For Warwickshire, 2015 was a season of two halves. By the middle of July, the team seemed to be on course to repeat the successes of last season when they won the NatWest T20 Blast and finished second in both the LV= County Championship and the Royal London One-Day Cup.
Sadly, the second part of the season was an almost unmitigated disaster. It’s true that the Birmingham Bears made it to T20 Finals Day but the Northants Steelbacks beat them easily in the semi-final. The Bears’ One-Day Cup campaign never got off the ground and they ended up with only three wins from eight games. In the Championship, their last five games produced three defeats and two draws.
From being well placed to repeat last year’s second place and maybe even challenge Yorkshire, they found themselves in a mediocre fifth position, their worst result for five years. Warwickshire ended up 100 points behind the Champions.
When Warwickshire wrapped up a comfortable seven wicket win over Somerset in the LV= Championship on 21 July, they sat in second place in the table. True, they had recently been put firmly in their place by eventual champions Yorkshire when they were routed for just 69 in the first innings of their match at Edgbaston. But after the victory over Somerset, neither the team nor the supporters would have believed that in the rest of the season they would fail to win another Championship match.
It was not just the failure to win. They also suffered some embarrassingly heavy defeats. Lowly Hampshire were able to declare with only three wickets down in their second innings and still win by 216 runs. Nottinghamshire scored 600 and beat the Bears by an innings and 123 runs.
The top-order batting frailties that had been papered over for a season and a half by the strength of the lower middle-order finally caught up with the Bears. Beneficiary Ian Westwood’s early season purple patch came to an end, whilst captain Varun Chopra and Jonathan Trott both looked out of sorts and only prospered intermittently. William Porterfield increasingly looked like a one-day specialist only.
Sam Hain, it is true, came back from a shoulder injury and continued to show promise. Laurie Evans, too, played some valuable innings, though over a quarter of his 826 first-class runs came in one innings, compiling an unbeaten double century on a dead pitch against Sussex, a futile match in which over 1200 runs were scored and only 12 wickets fell in four days. In too many matches, it was left to the likes of Keith Barker, Tim Ambrose, Jeetan Patel and Rikki Clarke to stage a rescue act.
It was a different story with the bowling. Jeetan Patel (58), Rikki Clarke (47), Boyd Rankin (43) and Keith Barker (46) all exceeded 40 wickets at averages in the twenties. But their efforts could not compensate often enough for the shortage of runs.
In the NatWest T20 Blast, 2015 was a reverse image of 2014. Last year, the Birmingham Bears started slowly, only just squeezed into the quarter finals by winning their last qualifying games and then were unstoppable. This season, the Bears dominated the North Group, winning 10 of their 14 games, but they ran out of steam on Finals Day. Less than four overs into their semi-final v Northants, they were 14-4 and there was no way back from there.
William Porterfield and Ateeq Javid, who had contributed little in the Championship, scored valuable T20 runs. And, of course, there was Brendam McCullum, the hired gun who rode into town and plundered 158 not out off just 64 balls against Derbyshire with 11 sixes and 13 fours, the joint second-highest individual score in world T20 cricket. In the field, Rikki Clarke and Jeetan Patel took wickets economically. Recordo Gordon and Oliver Hannon-Dalby captured 41 wickets between them but, even allowing for the problems of bowling at the death, they became increasingly expensive as the tournament progressed.
As for the Royal London One-Day Cup, it is maybe best to draw a veil over the Bears’ performances. The biggest surprise was that, having won just three out of eight games, they only failed to qualify for the quarter finals on run rate. It was the one competition where Chopra did justice to his batting talents but overall, there were too many lacklustre team efforts.
As a bowling unit, the Bears had become used to leaning heavily on Patel and Clarke but these two bowled in seven innings each in the One-Day Cup and only took seven wickets between them. Although Oliver Hannon-Dalby bowled well and took 15 wickets, no-one else really stepped into the breach.
LVCC: 5th, Division One
T20 Blast: Semi-finalists; 1st, North Group
RLODC: 6th , Group B
Leading run-scorer: Laurie Evans, 1209 runs
Leading wicket-taker: Jeetan Patel, 80 wickets
Win %: 48%
Player of the Season
It’s a two-horse race for the player of the season award.
