The last match of the season is upon us already! As Groucho Marx once said: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like bananas.”
Since the early stages of the season, supporters of both Warwickshire and Kent have been eyeing this final Specsavers County Championship match as an encounter likely to establish the identity of the top team in Division Two.
We already know that both teams have achieved promotion so that takes some of the pressure off the players. Warwickshire are returning to the top flight at the first attempt whereas Kent have spent eight years in the second division.
Does it really matter who finishes top and who second? Some might say that first place really only represents ninth position out of the 18 counties. Is it the cricketing equivalent of not competing in the 100 metres sprint but winning the egg and spoon race?
The likelihood is, however, that with both teams tied at the top on 219 points, this match will be keenly contested by the players and ardently watched by supporters. Neither team achieved silverware in the shorter competitions, though Kent came close as losing Finalists in the Royal London One Day Cup. So even a second-tier title will be welcomed.
There will also be some interesting personal battles. Both Warwickshire fast man Olly Stone and Kent all-rounder Joe Denly will be off to Sri Lanka with the England squad. Can Stone scatter Denly’s stumps? Will Denly sneak a googly past the bat of Ian Bell whose own chances an international return have been blighted by the Kent man’s call-up?
And then there is Jonathan Trott, playing his last game before retirement. 46 first class centuries including one last week against Sussex, 92 half-centuries and a career average north of 44 – that is some career, even before you factor in what he did with England. Do you remember those years when England had, in Trott, an utterly reliable number three batsman?
Kent’s success has been built around a highly effective bowling attack. Matt Henry, Darren Stevens and Joe Denly have captured 136 Championship wickets at well under 20 runs apiece. Throw in Harry Podmore with 40 wickets and you can see why Kent have won ten out of 13 games although not one of the regular batsmen even comes close to averaging 40.
For the Bears, Bell and Trott have almost 2,000 Championship runs between them. Will Rhodes and Dom Sibley have, in recent matches, settled down into a reliable opening partnership after early season struggles and Sam Hain, too, has re-emerged as a four-day run scorer.
As for the bowlers, there are no prizes for guessing the runaway leading wicket-taker. Jeetan Patel has 55 wickets. He has had plenty of support. Stone, Keith Barker and Chris Wright have 108 wickets between them.
Warwickshire’s Olly Stone has not only taken his 37 wickets at the ridiculous cost of 12.27. He has also scared a few otherwise confident players with his 90 mph pace, delivered with an accuracy that is not always achieved by those who bowl at high speed.
Kent have, in New Zealander Matt Henry, a bowler who maybe can’t quite rival Stone for pace. But, with 74 wickets at 14.67, he has proved a constant threat to opposition batsmen. He could sway the match Kent’s way if he finds helpful conditions.
Warwickshire will be without England’s Chris Woakes who has not been made available. Ian Bell retired hurt against Sussex with an injured thumb but expects to be fit. With young paceman Henry Brookes out with a back problem, the team that played against Sussex may well take the field again.
Warwickshire squad: tbc.
Kent may make few, if any, changes from the team that sent Glamorgan scuttling back across the Severn Bridge with their collective tail between their legs after defeat in less than three days.
Kent squad: tbc
Weather and Conditions
Four fine, sunny but cool days are forecast. There has been plenty of rain leading up to the game, but hopefully groundsman Gary Barwell can produce one more decent pitch for this finale to the season.
Date: 24-27 September 2018
Time: 10.30 am
Ground: Stadium Edgbaston