Most of us have had the experience of finding a loose thread on an item of clothing, giving it a random tug and realising that most of the garment is irretrievably unravelled. Well, this resembles the experience of Dougie Brown and his Warwickshire squad in all formats over the last month.
In August, they suffered two humiliating defeats, to Hampshire and Nottinghamshire. In those two games, the Bears scored on average 20.7 runs per wicket whereas their opponents averaged 50.7. The Bears are not used to their opponents being two and a half times better than them. They cling to fourth place in the table but they have long since given up hope of catching leaders Yorkshire.
It has been a similar story in the other competitions – sixth out of nine in their Royal London group and, under their married name of the Birmingham Bears, comfortably beaten in the semi-final of the NatWest T20 Blast by the Northants Steelbacks, thus failing to retain their title.
For Middlesex, in the Championship at least, it has been a different story, with victories over Sussex and Durham in their last two games. This has put them comfortably in second place, 27 points ahead of the Bears. Yorkshire may lead them by 30 points with a game in hand but until it is mathematically impossible, Middlesex will continue their efforts to overhaul them. They are unlikely to be too deterred by the fact that they have not won at Edgbaston in the Championship since 2000.
Warwickshire‘s upper batting order has faltered all season. The normally dependable Varun Chopra has shown worrying frailty, averaging only 25 despite two hundreds. Much reliance was placed on the likelihood of Jonathan Trott scoring heavily on his return to county cricket but his average is no better than Chopra’s. Only Sam Hain averages more than 40.
It’s a happier story amongst the bowlers. Rikki Clarke, Boyd Rankin and Jeetan Patel all have more than 40 wickets at below 30 runs apiece.
So it’s more runs that the Bears need and that makes the return of Ian Bell especially important. A big innings from him could give the Bears the batting stability they so badly need.
Middlesex have benefited from solid batting by Nick Compton who has 905 runs including six fifties and one hundred. Dawid Malan has only played six games but averages over 80.
Key man, however, is James Harris. He has at last fulfilled his promise with 66 wickets so far. Harris is well supported by Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh with 37 and 31 wickets respectively.
Warwickshire will be without the fit again Chris Woakes who is on England duty. Otherwise, they are near full strength.
Warwickshire squad (likely):
Varun Chopra (Captain), Tim Ambrose (Wicket Keeper), Ian Bell, Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid, Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, Jonathan Trott, Ian Westwood, Chris Wright
Middlesex are without Eoin Morgan and Steve Finn who are with England. They include in the squad wicket keeper/batsman Stephen Eskinazi who comes to Middlesex from South Africa via Australia plus left-arm seamer Gurjit Sandhu
Middlesex squad: James Franklin (captain), Nick Compton, Neil Dexter, Stephen Eskinazi, James Harris, Dawid Malan, Tim Murtagh, Ravi Patel, Ollie Rayner, Sam Robson, Toby Roland-Jones, Gurjit Sandhu, John Simpson (wicket keeper), Paul Stirling.
Weather and Conditions
There could be just a few showers on the first two days but thereafter it will be dry with autumnal temperatures in the mid-teens. As for the pitch, groundsman Gary Barwell struggled with the rain last week to get everything ready for the T20 Finals Day and may also have run out of time to create an ideal surface for this game. So it could be a slowish surface, maybe offering a little to the bowlers.
Date: 1-4 September
Ground: Edgbaston Stadium, Birmingham
Umpires: Paul Baldwin and Alex Wharf
Odds (Skybet): Warwickshire 5/6; Middlesex 5/6