Ian Bell Steps Down as Bears Captain

Ian Bell has stood down from the captaincy of Warwickshire and the Birmingham Bears. This follows the decision to drop him from the Birmingham Bears T20 side that defeated Lancashire to ensure qualification for the NatWest T20 Blast quarter finals.

Grant Elliott will captain the Birmingham Bears in their match against Surrey on Friday. Jonathan Trott will take over the captaincy of the Championship side for the rest of the season.

Ashley Giles, Sport Director at Warwickshire CCC, said: “Ian and I have spoken regularly throughout the season and he made the decision to stand down as skipper following our Specsavers County Championship win over Middlesex two weeks ago.

“It’s very brave of Ian to make this decision, but one that we fully respect.

“Having him focused solely on scoring runs for Warwickshire and Birmingham Bears is a huge asset to the club as we bid to reach a third Finals Day in four years and aim to build on our Championship victory at Lord’s.”

Ian Bell said: “It’s been an absolute honour to lead my home county over the last 18 months, and my decision to stand down is something that I have thought long and hard about over a period of weeks.

“This is the right time for me to stand down as captain, to focus on my batting and scoring runs, which will be the best thing for the team.

“As a senior player, I will support the team in all ways possible and I believe that our squad has very exciting times ahead.”

In view of Bell’s own lack of form, and the struggles of the team in both the Specsavers County Championship and the Royal London One Day Cup, the decision comes as no surprise. Even so, it is not something that will have come easily to Bell who has been a committed Bears supporter since childhood.

Bell led Warwickshire to the Royal London One Day Cup last year. But this season, the Bears finished last in their Royal London group. They are also in the bottom two in Division One of the County Championship, with a mountain to climb if they are to avoid relegation.

Although Bell scored well in the Royal London Cup earlier in the season, his batting form in both the Championship and the T20 competition has been indifferent. He averages only in the mid-twenties.

At least as significant is the fact that his T20 strike rate this season has been, at 117.28, lower than all the Bears’ other recognised batsmen. In the first-class game, his last hundred was at the start of the 2016 season.

Still only 35, there is no doubt that, if Bell can recover his batting form, he can play a major part for the Bears as they seek to rebuild an ageing team. Whether the appetite is there is another matter.

Bell’s decision to stand down continues the rapid pace of change at Edgbaston. It follows the mid-season retirement of Ian Westwood, the club’s decision to let Rikki Clarke go to Surrey and the recruitment of young players Will Rhodes, Adam Hose and Dominic Sibley.

Book Review: Gentleman and Player – Andrew Murtagh’s Engaging Biography of Colin Cowdrey, an Enigmatic Giant of the Game

Of all the cricketers whose career and life might justify a biography, Colin Cowdrey must be near the top of the list. From the time he became the youngest person ever to play at Lord’s, at age 13, until his death 54 years later, he had a prominent role in the game first as a player and later as an administrator.

Cowdrey scored 22 Test hundreds in 114 Tests. He captained Oxford University, Kent and England. He toured Australia as a player six times. After his retirement from playing he was, at difficult times for the game, President of the MCC and Chairman of the International Cricket Council.

Cowdrey received a CBE and then a knighthood before being made a life peer, all for services to the game. He became only the fourth sportsman (after Sir Frank Worrell, Lord Constantine and Bobby Moore) to have a memorial service in Westminster Abbey.

The annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture was inaugurated in his memory. The epitaph on his headstone reads “…some journey, some life, some coverdrive, some friend.”

A biography justified? I think so!

Author Andrew Murtagh played first class cricket against both Colin and his son Chris. The backgrounds of subject and author overlapped in at least one other way. Both had strong loyalties to the English public school system. Colin developed a great love for his public school, Tonbridge, hence his choice to become Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge. Murtagh spent many years, after retirement from cricket, teaching English at Malvern College.

Whilst Murtagh’s book is not quite an authorised biography, he makes it clear that he had the approval of Cowdrey’s family.

The family approval and the similarities of experience and background have significant advantages for the book. There is also a downside, however, which we will touch on later.

Murtagh gained access to the great man’s notes and diaries. He is able to harvest the recollections of Colin’s children. He can also explain, from the inside, the intricacies and peculiarities of the English public school culture.

In addition, his friendship or acquaintance with those who knew Cowdrey well results in many insightful quotes. Of the thirty or so people that Murtagh names as having shared their memories with him, most were Cowdrey’s colleagues on the field and/or in the committee rooms.

With all that help, Murtagh is successful in painting clear pictures of Cowdrey the child, the man, the cricketer and the cricket administrator.

He describes in some detail Cowdrey’s unusual childhood.

Cowdrey was raised as an only child in India, with no friends of his own age. At age six, he was shipped to England. His cricket-mad father had already given him some intense coaching. In order to discourage hits to leg, Colin was placed alongside the wire netting of the tennis court so that any leg-side slogs would risk a nasty bounce-back.

