As Warwickshire and Kent fought out their final Specsavers County Championship match at Edgbaston, 23-year-old Will Rhodes reflected on what has proved to be a breakthrough season for him.
Rhodes came through the Yorkshire age-group system and joined Warwickshire in the close season. He has clearly flourished in his new environment. He arrived as an all-rounder who could bat anywhere in the order and also bowl at a lively medium pace.
At the end of his first season as a Bear, he has found his niche having fully established himself as an opening batsman. He has scored almost 1,000 runs at an average of 44 with four hundreds, including one in the first innings of this match against Kent, a knock that included 16 fours and a six.
If Kent can make enough in their second innings to force Warwickshire to bat again, Rhodes might just score the extra 28 runs he needs to reach the thousand run mark in the Championship. Still 175 behind, with a second innings wicket already down at the close of day two, Kent may well fall short and deny him the opportunity.
But whether or not he hits that landmark, there is no doubt that Rhodes has established his credentials as a Bear. He revealed that taking a positive approach to his batting was a deliberate choice:
“I spoke to (coaches) Pop Welch and Ian Westwood, and said that I wanted to go out and express myself. My game’s been coming along well. I played well last week at Sussex.”
As for batting at Edgbaston, Rhodes is positive about the experience.
“I’ve enjoyed Edgbaston. I’m now getting used to the pace of the pitches. Once the spinner (Adam Riley) came on in this match, I said to Dom Sibley ‘I’m gonna go here.’”
The result was that Riley was hit back over his head three times in his first over and then was crashed for a mid-wicket six.
“Yes, I wanted to kick on, to play with freedom and show some of the skills learnt in T20.”
What about the significance of this game? Both teams are already promoted, so does it really matter in what order the two teams finish? Rhodes is in no doubt that it does.
“Yes, we certainly want to go up as Champions. It will give us momentum and confidence for next year.”
Early in the season, as Rhodes adapted to his new role, his opening partner Dom Sibley was struggling to make an impact. More recently, however, the partnership seems to have clicked.
The opening stand against Kent was their fifth in a row that went past fifty. For good measure, they totted up 176 runs before Rhodes fell for 110. Sibley went on to a more stately hundred, facing 287 balls for his 119 runs and batting over six hours compared with Rhodes’ three.
“We enjoy batting together,” says Rhodes, “We are two different players with different strengths; we bounce off each other. We did struggle early on in the season to match each other’s tempo but in the last six weeks, we’ve got things going nicely.
“Dom’s been playing beautifully. It was great that we had three centuries each coming into this game and we agreed that it would be nice if one or both of us could get a fourth.”
With all the debate about who should open for England, there is at least the possibility that, given a good start next season in the top flight, national honours might beckon for Rhodes. Whilst acknowledging this, he is not looking that far ahead.
“At the moment, I just want to score as many runs as possible for Warwickshire,” he says, “England selection is a long way away. There’s a lot of areas of my game that I want to improve and I will work on them over the winter.
“It will be a new challenge in Division One, with better bowlers who will test my technique to the full.”
Although modest about his long-term prospects, Rhodes is happy to acknowledge that 2018 has been a breakthrough season for him.
“Yes, it’s been my first full season of Championship cricket. It’s gone really well and there’s a great vibe here at Edgbaston.”
Whether or not Rhodes can go on to higher honours, there is no doubt that he should have much to offer the Midland county over the next decade or so.
Yorkshire’s loss is very much Warwickshire’s gain.