Like every other County Club, Warwickshire spent the winter preparing for what may turn out to be the season that never was.
Right now, the Club is doing what it can in these dark times. It has donated Edgbaston Stadium to the Department of Health and Social Care to create a drive-through COVID-19 testing station, used to test NHS staff who are working in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region.
In addition, players in both the men’s and women’s squads have been phoning Club members, especially the more senior ones, partly to check that they are ok but also to provide a morale boost. Sport Director Paul Farbrace has joined in.
He says: “It’s great that the lads have been ringing round, speaking to members and stewards and having conversations with people in these tough times.
“We all share the same passion for this great game and without our members and supporters it would all be very different so we are very grateful to them all.”
Looking back to what has happened during the winter, there have been many leadership changes at Edgbaston.
Starting at the very top, Club Chairman Norman Gascoigne stepped down, to be replaced by Mark McCafferty.
The new Chairman is not a refugee fom Cats – that’s his near namesake Macavity, otherwise known as the Mystery Cat and the Napoleon of Crime. Mark McCafferty is, in fact, the former Premiership Rugby Chief Executive. With his background in sport as well as in business, and as someone who grew up in the area and has been on the Club’s Board since 2016, he seems to tick all the boxes.
One level down from the Chairman in the Bears’ hierarchy, Chief Executive Neil Snowball has been appointed to succeed Gordon Hollins as the ECB’s managing director of county cricket. Snowball remains in post whilst his successor is recruited.
With so much uncertainty surrounding cricket in general and county cricket in particular, there can be no certainty about when – or even whether – Snowball will join the increasingly cash-strapped ECB.
When the Bears eventually take the field, they will have a new captain. Will Rhodes, who joined from Yorkshire in 2017, will take over from Jeetan Patel who will see out his truncated last season with the Bears just as a player. At the age of 24, Rhodes becomes the youngest Warwickshire club captain since Frank Foster more than a century ago.
As for the Birmingham Bears in the T20 Blast, they are due to be led by Australian T20 nomad Chris Green who played for them last year. Apart from uncertainty about whether or when the Blast will be played, a further complication is that, soon after the announcement of his appointment, he was banned from bowling by Cricket Australia because of an illegal action. So it is a case of “watch this space” to find out how that issue is resolved.
Last season, the Bears were plagued by injuries, especially to their pace bowlers. Not surprisingly, Sports Director Paul Farbrace undertook a review of the situation during the early part of the close season. His conclusion?
“We had a lot of players who were gym fit but not necessarily bowling fit. So this winter, the players are doing more fitness on their feet.
“Things go in cycles. There was a time no-one wanted bowlers to bowl indoors on hard surfaces. Now we’ve come to the conclusion that they need to bowl more overs and be more robust, so that’s what we’ve put in place.”
Financially, Warwickshire may be better placed than some counties to survive the loss of income that’s threatening to cripple the sport. Results issued during the winter for the 2018/19 financial year show that the Club increased year-on-year turnover by 54 per cent to £26.6 million. Profits before deductions nearly quadrupled to £6.2 million.
Looking cautiously forward, what of The Hundred, the new tournament due to start this season?
Edgbaston will be the home of the Birmingham Phoenix men’s side. If they ever manage to take the field, the likes of Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali, Ravi Bopara and Kane Williamson will be walking (and running) advertisements for Butterkist Popcorn. There should be a ready market amongst the 41% of Birmingham’s 10 and 11 year olds who are overweight.
Health experts are less impressed by the ECB’s choice of branding; but if the new competition not only gets young people watching but also playing cricket, maybe the overall effects will be positive after all.
As with everything else in the world at the moment, only time will tell.