In England, his prep school head was another harsh taskmaster. And in his second autumn term, young master Cowdrey was surprised that his grandmother rather than his parents met him at the school gates. He was told that they had gone to work – not unusual, except that work was in India. With the outbreak of war, Cowdrey did not see his parents for another seven years. In school holidays, he was passed around various relatives in different parts of the country.

Maybe it’s not surprising that Cowdrey’s son Jeremy says “Dad never really spoke about his parents.” And if Cowdrey had a few personality quirks, many another child, faced with such a dysfunctional upbringing, might have grown up with more hang-ups than a coat-rack.

In fact, as a man, Cowdrey comes across as kind, sophisticated and charming, with a high level of interpersonal skills. Murtagh quotes playwright and ex-playing colleague James Graham Brown: “He made you feel you were the most important person in the room and that it was a privilege for him to be speaking to you.”

Cowdrey was an inveterate and skilled networker.

There is no doubt that he sometimes used this to his own advantage. After all, his first wife was his boss’s daughter and his second was the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, the premier peer of the realm.

But there are plenty of examples of his skill and delight in fixing things for others. Australian cricketer and schoolmaster John Inverarity, for example, describes how Colin arranged a contact that led to him gaining a post at Tonbridge School.

Murtagh wrestles successfully with the enigmas of Cowdrey the batsman and Cowdrey the captain.

Possessed of sublime batting skills, including the gift of perfect timing best displayed in his incomparable cover drive, Cowdrey could also become totally becalmed at the wicket.

The truth is that his well-grooved technique was both a blessing and a curse. In many ways, he had been taught well. He had a rare stillness at the crease – as he said, “a clear photograph needs a still head.” Given pace on the ball, he could bring a wide range of shots into play.

But if the wicket was slow and the bowler was simply putting it on the spot, it could be a different story. “Pawky” is the word used by veteran cricket writer John Woodcock to describe Cowdrey at his worst.

As for the kind of improvisations that are second nature to present-day batsmen, Cowdrey simply couldn’t do it. The man himself lamented the contrast between himself and Peter May, with whom he shared a record partnership of 411 against West Indies in 1957. May would, as the moderns do, take his front foot away from the line of the ball and hit over mid-off or cover. “It felt odd and alien to me,” said Cowdrey. He was hide-bound by the technique drilled into him in childhood.

Murtagh tackles a similar conundrum in assessing Cowdrey the captain.

Many who played under him spoke highly of his leadership skills. Derek Ufton says: “He was no tactical genius, though he knew the game inside out. His strength as a leader was his personality.”

Graham Johnson confirms: “I knew none better. He made young players like me feel very important.”

And Kent overseas star Asif Iqbal adds a key point: “He could absorb pressure like a sponge, never allowing it to go down to his players.”

What about Cowdrey the Test captain?

Murtagh points out that he was ill-treated by the selectors, often only getting the job by default when others failed in one way or another. As a result, his self-doubts, never far from the surface, could make him appear indecisive.

But when he was fully in control and felt that he had the confidence of the selectors, as was the case when he led a winning tour to West Indies, he was more decisive.

Murtagh quotes Tom Graveney: “I’d always believed he was too much of a good-natured sort of bloke to be a wholly convincing England captain. But on this tour he cracked the whip.”

As for Cowdrey’s off-the-field cricket career, the book makes clear his contribution at the local, national and international levels.

As a loyal man of Kent, for example, he apparently attended 164 functions during the winter of 1957/58 to drum up support for the county team. Even if we stretch the close season to, say, 30 weeks, that is more than five events a week!

Nationally, his conciliatory skills were much needed when he became president of MCC in 1987.

The Club was in conflict with the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), the predecessor of the ECB. Both the secretary and the treasurer resigned and the members refused to pass the annual report.

Eventually, in large part because of Cowdrey’s efforts, peace was achieved. But by the time a Special General Meeting finally accepted the annual report, Cowdrey was in hospital recovering from a triple bypass operation.

Other writers might have covered these events just with recourse to Wisden. Murtagh does quote from the good book. But here, as elsewhere, he also uses his ability to get information from key people. He is able to quote former MCC secretary Roger Knight, TCCB secretary Alan Smith, Worcestershire secretary Mike Vockins and MCC treasurer Hubert Doggart.

In 1989, Cowdrey became chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

There were big issues to address here. He managed to secure the independence of the ICC from the MCC and (for the time being, at least) any of the national boards of control. He was also able to gain agreement to the use of match referees and neutral umpires in international cricket. Not only that, he was instrumental in ensuring the re-admission of South Africa to international cricket. Not a bad set of achievements.

What about those downsides that arise because of the closeness with the Cowdrey family and friends? It has to be said that Murtagh occasionally succumbs to the temptation to gloss over some of the more controversial issues that arose during Cowdrey’s career.

