An unprecedented spate of injuries destroyed Warwickshire’s hopes of a successful 2019 campaign, with the result that the season was a constant struggle.
In the end, the Bears salvaged something by avoiding relegation from the top flight of the Championship and also by seeing some of their young players start to fulfil their promise.
At times, the physio’s room at Edgbaston must have resembled the aftermath of a Peaky Blinders’ revenge attack.
An injury to Ian Bell put him out for the whole season. As for the pace bowlers, Olly Stone managed only three games before injury struck, Ryan Sidebottom played once and then was out for the season and Liam Norwell managed four games either side of time off injured. And of course Chris Woakes was mainly away with England. So it was left to Olly Hannon-Dalby and Henry Brookes, plus a diverse collection of temporary recruits, to carry the main pace burden.
Warning bells rang for the Bears when they lost their first three Championship games. Especially disastrous was the home loss to Hampshire by a massive 314 runs. But spirited wins against Surrey and Yorkshire gave the team hope.
With only one team to be relegated from the top flight this year, Warwickshire supporters were relieved that Nottinghamshire kept a firm hold on the bottom spot. In the end, with three wins and six losses, Warwickshire were well ahead of Notts and only two points behind Surrey who finished in sixth place.
Replacing the 2000 runs that Bell and Jonathan Trott scored in 2018 in the Championship was always going to be difficult. Thank goodness, then, for Dom Sibley, who amassed over 1300 runs at the top of the order. Sam Hain, too, restored his red ball credentials with over 800 runs at an average north of 50.
With the ball, Hannon-Dalby, Brookes and captain Jeetan Patel took 140 Championship wickets between them, just about twice as many as all the other 14 bowlers used.
Warwickshire started their Royal London campaign with a thrilling tied match with Yorkshire – 270 runs apiece. After that, it was all down hill, with just two wins and five defeats.
Hain carried the Royal London batting, although Liam Banks also contributed usefully. With the ball, Patel was the star; and off-spinning all-rounder Alex Thomson did well with both bat and ball.
As for the Birmingham Bears in the T20 Blast, Jane Austen got it right when she wrote: “One has no great hopes of Birmingham.” OK, she wasn’t actually writing about the Bears’ prospects, but the truth is that just four wins and seven losses left them level on points at the bottom of the table, with Leicestershire, and way short of qualification.
Some words of advice may be appropriate here: if you are in the hearing of any Bears fans and don’t want to see a grown person cry, keep quiet about Colin Ackerman’s seven wickets for just 18 runs for Leicestershire – the wickets that sent the Bears crashing from 114-2 to 134 all out.
Hain averaged almost 42 in the Blast, though his strike rate of 118.60 was less impressive. Australian white ball specialist Chris Green came in at short notice, to replace the injured Ashton Agar, and achieved the team’s best economy rate without setting Edgbaston on fire.
SSCC: Seventh in Division One
T20 Blast: Eighth in North Group
RLODC: Seventh in North Group
SSCC: Dom Sibley – 1324 runs average 69.68
T20 Blast: Sam Hain – 459 runs average 41.72, strike rate 118.60
RLODC: Sam Hain – 385 runs average 77.00
SSCC: Jeetan Patel – 64 wickets, average 26.75
T20 Blast: Henry Brookes – 13 wickets, average 24.69, economy rate 8.75
RLODC: Jeetan Patel – 16 wickets, average 24.00
Player of the season:
It is tempting not to look beyond Jeetan Patel for the player of the season. Captaining a side that is struggling is never easy, but Jeetan somehow managed to keep team morale high. He also bowled 750 overs and took 91 wickets, a fantastic achievement for a man in his 40th year.
For me, however, the player of the season was Olly Hannon-Dalby.
Until now mainly used as a white ball bowler, the six foot eight inch Yorkshireman waited until his 30th year before taking a major step forward in his career and, for the first time, excelling in the red ball game. He took 44 wickets at a cost of 25.65 each and achieved two five wicket hauls. He bowled with great accuracy and economy.