Jeetan Patel and Rikki Clarke each played in all 39 matches across all competitions. In the national PCA Most Valuable Players ratings, they came third and fourth respectively. Patel took more wickets (58 against 47) but Clarke scored more runs (824 compared to 639). Add to these figures the fact that between them they took 58 catches (36 to Clarke, 22 to Patel) and that represents two fantastic contributions to the team.
Patel is known as the ideal overseas player, a total team man who never gives less than 100%. He’s a cricketing workaholic. Asked towards the end of the season about the state of English spin bowling, his main thought was: “They don’t practice enough.”
Clarke was in danger a few years ago of being one of cricket’s mis-fits. He played Test and ODI cricket for England but drifted from Surrey to Derbyshire and then to Warwickshire. At one time, it looked as though he might move on again; but fortunately, he decided to stay and now is as loyal a Bear as anyone could be.
It’s a close run thing but I agree with the Warwickshire members and the players who both gave their player of the season award to Rikki Clarke.
After much thought, my conclusion is “if only”. There really isn’t an obvious choice as breakthrough player. Oliver Hannon-Dalby and Recordo Gordon had their moments in white ball cricket but have still to establish themselves – and time is maybe running out for Hannon-Dalby who is now 26 and has played eight seasons of county cricket. Stretching the definition of the term “breakthrough”, let’s give the award to Josh Poysden.
He bowled his leg-spin economically in the T20 Blast and took eight wickets. He also made useful contributions in the One-Day Cup. It was his misfortune that his first-class debut for Warwickshire came on that featherbed pitch against Sussex. His figures of 1/165 off 40.4 overs were unimpressive, though it may be worth mentioning that Warwickshire’s greatest leg-spin bowler, Eric Hollies, also made his debut against Sussex back in 1932 and took 1/150 off 27 overs. He went on to take 2323 first-class wickets.
Could’ve done better
There were collective shortcomings at the top order, with Chopra, Trott and (in red ball cricket) Porterfield the main offenders. The real disappointment, however, was the failure of the young batsmen who were given opportunities at different stages of the season. Jonathon Webb scored 29 runs in five innings in the Championship and the One-Day Cup, Freddie Coleman bagged a pair in his only Championship game and Tom Lewis averaged 14.25 across 8 innings in the T20 Blast. Lewis has now been released.
Need to work on
Director of Cricket Dougie Brown has accepted that the Bears had an indifferent season. As he says, “things aren’t desperate but we need to be absolutely clear where we’re going.”
On the field, some of the young players who have failed so far to take their chances must start to deliver. Brown has said that he doesn’t see the need to bring players in so it’s down to the existing squad plus the youngsters. Jeetan Patel and Rikki Clarke are both in their mid-thirties and won’t be able to play nearly 40 games a season for much longer. It’s true that Ian Bell may be coming to the end of his Test career and will almost certainly want to play on with the Bears; and a fit-again Chris Woakes should (international commitments permitting) make more than the nine appearance he managed this season. Otherwise, it’s down to some of the under-performers raising their game.
Off the field, Chief Executive Colin Povey is moving on after ten years during which he oversaw the major ground development that has restored Edgbaston Stadium to its rightful place as one of the very top venues for international cricket. He also will leave with the resultant debt of £20 million still unpaid. Finding the right person to replace him will not be easy.
Tweet of the season
Last session of the season well done to all the groundstaff another top year @CricketingBears pic.twitter.com/HKbQjzvGtc
— Gary Barwell (@barnstonworth) September 17, 2015
Dougie Brown has described the second half of the season as “a hell of a disappointment”. The challenge for Warwickshire is to learn from what went wrong and come back stronger next year. If the Bears carry on in 2016 where they left off in 2015, relegation will be staring them in the face and there will be no more one-day trophies to soften the blow.
Overall, there is a feeling that there may be a talent shortfall in the squad. Dougie Brown’s reputation as a Coach is as someone who can ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But if, when the parts are added together next year, they prove to be somewhat lacking, the outcome will be a troubled season for the Bears. 5/10