To be fair Murtagh does give a full airing to Cowdrey’s role, as England captain and selector, in the D’Oliveira affair and the failure to pick the Cape Coloured cricketer for a tour of South Africa where he would have been unwelcome.

With the recent death of Doug Insole, we have lost the last surviving member of the group of ten people (yes, really) who met to select the team for the South African tour that never was. And the minutes of the meeting have disappeared. So we will never know exactly who said what and whether or not political pressure was brought to bear to exclude D’Oliveira.

What does emerge is the possibility that D’Oliveira’s exclusion was prompted partly by Cowdrey’s experience of captaining him in the West Indies the previous winter.

Murtagh quotes playing colleague Jim Parks: “Everybody would buy him a drink, and Bas being Bas, he couldn’t say no. That was his trouble really.”

Murtagh also goes back to conversations he had with the late Tom Graveney, the subject of Murtagh’s previous book. “You know, before Bas came to England, he never drank. He had this weakness. He couldn’t handle it. And of course it got the better of him.”

So maybe the decision was, in part at least, for neither pure cricketing nor political reasons. It could be that the thought of D’Oliveira, by common consent a delightful man when sober, repeating his West Indies behaviour when under inevitably close scrutiny in his home country was too much for Cowdrey and his fellow selectors to contemplate.

Whatever the true reasons, it was at best naive of Cowdrey to tell D’Oliveira, after he had scored a historic hundred in the last Test against Australia a few days earlier, that he was “on the plane.”

Other areas of controversy are either sidestepped or seen from the Cowdrey perspective rather than dealt with objectively.

When Garry Sobers made a generous declaration and gave England the chance of a famous Test (and series) win on that West Indies tour, did Cowdrey, as captain, initially argue against going for the runs? That well-known dasher Geoffrey Boycott, amongst others, has alleged as much. Murtagh is silent. In any event, Cowdrey played a key innings in leading England to victory so maybe it doesn’t matter too much.

Murtagh is equivocal in discussing Cowdrey’s reputation as a walker. Often, when he edged to the wicket keeper, Cowdrey would, with some ostentation, tuck his bat under his arm and, removing his gloves, march off in advance of any umpire’s decision.

But, especially late in his career, he would sometimes edge and then look anywhere other than at the umpire, maybe hoping that the man in the white coat would think “Colin’s not walking. He must have missed it.”

Murtagh makes the point that, even in Cowdrey’s day, walking was by no means the norm. But the moral ambivalence of being an occasional walker is not fully addressed.

Of less relevance in a cricketing biography is the story of Cowdrey’s divorce from his first wife, Penny, the mother of his children, and his relationship and later marriage to Anne, Lady Herries, eldest daughter of the Duke of Norfolk.

Murtagh addresses this chapter of his subject’s life with declared reluctance. It was clearly a devastating blow for his wife Penny and their children. Murtagh touches lightly on the contrasts between Penny, a highly strung “force of nature” and Anne, described by Cowdrey’s daughter Carol as “totally unsociable.”

One thing that is clear is that Anne gave him peace as his health declined, prior to his early death aged just 67 following a stroke.

Overall, if there is some airbrushing of Cowdrey’s faults and weaknesses, it is a small price to pay for a thoroughly well-written, absorbing and engaging account of the life of such a complex man.

Those who saw Colin Cowdrey in his long prime will enjoy re-living his great days. Many younger cricket lovers can, by reading Andrew Murtagh’s book, discover why Cowdrey was such a major figure in the world of cricket in the second half of the last century.

Gentleman and Player, The Story of Colin Cowdrey, Cricket’s Most Elegant and Charming Batsman by Andrew Murtagh is published by Pitch Publishing

For more information, click here.

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SSCC Preview: Middlesex v Warwickshire

After the thrills and spills of the NatWest T20 Blast, we return, briefly at least, to the more traditional longer form of the game as County Champions Middlesex entertain Warwickshire at Lord’s for four days starting on Sunday.

Exactly a month ago, on 6 July, the reverse fixture between the two teams came to a climactic conclusion at Edgbaston as Middlesex sneaked home by just one wicket.

The victory lifted Middlesex to joint fifth in the table, consigned Warwickshire to a fifth defeat out of eight matches played, and sent them to the bottom of the table.

In a season when a quarter (two out of eight) of the teams will be relegated, Middlesex are still not safe from the drop.

As for the Bears, they are drinking in the last chance saloon and last orders have been called. Victory against Middlesex might open up a path to safety, but it will require a massive turnaround in the last six matches of the Championship season to keep them in the top flight.

Key Men

For Middlesex, Adam Voges makes a return after a calf injury. He was averaging 57.50 prior to the injury; and he brings a large dose of experience and know-how to the Middlesex batting line-up.

Warwickshire welcome back Chris Woakes to their squad. Woakes has recovered from injury and will be keen to show the England selectors that he is fit for international action.

