After just two matches in the Specsavers County Championship, Warwickshire are on the brink of suffering the humiliation of consecutive innings defeats. With a quarter of the Division One teams to be relegated, the Edgbaston based club look to be hot favourites for the drop.
Watching Warwickshire struggle feebly in this match against a vibrant Yorkshire side brought to mind a scene from that famous old spoof Western film Cat Ballou. Jane Fonda in the title role visits Butch Cassidy’s infamous Hole in the Wall gang and finds that they are just a bunch of timid has-beens. “Some gang!” she says. “We whispered your names when we were kids … scared to say them out loud. How sad. You got old.”
So it seemed at Edgbaston as a team with eight over-thirties slumped to within one wicket of a big innings defeat at the end of three days. Toothless as a bowling unit and spineless with bats in their hands, they seem all to have aged together.
When Warwickshire lost to Surrey in their opening match, supporters took comfort from the fact that the team, bowled out for 91 in their first innings, fought back in their second knock thanks to a big hundred from Jonathan Trott. The spell by Mark Footitt in which he took six wickets for just three runs was, by all accounts, not so much exceptional as freakish. It was like getting caught in a hurricane when the worst you expected was a Spring shower.
Now comes the prospect of defeat by Yorkshire. This time, there is really no place to hide, no set of easy excuses. Yorkshire, like Surrey, have a strong team. But they are far from full strength, especially in the bowling department (Brooks, Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett all missing) so Warwickshire should have been able to compete on equal terms.
The harsh truth is that, whereas the Yorkshire bowlers, led by tyro Ben Coad (10-79 in the match so far) found life and movement in the pitch, Warwickshire’s bowlers laboured earnestly but were largely ineffective.
To the bowling woes has to be added the almost total failure of the batting. Apart from Trott’s 151 against Surrey, the top seven batsmen have managed just one fifty between them. Trott’s innings aside, they average well under ten per innings. Supposedly one of the brightest young stars in the country, Sam Hain, has managed just five runs in his four knocks so far. Overall, it is hardly a roll of honour, more a scroll of shame.
The truth is that the problems that caused Director of Coaching Dougie Brown to lose his job at the end of last season have now landed at the door of Sport Director Ashley Giles. They are not so much pigeons coming home to roost as ducks returning to a stagnant pond.
Precious few players of any calibre have come through the youth system in the last few years. Of the current eleven, only veteran Ian Bell can be described as home-grown, though Sam Hain arrived at 14 via Hong Kong, Australia and Scotland.
New recruits from other counties have been hard to come by. Olly Stone moved to Edgbaston at the end of last season but has not delivered a ball in anger because of a major knee injury. Rumours that Moeen Ali might return to Edgbaston in order to get First Division cricket now appear faintly ludicrous.
Meanwhile, reliable opener and ex-captain Varun Chopra was allowed to return to Essex. If efforts were made behind the scenes to resolve the differences between him and the coaching staff, they were singularly unsuccessful.
Maybe all is not lost. Ateeq Javid has proved his worth in the past and scored a hundred for the second team last week. One or two other young players are beginning to perform at that level. It could be that the time has come to give them a try. Maybe they can turn the Bears’ season around.
Next weekend, Warwickshire play Surrey again. Supporters will look with interest at the team sheet to see how many of the Dad’s Army platoon survive. Ashley Giles may even have to tell young Hain, Captain Mainwaring style, that he is a stupid boy and must go back to the second team.
Regardless of whether or not the cracks can be papered over, there is a more fundamental job to be done at Edgbaston.
The tasks are easy to define. Sort out the youth scouting and coaching system, find some quality players willing to move from other counties and in the meantime restore the form and confidence of as many as possible of the current squad. And find out which of the ugly ducklings in the second team are really swans in disguise.
As that annoying Russian (not Putin, the other one) says: “Simples”
Over to you, Ashley.