a blessing than a curse if it enables the promising crop of young players who came through towards the end of last season to establish themselves and thrive. There are high hopes that, for several of them, 2018 will be a breakthrough season.

Of the young batsmen, Matt Lamb, Andy Umeed and Ed Pollock all showed promise in different ways in 2017, as did all-rounders Aaron Thomason, George Panayi and Alex Thomson. A trio of bowlers – Grant Thornton, Henry Brookes and Sunny Singh – also gave signs that they might make the grade.

In addition, there will be several new (or fairly new) faces.

Dominic Sibley joined last year from Surrey. His appointment as vice-captain is surely a sign of how highly he is already regarded as both a player and a leader. Adam Hose came from Somerset.  Olly Stone from Northants played little last year because of injury but is fit again now. And Will Rhodes will bring his under-utilised all-round skills from Yorkshire.

One of the problems for Director of Sports Ashley Giles will be giving enough opportunities to these new and young players while also tapping into the vast experience of players such as Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Tim Ambrose and Keith Barker. All are nearer the end than the beginning of their careers but will be hoping for at least one last hurrah.

Jeetan Patel will be captain for the Championship and Royal London One Day Cup and Grant Elliott will lead the Birmingham Bears in the Vitality Twenty20 Blast.

Off the field, bowling coach Alan Richardson was released in the close season and subsequently took up a similar role at Worcestershire. Ex-Bear Graeme Welch replaced him.

The club also steered through a major change in its constitution, aimed at improving standards of corporate governance.

Ins: Will Rhodes (Yorkshire)

Outs: William Porterfield (released), Ateeq Javid (Leicestershire)

Key Player  

Last season, Jeetan Patel played in 37 matches across all competitions, took 71 wickets, scored over 600 runs and took 20 catches. At times, he stood out like a water lily growing in a stagnant pond. Now he has the added burden of the club captaincy.

When he returns to Edgbaston after another hard winter’s cricket for Wellington, will Patel, at the age of 38, be able to sustain his form? If 2018 should prove to be one season too many, the Bears will surely struggle.

Fortunately, those who know his inexhaustible appetite for the game have few doubts that Patel will continue to deliver.

Player to watch

24-year-old Olly Stone is one of a small number of bowlers in English cricket who can propel a ball at speeds in excess of 90 mph. Assuming that he has fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the game for most of 2017 and threatened to end his career, he could create havoc among Division Two batsmen. For the Bears to be in the promotion hunt, they will need to regularly take 20 wickets, so Stone could be a crucial weapon.

If he is fit enough to play in all formats, he could be equally effective in the white-ball competitions.

Should he be amongst the wickets early in the season, there is no doubt that England selectors will be taking a look. While Bears supporters will be pleased for him, they will inevitably be disappointed if international recognition limits his appearances for his adopted county.

Overseas signings

The aforementioned Jeetan Patel has played for the Bears for so long that he will surely soon start to talk like a Peaky Blinder. Since 2009, he has played every season except 2010.

Fellow Kiwis Grant Elliott and Colin de Grandhomme return for their second season of T20 Blast cricket.

How they’ll fare

The consensus at Warwickshire is that early promotion back to the top Division of the Championship is a possibility. But there is also an acceptance that it might take longer than this  season for those talented young players to develop. So the Bears may have to settle for nothing better than a top half of the table result this year.

In the Royal London One Day Cup, an improvement on last year should not be difficult. If all goes well, qualification for the knock-out stages is a real possibility.

The Vitality Twenty20 Blast is more difficult to predict. T20 cricket can often be a lottery, with the possibility of weather intervening plus uncertainty about how other counties’ various overseas imports may perform.

The Birmingham Bears have, as in past years, the added incentive of Finals Day being played at Edgbaston. Maybe that will be enough to get them through the Group stages. After that, it is anybody’s guess as to whether they can actually lift the trophy.

Opening Fixture

SSCC vs Sussex, Friday 13th April at Edgbaston

Season Odds

SS County Championship Division 1: 9/2

Royal London One-Day Cup: 9/1

Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 12/1

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