Team News

Middlesex are without England men Dawid Malan and Toby Roland-Jones. In addition, Paul Stirling and Ollie Rayner are injured. Steven Finn has been released from the England squad and is available. Nathan Sowter and Harry Podmore are also included in the 14 man squad..

Middlesex squad: James Franklin (captain), Nick Compton, Stephen Eskinazi, Steven Finn, Nick Gubbins, James Harris, Tom Helm, Ryan Higgins, Tim Murtagh, Harry Podmore, Sam Robson, John Simpson (wicket-keeper), Nathan Sowter, Adam Voges

There are new faces in the Warwickshire squad. Dominic Sibley and Rikki Clarke have swapped counties, and Sibley comes straight into the Bears squad.

There is another familiar name, Ryan Sidebottom, also on the list. But this is not the Yorkshire and England Ryan. He is, in fact, a 27-year old fast bowler who has impressed for Berkswell in the Birmingham League and taken 15 wickets in two Warwickshire Second Team games.

As well as Woakes, Chris Wright also returns from injury.

Warwickshire squad: Ian Bell (captain), Tim Ambrose (wicket-keeper), Keith Barker, Sam Hain, Matthew Lamb, Jeetan Patel, Boyd Rankin, Dominic Sibley, Ryan Sidebottom, Sunny Singh, Jonathan Trott, Andy Umeed, Chris Woakes, Chris Wright

Form:

Middlesex: WLLDD
Warwickshire: LDLLD

Weather and conditions

After dry weather on the first two days, the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday looks more problematic. With the Lord’s pitch making it tough to take 20 wickets in the match, a draw, which would suit neither side, looks a distinct possibility.

Date: 6-9 August 2017
Time: 11.00 am
Ground: Lord’s
Odds (SkyBet): Middlesex 8/15; Warwickshire 6/4

Rapids win local derby after an entertaining contest

On a fine Birmingham evening, and in front of an animated crowd of over 15000, Worcestershire Rapids beat their local rivals the Birmingham Bears by just five runs to win the Norman Gifford Trophy and keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the NatWest T20 Blast.

An excellent pitch offered a little encouragement to everyone, guaranteeing a great evening’s entertainment.

Whilst there were some outstanding performances on both sides, what maybe turned the match for the Rapids was a humble helmet.

In the 18th over of the Rapids’ innings, a ball from Aaron Thomason beat the bat, beat keeper Alex Mellor and struck the helmet. The result was five penalty runs, the exact margin of the Rapids’ victory.

Chasing 191 to win, the Bears were always a little bit short of the required rate. Dominic Sibley, on debut, followed up four excellent overs of leg spin with 49 off 34 balls.

But the rest of the top four – Ian Bell, Sam Hain and Adam Hose – contributed just 22 between them. Grant Elliott and Colin de Grandhomme attempted a Kiwi rescue act. Although the Big Man managed a couple of huge sixes, both of the New Zealanders fell to mis-hits.

It was left to Aaron Thomason to emphasise his potential, with 33 off just 16 balls. But it was too little too late.

Mitchell Santner’s four overs of left arm spin brought him three wickets for just 16 runs. He was well supported by Brett D’Oliveira and Joe Leach; and at the death, John Hastings held his nerve when 19 were needed off the last over.

Despite a couple of dropped catches by Tongue and Brown, overall the Rapids out-fielded the Bears with Ed Barnard being outstanding in the deep and Ben Cox looking smart behind the stumps.

Having been put into bat, the Rapids got off to a flier, hitting 83-1 off the six powerplay overs. Hastings and Joe Clarke’s opening stand reached 75 off just 4.4 overs.

Hastings’ 51 came off just 20 balls with, four fours and five sixes. He enjoyed the short boundary on the Pershore Road side of the ground. He also loved the single over bowled by Colin de Grandhomme, which went for 30 runs including three consecutive sixes off the last three balls. That turned into five sixes in a row when Clarke hit the first two balls of Boyd Rankin’s next over for six.

After that, the Bears did well to restrict the Rapids to just 107 off their last 14 overs. This was largely thanks to Jeetan Patel, as ever, who took 2-26 off his four overs including the key wicket of Hastings, caught on the deep mid-wicket boundary.

More surprising was the performance of debutant Dominic Sibley, who took 1-20 with some controlled leg spin. His loan to the Bears, which becomes a permanent move from Surrey next season, is so recent that his shirt lacked both a name and a number. Had he worn a poncho and smoked a cigarillo, he could have been mistaken for Clint Eastwood – the Man with No Name.

Brett D’Oliveira gave the Rapids’ innings some much-needed late momentum with 35 off 15 balls. But, overall, the Bears must have been relieved not to be chasing well in excess of 200.

Apart from the helmet incident, there were one or two other sloppy bits of fielding. Alex Mellor missed stumping Santner and Grant Elliott dropped a caught and bowled from the same batsman.

At the end of this match, both teams are left with plenty to play for. With the other two top teams in the North Group also losing, the Bears are still well placed to qualify. The Rapids, with games in hand, might well sneak up on the rails to join them in the knock-out stages.

