Warwickshire ended their season by winning their last two matches. Firstly, they gave Surrey a thorough beating in the Royal London One Day Cup final; then they defeated fellow relegation strugglers Lancashire to preserve their place in the Specsavers County Championship top division. Whilst this partially redeemed an unsatisfactory campaign, it was not enough to prevent the departure of Director of Cricket Dougie Brown.
In the Championship, whilst avoiding relegation gave Warwickshire supporters a momentary high, it was maybe the equivalent of peeing down your own leg – it isn’t that much of an achievement and the initial warm feeling doesn’t last. Or so I am reliably informed.
Having started the season as one of the favourites, a sixth place finish was the county’s worst result since they returned to the top flight in 2009.
It was not too difficult to see where the problems lay. Even though Jonathan Trott scored well with two hundreds and six fifties, he just failed to top 1,000 runs; and no-one else reached 700. As early as April, new captain Ian Bell notched up 174 against Hampshire, but it was to prove his only century of the campaign.
Tim Ambrose often propped up the middle order and, as he has done many times before, Keith Barker lurked menacingly as one of the best number eights in the business.
Too many batsmen, however, can look back, like Bell, on a season of under-achievement. Ian Westwood, young Sam Hain and Rikki Clarke all averaged under 25 in red ball cricket.
And then there was the sorry saga of ex-captain Varun Chopra.
In the Championship, Chopra scored steadily for most of the season, but it was clear that relationships between him and the team management had broken down. He played just one T20 Blast match, scoring an unbeaten 97 in a nine wicket win over Durham. But he was never picked again, either in that competition or the Royal London One Day Cup.
He seemed to be forgotten but not gone. So it was no surprise that, before the end of the season, he was released early to re-join his old county Essex. A sad end for a player who had served the club well as player and captain.
That Warwickshire survived in the top flight was largely down to the bowlers. Left arm paceman Keith Barker and New Zealand off-spinner Jeetan Patel finished first and third respectively in the PCA Most Valuable Player (MVP) four-day rankings. Barker took 59 wickets at 23 apiece and Patel 69 at 24. Rikki Clarke and Chris Wright gave good support and young leg-spinner Josh Poysden, given few four-day opportunities, still managed 15 wickets at 21.5.
Chris Woakes made just five Championship appearances but had a big impact whenever he was available. Against Durham in May, he had first innings figures of 9-36 and was virtually unplayable. But it was, in retrospect, highly significant that he was called away by England halfway through that game; and having trailed by 123 on first innings, Durham came back to win the match with relative ease.
As for the NatWest T20 Blast, under their alias as the Birmingham Bears, the team failed in their aim of reaching their third consecutive finals day. Six wins and seven defeats left them in sixth place in the North group after a campaign that sputtered and stumbled.
Sam Hain made his first real impression in white ball cricket and Bell averaged over 40. But Laurie Evans, Ateeq Javid and Clarke did little in the middle order, and imported antipodean wicket-keeper batsmen Luke Ronchi and Matthew Wade only managed one half century each.
Clarke and, inevitably, Patel bowled well. Oliver Hannon-Dalby took 12 wickets but was sometimes expensive.
So much for the doom and gloom; the Royal London One Day Cup was another story.
A strong performance against Yorkshire in the final match of the North group secured second place and a home quarter final. A Jonathan Trott century and eight wickets from the spin trio of Patel, Poysden and Ateeq Javid secured a win against Essex.
In the semi-final, also at home, Trott, Bell and Hain ensured a decent total against Somerset before Patel turned on his magic and secured victory with the help of five lbw decisions.
Then came that decisive win over Surrey at Lord’s where all the bowlers delivered and Jonathan Trott saw the Bears to victory, to complete a campaign in which he topped 500 runs at an average of 85.
Player of the Season: Jeetan Patel
Proving himself yet again an outstanding overseas player, Jeetan Patel walked away with the overall PCA MVP title. He took 69 wickets in the Championship and 102 overall. As in 2015, he didn’t miss a game. His return to the New Zealand Test side in India was unexpected but thoroughly well deserved. He was the ultimate team man, supportive and helpful to the younger players as well as bowling his heart out day after day.
Breakthrough Player: Josh Poysden
The fact that Josh Poysden can claim the title of breakthrough player illustrates too clearly where Warwickshire fell short this year. To be sure, the hard-working young leg-spinner claimed his first five wicket haul in the championship against eventual champions Middlesex. But he was only given five first-class games and was in and out of the one-day side with varying success.
In the breakthrough stakes, he was in a field of one. Mark Adair made it into the team but then injured his back, as did Aaron Thomason. Andy Umeed scored a maiden hundred as an opener but also made four ducks and dropped out of contention. Alex Mellor rose without trace from reserve wicket-keeper to emergency opening bat with only modest success.
Could have done better: Laurie Evans
Man of the match in the 2014 T20 Blast final, Laurie Evans seems since to have lost his way. He failed in his two first-class games and rarely sparked in the T20 Blast. To be fair, he made some good contributions to the Royal London success, but just two fifties in 24 innings in all competitions is a poor haul for a player of his undoubted talents.
Need to work on
At the moment, the young players just don’t seem to be making the transition from second XI to first team cricket. Of the players who beat Lancashire in that final match, only the two Ians, Westwood and Bell, were truly home-grown and they are both over thirty.
The then Director of Cricket, Dougie Brown, said on the final day of the season that he was not looking to bring new players in (apart from Olly Stone, already signed from Northants). He put the onus is on the young players to come through. It remains to be seen whether or not his successor has the same view.
There’s been plenty of autumn activity.
As already mentioned,, Dougie Brown has left his position as Director of Cricket by mutual consent. The capture of a one-day title was clearly not enough to keep him in his job.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Trott is trotting around the country doing numerous interviews and signings of his book, Unguarded. Rumour has it that collectors are placing a rarity value on unsigned copies.
Jeetan Patel has made a surprise return to the New Zealand Test side, a move to scare Warwickshire supporters who wish him well but want him back rather than playing in the Champions Trophy next summer.
Speaking of which, a market research consultancy has looked at the value to the city of Birmingham of having five Champions Trophy matches at Edgbaston next year. They put their finger in the air (or whatever other sophisticated method they used) and it came back down with the figure £25.3m written on it.
Less happily, Warwickshire have released paceman Recordo Gordon who, despite featuring in some exciting T20 matches, never quite made the grade or overcame suggestions that his action was as dodgy as the facts in a Donald Trump speech.
SSCC: 6th in division one
T20 Blast: 6th in North group
RLODC: Winners (2nd in North group)
Leading run-scorers: SSCC: Jonathan Trott – 975 @ 44.31; T20 Blast: Ian Bell – 489– SR 130.74; RLODC: Jonathan Trott – 515 @ 85.83
Leading wicket-takers: SSCC: Jeetan Patel – 69 @24.02; T20 Blast: Rikki Clarke – 15 – Econ: 6.45; RLODC: Jeetan Patel – 22 – Econ: 4.84
Win %: 39
Usually a team winning one of the three trophies on offer will feel they have had a successful season. For Warwickshire, there is an overall feeling of under-achievement and of an ageing side that is in urgent need of new, young talent – and, right now, of a new Director of Cricket.