Specsavers County Championship Division One, Edgbaston Stadium, 11-14 April 2019
Even in early April, some are viewing this Division One match as a relegation battle. There is a case to be made for this point of view.
Kent have started off their campaign by snatching humiliating defeat from the jaws of heady victory against Somerset at Taunton. They squandered a first innings lead by allowing Somerset’s last wicket pair to add 62 and then being bowled out for just 131 to lose by 74 runs. That is a big margin in a low-scoring game. To make matters worse, the defeat came in under three days, with the first day having been washed out.
Warwickshire have not yet played a Championship game. Those who see the Midlands team as candidates for the drop are basing their views not so much on who will take the field as who will be missing.
Jonathan Trott has retired. Keith Barker, Chris Wright, Boyd Rankin and Josh Poysden have all moved on. Ian Bell has yet to recover from an operation on his toe. And there are significant doubts about the fitness of Olly Stone, Henry Brookes, Chris Woakes and newcomer Liam Norwell. One more injury and the Bears would have a full eleven of absentees or doubtfuls.
There is another side to the story, however….
Kent played some excellent cricket in gaining promotion last year; and for well over half of their first Championship game of the season, they dominated a strong Somerset side.
Warwickshire, too, achieved promotion last year with some ease. If pre-season form is anything to go by, they have hit the jackpot in recruiting seamer Craig Miles from Gloucestershire.
In addition to the experience of Jeetan Patel and Tim Ambrose, they have a highly successful pair of opening batsmen in Will Rhodes and Dom Sibley. They also have a crop of less experienced players who are eager to cement a place in the team.
It may take a few months before we can be sure whether the optimists or the pessimists are right about either team. In the meantime, the likelihood is that these two well-matched sides will have a close contest over the next four days.
Adam Hose joined Warwickshire from Somerset in 2017. His main impact so far has been in white ball cricket. Now the absence of Trott and Bell opens up four day opportunities.
Maybe Leeds Bradford MCCU didn’t represent the toughest opposition last week. Nevertheless, Hose scored an impresiive double century against them with 19 fours and nine sixes. Yes, there was a short boundary on one side. But it was the kind of knock that should surely guarantee him a place in the side against Kent and give him the chance to establish himself.
21-year-old Zak Crawley is embarking on his second full season for Kent. Having notched his first Championship hundred at the end of last season, he has been promoted from the middle order to open the batting. Scores of 37 and 21 against Somerset hardly set the River Tone on fire. But he showed the tenacity and concentration that many of his colleagues lacked.
For Warwickshire, Ian Bell is a definite absentee. Olly Stone, Henry Brookes and Chris Woakes are all doubtful. Craig Miles should make his Warwickshire Championship debut; and after doing well with bat and ball against Leeds MCCU, all-rounder Aaron Thomason might get a game.
Unless a blue moon is seen over Edgbaston, captain Jeetan Patel will be there wheeling away with his teasing off-spin. He has just extended his contract to the end of next season when he will be 40.
Warwickshire squad: TBC
Kent will be without captain Sam Billings and vice-captain Joe Denly, both playing in the IPL. They were key figures last year so will be much missed. The arrival of Australian Matt Renshaw should give the batting a boost; and he will surely improve on his meagre tally of five runs from two innings down at Taunton.
Kent Squad: TBC
Weather and Conditions
The forecast is for four sunless, dry but cold days, with the temperature struggling to reach double figures. Chilly spectators will be pleased to see that the Edgbaston shop still has the Giles hoodie on sale. Sadly, the Oliver Hannon-Dalby thermal long johns never made it past the drawing board.
The pitch is in safe hands. At the end of last year, Warwickshire’s Gary Barwell not only won the Institute of Groundmanship award for best professional cricket groundsman of the year but also was recognised as the best across all sports. If he can’t produce a decent surface for an even contest between bat and ball, no-one can!
Date: 11th-14th April 2019
Ground: Stadium Edgbaston
Odds (SkyBet): Warwickshire 8/13, Kent 5/4