Warwickshire enters Bob Dylan mode with times a-changin’

And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’. 

(Robert Zimmerman, otherwise known as Bob Dylan)

When Warwickshire decided to part company with Director of Cricket Dougie Brown at the end of last season, it was a clear signal that the winds of change were blowing through Edgbaston Stadium. The appointments of Ashley Giles as Director of Sports and Jim Troughton as First Team Coach confirmed this.

Now we are starting to see the first results of these management changes filtering through to player level in the form of arrivals and departures.

Young all rounder Will Rhodes, ex-captain of England under 19s, is coming in next season from Yorkshire; and yesterday, it was announced that Somerset batsman Adam Hose is joining the Bears with immediate effect.

If the reaction from Somerset is any indication, Hose is a good signing. The West Country club were willing to offer Hose a three year contract so clearly wanted to hold on to him. Director of Cricket Matt Maynard could scarcely contain his disappointment.

“He may look back in three years’ time and think ‘what was I doing’ “ said Maynard.  “It’s disappointing when you give a player an opportunity and this happens, but that’s sport.”

It is also rumoured that Warwickshire have an interest in Dominic Sibley, the 21-year-old Surrey batsman. Again, there is no doubt that his current county want to keep Sibley, the youngest ever double centurion in the County Championship; and there will no doubt be a queue of other suitors.

What about departures?

Loyal Bear Ian Westwood retired mid-season rather than face another year of sitting out the NatWest T20 Blast. Following on from the previous departures of Varun Chopra and Laurie Evans, this left gaps in an already unreliable and inconsistent Bears batting order.

The big news, however, is the decision of all-rounder Rikki Clarke to return to Surrey where he started his career. He was looking for Warwickshire to offer him a long-term deal which they were unwilling to do. The two-year contract at Surrey will take him though to age 38.

Whilst Clarke’s departure clearly fits in with a transition agenda, there are also some regrets at the loss of someone who has made 322 appearances for the Bears across formats in the ten seasons since he joined. For the last two or three years, Clarke and Jeetan Patel have been the heart and soul of the team, delivering consistent performances in all competitions.

“Rikki has been a great servant for the club and has enjoyed the most successful years of his career at Edgbaston, winning four domestic trophies across all formats,” said Giles.

Fans, too, have been generous in their appreciation for Clarke’s contributions.  They have shown complete understanding regarding the reasons for his move. Some doubt how many opportunities he will get at Surrey.  But they accept his desire to prolong his time in the game.

To add to the atmosphere of change, there have at last been signs that one or two of the home-grown younger players may become first choices rather than afterthoughts.

All-rounder Aaron Thomason has established himself in the T20 team, Andy Umeed recently made a marathon first-class century and left arm spinner Sunny Singh has leapt ahead of leg-spinner Josh Poysden as support spinner to Patel. Stylish batsman Sam Hain may have struggled in red-ball cricket but has flourished in the shorter forms.

With others such as Grant Thornton, Mark Adair, Ateeq Javid, Alex Mellor, George Panayi and Ed Pollock all in the mix for selection, the days of the Bears regularly fielding eight over-thirties seem almost over.

The likelihood is that Clarke will not be the last of the older brigade to move on.  The question is not whether but who and when.

Bob Dylan again:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Ian Bell Philosophical in Defeat

How crucial was the loss of Rikki Clarke to a hand injury whilst batting?

“He’s a fine top of the order bowler for us. But I thought we scrapped well in the field without him. The truth is, we were probably 20 runs short.

“170 or so would have been a good score and we were on for that at one stage.”

Was it a good pitch for batting?

“Yes, though the ball did hold in the pitch a bit, especially for the spinners on both sides. We were surprised in that we didn’t think it was going to spin.

“That’s why we brought in Aaron Thomason to add a bit of hitting power, which he did. But we may look to play an extra spinner on Sunday (against Leicestershire).”

What about the wickets the Bears lost to easy outfield catches?

“You get caught one day, you hit a six the next: that’s T20. It’s the way we want the team to play. It’s also how Northants have got where they have.

“We’ve played some good cricket so far and so now we are looking forward to Sunday, to get back on it.”

Bell and Hain get Bears off to a flying start at Worcester

The Birmingham Bears completed what turned out to be a routine win over their opponents the Worcestershire Rapids. In the process, they claimed the Norman Gifford Trophy, which is contested between these local rivals.

But who was man-of-the-match?

Regular changes of scene are a feature of life both for cricketers and those who follow them. It was a great experience to be at Lord’s for the Royal London One Day Cup Final last Saturday. But if Lord’s is the home of cricket, it is grounds like Worcester that are the true home of county cricket.

That being so, it was good to exchange the luxury of the Lord’s Press Box for the more homely comforts of the New Road shed. OK, the toilet seat may have come unfixed; and refreshments were a few sandwiches rather than a slow-cooked lamb shank. But there is no doubt that this is real county cricket, a contest between bitter rivals in front of a sell-out crowd.