Always able to bowl a good out-swinger to right handers, Olly showed a new-found skill in moving the ball the other way, especially to left-handers. Unlike some of his bowling partners, he posed constant challenges with both new and old ball.
Add in the fact that he is extremely popular with supporters and other players – and has already begun to establish a reputation as a coach – and his case for being the man of the season is surely made.
When Hannon-Dalby was awarded his county cap at the end of the season, it was a highly emotional moment. His tears flowed, showing that he may be a tough Tyke from Halifax but he is also now undoubtedly a Bear through and through.
Rob Yates celebrated his 20th birthday just as the season ended. Having come up through the Warwickshire age groups since the under-10s, he was thrust unexpectedly into the first team spotlight largely because of the injury to Ian Bell; and he found himself in the vital number three spot in the batting order.
All through the season, he showed a sound temperament and a good technique, but it was only towards the end of the campaign that he produced the scores to match. An innings of 91 against a strong Hampshire attack was the prelude to a first hundred against title chasing Somerset. He battled to 141 in over six hours and followed it up with 53 in the second innings, all in a losing cause. He also scored 66 in his only white ball outing of the summer.
Along with 19-year-old George Garrett, another highly promising young player, Yates is currently a student at Birmingham University.
Could have done better:
Craig Miles made the move to Warwickshire from Gloucestershire at the end of the 2018 season. Untried in Division One of the Championship, he did well in pre-season games. With all the injuries to his colleagues, he had an unrivalled opportunity to make his mark. But, though he had occasional moments of success with his fast-medium bowling, too often his line and length were found wanting and in five Championship matches he conceded runs at 4.5 per over.
Still only 25, he could yet make his mark with the Bears – but 2020 will be a crucial season when he will need to improve on his 2019 efforts.
Need to work on
Work will need to continue through the winter in getting fit those players who are still recovering from their injuries.
Sports Director Paul Farbrace confirmed at a recent Members Committee Meeting that “there would be a thorough medical review of the injuries sustained during the season.” The review may well cover whether this was just an unlucky series of unrelated injuries or whether there are underlying common causes that need to be addressed.
Hopefully, the club will not again have to resort to the near panic measures adopted at the height of the injury crisis. At one stage, players were being drafted in and out with bewildering speed – Ben Mike, Toby Lester, James Wainman and Fidel Edwards were all begged or borrowed for a game or so. The Club boasts “once a Bear, always a Bear”, but in 2019, too many players were barely a Bear and then disappeared.
The fragility of the Bears’ batting was also a concern throughout the season. Hopefully, Ian Bell will be back, fully fit in 2020 but if Dom Sibley makes the transition this winter, he may well be in England colours for most of next summer. So the progress of younger players such as Rob Yates, Matt Lamb and Liam Banks will be watched with interest.
Adam Hose, too, needs to show that he is more than just a white ball player. Despite a first class hundred against Notts, he averaged just 17 in his 11 Championship matches. Many felt that Lamb and Banks should have been given more opportunities and Hose fewer.
At the end of the season, the Bears released England under-19 seam bowler George Panayi and reserve wicket keeper Alex Mellor.
With Ethan Brookes (younger brother of Henry), George Garrett and England under-19 batsman Dan Mousley all getting their debuts in 2019, the flow of players from the youth system into the senior squad is starting to look like an open pipeline rather than a “call the plumber” blockage.
As a result – and with the major proviso that next season sees only a normal number of injuries – the squad is starting to have a more settled look.
Off the field, Club Chairman Norman Gascoigne is stepping down after almost ten years in post, during which he has overseen major changes including the massive ground re-development.
Credit must be given to the team management for maintaining morale at a time when so much was going wrong. When, late in the season, the Bears conceded a first innings total of almost 500 to Notts but went on to win by eight wickets, it spoke volumes about the comparative spirit and resilience of the two teams.
The development of the aforementioned young players is also a positive.
Against that, however, must be put the abysmal failure in both white ball competitions and the fact that, in any other season, bottom but one place in the Championship would have meant relegation.
A record for the season in all competitions of nine matches won and 18 lost tells its own story.