We are less than half way through the Specsavers County Championship season. Even so, it is likely that this week’s clash between Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire may go a long way towards deciding which team, come September, gets relegated.
After three consecutive defeats, Warwickshire lifted themselves off the bottom of the table with their exciting win against Surrey at Edgbaston last week. This victory took them above Notts, who have also lost three games but have yet to record their first four-day win of the season.
The Surrey match was dominated by two off-spinners with a combined age of 80, Gareth Batty (10 for 111) and Jeetan Patel (12 for 89). There was only one half-century in each of the four innings; and top scorer in the match was Liam Norwell, who scored 64 off just 53 balls, including 50 in boundaries – and he was batting at number 10.
It was that sort of match.
Notts sat out the last round of Championship matches, their most recent outing being a heavy 244-run defeat to table-toppers Hampshire.
Whereas Warwickshire have worries about the fragility of their inexperienced batting line-up, Notts have too many under-performing bowlers.
For the Bears, Sam Hain and Dom Sibley both average around 50; but apart from the aforesaid tail-ender Norwell, everyone else is averaging well below 25.
Amongst the Notts bowlers, no-one other than Luke Fletcher and Stuart Broad is averaging under 40.
Warwickshire have put a great deal of faith in their youngsters, some of whom such as Liam Banks and Rob Yates have shown promise but may soon have to go back to the second team for a while.
Notts, on the other hand, will be looking for more of a return from their supposedly star imports such as Ben Duckett who has recorded just one fifty in eight innings.
There is much at stake over the next four days. Both sides desperately needs the points and the boost in confidence that a win would provide.
For Warwickshire, the obvious key man is Jeetan Patel. He captains the side in all formats and, once the shine has worn off the new ball, seems to be a permanent fixture bowling at one end. In total, he has taken 41 wickets across two competitions so far this year.
We don’t have to pick the obvious player, of course. So let us go for Liam Norwell. He came from Gloucestershire at the end of last season but, for the first month of this campaign, he was the Invisible Man as he battled a long-standing hamstring injury. In just two matches, however, he has shown that the step up to top division cricket is no problem. He has already claimed 11 wickets with his lively fast-medium bowling. And he is surely destined to rise from number 10 in the batting order, possibly to take over the role as number eight innings rescuer so often performed in recent years by Keith Barker.
For Notts, Luke Fletcher is easily the leading bowler so far this season. His whole-hearted fast-medium efforts have kept Notts afloat at times when others were failing to deliver.
Fletcher may also have a small score to settle. For it was at Edgbaston in a T20 game in 2017 that a fierce straight drive from Sam Hain felled him. He suffered concussion and a bleed on the brain and was out for the rest of the season. That he has come back so successfully will have pleased all those who, seeing the impact of that blow, feared the worst.
For Warwickshire, Chris Woakes is on England duty; and Olly Stone and Ian Bell are still recovering from injury.
Although loan signing Mark Burgess is available, he doesn’t make the 14-man squad. Added to the team that beat Surrey are off-spinning all-rounder Alex Thomson, batsman Matt Lamb – who has been scoring heavily for the second team – and seam bowler Craig Miles.
Warwickshire Squad: Jeetan Patel (c), Tim Ambrose (wk), Liam Banks, Henry Brookes, Sam Hain, Olly Hannon-Dalby, Adam Hose, Matt Lamb, Craig Miles, Liam Norwell, Will Rhodes, Dom Sibley, Alex Thomson, Rob Yates
Notts have named a 13-man squad for the fixture; Zak Chappell and Paul Coughlin are unavailable through injury, but James Pattinson is included.
Also in the squad and almost certain to play is Samit Patel. Dropped for Notts’ last game against Hampshire, it was the first time he had missed a County Championship game in seven years. But with spin likely to play a part, Samit may be given the difficult task of matching his namesake Jeetan.
Notts Squad: Steven Mullaney (c), Jake Ball, Stuart Broad, Matthew Carter, Joe Clarke, Ben Duckett, Luke Fletcher, Jake Libby, Tom Moores (wk), Chris Nash, Samit Patel, James Pattinson, Ben Slater
Weather and Conditions
The forecast is for at least two dry days out of four. But there may be showers on days two and four, so both captains are likely to have an eye on the skies above Edgbaston.
As for the pitch, it would seem on the evidence of the Surrey match, that Edgbaston is taking over from Taunton as the ground where spin holds sway. There was slow turn from day one in that game; and with the leading off-spinner in the country on hand to exploit any turn, it would not be surprising if a similar pitch is prepared for this game.
Date: June 3-6 2019
Ground: Stadium Edgbaston
Odds (SkyBet): Warwickshire 4/6, Notts 6/5