The Worcester ground is overlooked by a grand and stately edifice. I refer, of course, to the newly-built Premier Inn. And then there is the small matter of the even more stately Cathedral just across the river.

There are other special features.

Worcester may be the only ground in the country where there are parking spaces reserved for the tea ladies, and so it should be. Although teas are not in evidence at T20 games, they are rightly a feature on less frenetic occasions.

And now, back to the match itself.

In a nutshell, the Birmingham Bears eased their way to victory by eight wickets with an over to spare.

The Worcestershire Rapids’ total of 152-9 never looked adequate. The early Worcestershire batsmen seemed set on re-interpreting an old Morecambe and Wise joke – they played all the right shots but not to the right deliveries.

Hitting straight balls to leg is fine, but if you miss them the umpire’s finger comes into the game at regular intervals. From 67-5 off 12 overs, there was only partial recovery despite the efforts of Ross Whiteley and Ben Cox.

Bears supporters will be pleased to have seen Olly Stone in action at last. Four overs for 32 runs are nothing special, but he showed real pace and looks to have recovered from the horrendous knee injury that delayed his debut for a year.

There was some good batting practice for Ian Bell and Sam Hain, but little comfort for the Worcestershire bowlers as the Bears paced their innings to win with an over to spare.

As for the Man of the Match, the umpires chose Ian Bell.

But my vote goes to a certain Mr Donaldson. According to the public address system, he was at the match unaware that he had locked his wife out of the house.

A later announcement told us that a double-glazing company was on its way to repair the hole in the door, by which Mrs Donaldson had gained entry to the marital home.

Regardless of whether or not he is a Rapids supporter, we can assume that Mr Donaldson has had better evenings. Maybe my award to him of a personal man-of-the-match award will be at least a small consolation.

Alex Hales and Chris Read enjoy their success

After Notts defeated Surrey by four wickets in the Royal London One Day Cup Final, captain Chris Read and man-of-the-match centurion Alex Hales were in buoyant moods.

“Brilliant, what a day!” said Read, who is in his last season with Notts.

“It was an emotional day. It’s the fans that make it – when you hear them chanting, shouting and cheering. It’s a special moment.

As for Alex Hales’ innings, he was clear how it rated amongst those he had seen for Notts over his long career.

“It’s number one.”

Jokingly, he added: “Apart from the one that he belted straight to cover” (that was dropped).

“It was the tempo that was so great,” Read added. “It made things easy for me. We just had to build a partnership, the run rate was never an issue. Michael Lumb said to me after he got out early on, ‘Alex is on today’; and I know when he’s on, he’s as good as there is.

Alex Hales was clear about his aims when he was out there batting: “I wanted to attack the power play.

“On that pitch, you got good value for your shots. I’ve had mixed success batting at Lord’s but this was one of the best pitches you could wish for.”

As for the records he set – highest ever one day score for Notts, highest in a Lord’s final – he was obviously delighted.

“Any time you get a chance to set a record is special.

“And to contribute to getting some silverware in Chris Read’s last year was great.”

He also had words for the fans: “We heard their voices all day. The trophy really is for them and for Chris Read.

And in the midst of the Notts triumph, there were words of consolation for Mark Stoneman who batted through the innings for Surrey.

“I thought he played really well. He’s an exceptional player. He plays so well off the back foot. He may have missed out on selection for England but his time will come.

With that, two weary but jubilant Notts players set off across Lord’s to join their colleagues in what was likely to be a long celebration.

The Road to Lord’s: Nottinghamshire

“A damn close run thing,” said Samit Patel about the Battle of Waterloo. Or was it the Duke of Wellington about Nottinghamshire reaching the Royal London One Day Cup final? Or maybe I’m confused.

Whilst few would argue that Nottinghamshire have put in enough outstanding team and individual performances to justify their appearance at Lord’s this Saturday in the Royal London One Day Cup final, it is also true that they have needed a few helpings of good fortune along the way.

The East Midlands club got off to a dodgy start when they lost their first two games in the North Group, including defeat by Worcestershire under the Duckworth/Lewis rules despite a hundred by Michael Lumb.

They then won three in a row to get their campaign off the ground. At home against Durham, an Alex Hales hundred looked to have ensured another win. But Paul Collingwood and wicket keeper Stuart Poynter added 53 in just 4.4 overs to snatch a four wicket win and stifle Nottinghamshire’s momentum.

It looked likely that Notts would need to win their last two Group games to qualify. Against Lancashire, Samit Patel and Steven Mullaney delivered with a blistering stand of 181 in 28.3 overs to achieve a win with four overs to spare.

And so to the final round with all to play for.

