It has not been too difficult this season to distinguish between the average Bears fan and a ray of sunshine. One look at the results will tell you why.
Relegation from Division One of the Specsavers County Championship and bottom place in the North Group of the Royal London One Day Cup were only partially compensated for by the runners up spot in the T20 Blast.
Relegation was by the humiliating margin of 61 points. The Bears won only one match and they suffered nine defeats, three more than anyone else in the Division.
Add in the fact that five of those defeats were by an innings margin and it becomes clear that the word abysmal hardly does justice to describing the team’s performances.
In the Championship, Jonathan Trott as a batsman stood head and shoulders above everyone else, scoring three of the seven centuries recorded during the campaign. The collective failings of the remaining batters are starkly revealed by the fact that three of the other four tons were achieved by a bowler (Jeetan Patel); a wicket keeper (Tim Ambrose) and; a man who retired four games into the season (Ian Westwood).
Batting collapses were almost routine. A start of 7-5 against Yorkshire at Edgbaston and 49-6 against Hampshire at the Aegeas Bowl are two horrors that spring to mind. Even the one match that was won, against Middlesex at Lord’s, began with the Bears slumping to 68-6.
The four-day bowling was a mixed affair. Patel, inevitably, took most wickets but his 41 victims compared with 69 last year. Keith Barker suffered a bigger decline, from 59 wickets at 23 in 2016 to 26 at over 35 apiece in this campaign.
Other experienced bowlers such as Boyd Rankin, Rikki Clarke (who departed for Surrey mid-season) and Chris Wright rarely delivered so it was left to newcomers Ryan Sidebottom (22 wickets in six games) and Sukhjit (Sunny) Singh (13 wickets in just four games) to provide some limited bowling success.
As holders of the Royal London One Day Cup, Warwickshire started their 2017 campaign with confidence. Indeed, the competition began and ended well for the Bears. A ten-wicket win over Northants started things off in fine style; and the last qualifying match resulted in a clear-cut win over Yorkshire.
Unfortunately, there was a small matter of six consecutive defeats in between those two wins. The result was bottom place in the North Group, and a defence of their title that was the equivalent of a boxing champion being knocked out in the first round.
Plenty of runs were scored, with Ian Bell and Sam Hain compiling over 900 between them. The bowling, however, was another matter. Patel and Barker each took ten wickets but there were small returns for everyone else. Most of the economy rates might have passed muster in T20 but were not good enough in the 50 over game.
The NatWest T20 Blast provided the only bright spot in this dismal season. Indifferent early results gradually gave way to more positive outcomes as younger players took over. A more adventurous approach by players such as Ed Pollock and Aaron Thomason paid dividends.
The quarter final win against Surrey at the Oval was a particular high spot; and though the team fell at the last hurdle on Finals Day, they could console themselves that it took the best one day outfit in the country, Nottinghamshire, to see them off in the final.
When Bell’s indifferent form resulted in his being dropped, New Zealander Grant Elliott took over the T20 captaincy and led the team well in addition to making a good all-round contribution. His unbeaten 59 off 37 balls was decisive in that Oval win.
Other newcomers in Dom Sibley and Adam Hose performed usefully; and whilst Colin de Grandhomme maybe never quite have lived up to his surname or reputation he, too, contributed crucially to that quarter final win.
Hain added to his growing reputation as a one-day star whereas, hampered by technical flaws, he had a grim four-day season.
And, of course, that man Patel was by a distance the top wicket-taker for the Bears. He also had an economy rate streets ahead of all the other regular bowlers.
SSCC: 8th, Division One
T20 Blast: Runners up (3rd North Group)
RLODC: 9th, North Group
SSCC: Jonathan Trott, 967 runs
T20 Blast: Sam Hain, 458 runs
RLODC: Sam Hain, 456 runs
SSCC: Jeetan Patel, 41 wickets
T20 Blast: Jeetan Patel, 20 wickets
RLODC: Jeetan Patel and Keith Barker, 10 wickets
Player of the season:
If I may parody the words of Oscar Hammerstein:
ol’ man Jeetan, he just keeps bowlin’ along.
He may be, according to the PCA rankings, only the second best Patel in county cricket but Jeetan Patel, now aged 37, continues to deliver. To his 71 wickets, you can add over 600 runs and 20 catches.