If Lancashire beat Durham (as they did) and Notts lost to Northants, Notts would be most likely be out. When Northants were 79-0 off the first 14.4 overs, Notts were up against it. Then, luckily, it rained and Notts gained a point for a non-result, scraping through with nine points from their eight games.

And so to the record breaking quarter final against Somerset at Taunton. Brendan Taylor scored a magnificent 154 off just 97 balls as Notts ran up 429 off their 50 overs.

When Somerset reached 364-9 with less than seven overs to go, it looked all over. But Jamie Overton and Tim Groenewald added 41 and reduced the target to 25 off two overs. Then Stuart Broad ran out Overton and Notts had sneaked home by just 24 runs.

In the semi-final at Chelmsford, the Nottinghamshire bowlers suffered more punishment, conceding 370 off their 50 overs.

The response of the batsmen was magnificent. Steven Mullaney hit 111 off 75 balls, Samit Patel finished not out on 122 and Notts were home with just three balls to spare.

It is pretty clear where the strengths of the Nottinghamshire team lies. Four players (Patel, Mullaney, Root and Taylor) are averaging over 60.

Whilst Stuart Broad and James Pattinson have been reasonably economical, and have taken 10 and 12 wickets respectively, others have been less successful. Luke Fletcher, Jake Ball, Samit Patel, Harry Gurney and Mullaney have all conceded more than six an over.

Top of the batting statistics is Samit Patel will 532 runs at an average of 76. He could well say, as the Duke of Wellington said of Waterloo, “I don’t think it would have been done if I had not been there. “

What has gone wrong at Warwickshire?

Dire straits

“Crisis? What crisis?” a 1970s Prime Minister is said to have asked, as the country slipped into chaos, and there may be some involved with Warwickshire County Cricket Club saying the same. Anything is possible. After all, 16 million Americans apparently believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

Increasingly, however, the scale of the Bears’ failure has become impossible to ignore. Six defeats in a row, and bottom place in their group of the Royal London Cup was bad enough, especially when just last September, the club were winners of that competition.

In the Championship, the story is even worse. After just six games, four innings defeats leave the team firmly at the bottom of the table, 40 points adrift from the safety of sixth place. Relegation to the second tier seems almost inevitable.

All teams experience highs and lows, so maybe it is now simply Warwickshire’s turn to suffer. This, however, is one of the biggest clubs in the country with a team that has won all three of the county tournaments in the last five years. Such a dive into failure is hard for the team’s supporters to accept.

In truth, those in the know have seen this decline coming. Warwickshire Chief Executive Neil Snowball admitted as much when he spoke to Deep Extra Cover last month.

“Overall 2016 was a challenging season …We saw a bit more of the decline we saw in ‘15,” he said.

It was because of this decline that Director of Coaching Dougie Brown lost his job at the end of the 2016 season. Ashley Giles was tempted back to Edgbaston from Lancashire and took up the new post of Sports Director, with Jim Troughton taking over as first team coach.

Growing old together

At the heart of Warwickshire’s problems is the fact that they have an ageing team. Eight or more over-thirties have appeared regularly in all formats. Many of these have proud records of achievement both for the Bears and at international level.

Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott lead the way. Wicket keeper batsman Tim Ambrose, too, never let England down in his brief international career.

New Zealander Jeetan Patel was one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2015 and has been probably the most successful overseas player in English cricket in the last five years.

Rikki Clarke has found his true home at Edgbaston after a troubled early career. He has constantly delivered runs and wickets in all formats as well as catching everything remotely in reach.

And so we could go on.

There is Keith Barker, a left-arm seamer and often an effective batsman who could conceivably have played for either England or West Indies; Boyd Rankin, a bowler of real pace with international experience, both with England and Ireland and; William Porterfield, a highly effective one-day player possibly now on the brink of becoming a Test match captain.

Then there are those such as Ian Westwood and Chris Wright, who never had any international pretensions but have often delivered match-winning performances at county level.

Such a formidable group of players demands respect. But the truth is that age has caught up with them, as it does with all sportsmen sooner or later.

Trott is still scoring steadily, but Bell has struggled to combine captaincy with making runs. In the Championship, Ambrose, Porterfield and Clarke all have batting averages well under 30 whilst Clarke, Barker and Rankin’s combined bowling average is well north of 50.

Failure to recruit

Whatever the long term gains from getting Giles back, one of the downsides was that, by the time he was in post early in 2017, opportunities for recruiting players from other counties had all but disappeared. Those with the most to offer, such as Durham’s Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick, had already been snapped up.

In any event, Warwickshire’s efforts at recruitment have not been all that successful over the last couple of years. You could pick a more than decent team from the players rumoured to be of interest to the Bears, but who have either moved elsewhere or decided to stay put.

This season, Worcestershire’s Tom Kohler-Cadmore declined to make the short trip up the M5 to Edgbaston and went instead to Yorkshire.

As for the early season rumours that Moeen Ali might return to Warwickshire in order to play top division cricket, that now seems like a sick joke as Worcestershire press for promotion whilst the Bears are likely to replace them in the second tier.

Warwickshire did sign Northants pace bowler Olly Stone in 2016. No sooner had they done so than Stone suffered a serious knee injury. He has so far not bowled a ball in anger for his new club. His debut is eagerly awaited.

The gap in the middle

At Warwickshire, there is a distinct lack of players in the 25-29 age band who should be at their peak. Chris Woakes is one, of course: a star player who is a Bear through and through. But England’s gain has been Warwickshire’s loss. The best the club can hope now is for Woakes to play a few games in between England commitments, or maybe when recuperating from injury.

Other than Woakes, the only player in that middle age range is Oliver Hannon-Dalby, an honest tryer with the ball, a non-contributor with the bat and the kind of player that captains try to hide in the field, only to find that the ball still seeks them out at crucial moments.

Gone but not forgotten

When the over-thirties held sway, the club was willing to release players such as Varun Chopra and Laurie Evans.

Chopra captained the team to the NatWest T20 Blast title in 2014 and was a reliable batsman in all formats. Laurie Evans was man of the match in the T20 Blast final, so had much to offer as a one-day performer, even if his own estimate of his abilities often ran ahead of others’ opinions.

But both have left the club in the last 12 months, Chopra in particular departing in circumstances that suggested unresolved problems of morale and team spirit beneath the surface.

Where are all the young players?

All counties hope that young players will come through their youth system and put pressure on the senior players for their places in the team.

Sadly for Warwickshire, there has been over the last few years a succession of young players who have made it to the first team but failed to establish a place. Recordo Gordon, Freddie Coleman, Jon Webb, James Ord – all gone, with no other counties waiting to snap them up.

Rays of hope

As for the present crop of young players, there is at least some hope.

Left arm spinner Sukhjit (Sunny) Singh has shown signs of promise.

Leg-spinner Josh Poysden has been starved of opportunities. Singh seems to have overtaken him in the queue to replace or support Jeetan Patel in the spin department, but Poysden is a dedicated and hard-working young man who has played for the England Lions and so is obviously well thought-of in high places.

Ateeq Javid, only 25, is another who has been given fewer opportunities than he might reasonably have expected and has still time to establish himself.

The jury is out on other young players. Andy Umeed made a century on debut last year but has struggled since; Matt Lamb, Grant Thornton, Aaron Thomason, Alex Mellor – maybe. Time will tell.

And then there is Sam Hain, the Hong Kong born, Australian educated wunderkind who burst on the scene in 2014, becoming the youngest player to score both a century and a double century for Warwickshire.

Since then, Hain’s fortunes have been mixed. A shoulder injury inhibited him for a while. Last year, he started to make a real impact in one-day cricket and in the Royal London competition this season, he averaged 65. But in the Championship, Hain averages a miserable 13 and he has developed a backlift that looks as though he is trying to poke silly point in the eye.

For his sake, and Warwickshire’s, it is to be hoped that he is not going to be one of the great unfulfilled talents of the game.

Solutions?

So there we have it: an ageing team, few players in their prime and a batch of youngsters struggling to make the transition.

Where do the solutions lie?

“Bring in the Kolpaks!” cry some fans. Ashley Giles is known not to be keen on this solution, but he hasn’t ruled it out. Finding players of the right calibre who are available is the problem.

“Sort out the youth system” is another call, and there is no doubt that the track record of players coming through is patchy. But, by its nature, youth systems deliver long-term results so any changes made now are unlikely to produce results for half a decade or so.

“Sack the coaches,” say others. Giles is probably safe, in that the problems started well before his return, but bowling coach Alan Richardson and batting coach Tony Frost may not be sleeping so easily. And there is, overall, a feeling that the solidarity that comes from a coaching team who all played for the Bears may have as many disadvantages as a advantages, encouraging a cosy complacency.

Fans point to the contributions made in the past by coaches brought in from the world outside Bear country. Bob Woolmer and John Inverarity, both of whom coached Warwickshire to the County Championship title a decade apart, are good examples of the value of new faces and ideas.

Maybe now that the wounds of the disastrous Mark Greatbatch experiment have healed, it is time to consider a new injection from outside.

Turning round the super-tanker

So much has gone wrong at Edgbaston that it will undoubtedly take time to put things right and get back to the days when the Bears dominated the upper echelons of the county game. All of the above solutions may be needed, as well as a large dose of patience and, in the short term, a swallowing of the bitter pill of relegation.

Neil Snowball, Ashley Giles and Jim Troughton are all characters who do not easily tolerate failure, so there can be little doubt that their efforts and talents will be applied to turning things around.

In the meantime, those who sit at the back of the Hollies Stand will no doubt be quoting, as they are wont to do, the wise words of the Roman poet Virgil:

“The descent into Hell is easy, but to retrace your steps and come out into the upper air, this is the deed, this is the labour.”

Over to you, Messrs Snowball, Giles and Troughton!