The only questions are how much longer he can carry on; and how on earth the Bears will ever replace him.
Jeetan’s appetite for the game was summed up when, at the end of a season in which he played 37 matches, he declared that he needed a good long rest so wouldn’t be turning out for Wellington in New Zealand until mid-October, just two weeks later!
It is a sign of hope for the Bears that there are several players in contention for the title of breakthrough player.
Matt Lamb batted better in the middle order in the four-day game than his figures suggest. He was often striving to shore up yet another tottering team effort.
Aaron Thomason, 20 years old, showed massive enthusiasm and talent in the one-day game.
Left-arm spinner Sukhjit Singh took two five-wicket hauls in four Championship games and probably should have played more.
Andy Umeed scored 113 in 392 balls and 494 minutes in the day/night four-day game against Lancashire. It is rumoured that several spectators dreamt that they were watching Umeed bat, woke up and found that they were. Even so, his innings showed immense resolve.
Nevertheless, breakthrough player of the season is Ed Pollock for the way in which he invigorated and transformed the Bears’ approach to T20 batting.
Brought into the team part way through the Blast campaign, he averaged over 30 at a strike rate of 174.69. His half-century against Glamorgan in just 25 balls on Finals Day was a typical effort.
A fearless left-hander at the top of the order, he reminded many Bears fans of pinch-hitter Neil Carter or, for those longer in the tooth, the legendary Bob Barber.
Could have done better:
The list of under-performers is huge but, sadly, one name stands out.
Ian Bell began the season as the team captain in all formats, still cherishing ambitions to regain his England place and go on yet another Ashes tour.
The reality was starkly different. To be sure, he batted well in the One Day Cup, but in the T20 Blast and the Championship, he struggled to deliver runs. When he was dropped from the T20 team, it was the precursor to his resigning the captaincy.
There were signs at the very end of the season that his batting form might return. Still only 35, he could yet enjoy a golden career autumn.
Why he has struggled so much is hard to fathom. Some, including ex-Bear Paul Smith, have speculated that he misses the batting advice and wise counsel of his ex-coach and mentor, the late Neal Abberley.
Whatever the reason, those who have enjoyed Ian’s elegant and stylish batting over the years will hope that he can have a revival in fortunes.
Need to work on
In simple terms, Ashley Giles in his new role as Sport Director needs to put right what went wrong, not just this season but over the last two or three years.
Chief Executive Neil Snowball spoke for many when he lamented: “How have we been so poor?”
The three-fold answer to Neil’s question is not hard to find.
The only county to win all three domestic trophies in the last five years, Warwickshire allowed an excellent group of players to grow old together, regularly fielding eight or more over-thirties.
Alongside that, a gaggle of young players were given opportunities in the last three years and failed to make the grade.
In addition, attempts to recruit players from elsewhere were embarrassingly unsuccessful. Regularly jilted by players choosing to go elsewhere or to stay put, the club had become the Miss Havisham of county cricket.
So what needs to happen now is for the Club to continue to develop the promising crop of young players who have at last come forward. As well as those already mentioned, Henry Brookes, George Panayi, Alex Thomson and Grant Thornton have all shown flashes of promise.
On the recruitment front, the arrival of Adam Hose, Dom Sibley and Ryan Sidebottom suggests that the Bears under Giles can now spot and capture talent that is out there. As he recovers from injury, pace bowler Olly Stone also looks like the real deal. And next season, William Rhodes is joining from Yorkshire.
There is not likely to be too much more player recruitment before next season. Nor are there any guarantees of an early return to Division One in 2018. That cohort of young players may need a season of bedding in before the team can launch a strong promotion bid in 2019.
White ball cricket is another matter. The performances of the team in the T20 Blast suggest that there is plenty of scope for the young players to excel. So in both the Blast and in the One Day Cup, hopes will be high that there is a realistic chance of silverware.
There are quite a few contracts of senior players that expire at the end of 2018; and that is likely to herald several departures. It is to be hoped that, after the disappointments of 2017, some of these players who achieved so much earlier in their careers can at least can go out on a high note.
Based on the Championship and the One Day Cup, a rating of nought out of ten would be generous. But the T20 performances and the emergence of young talent justify better than that.