Chairman Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive Stuart Cain and Director of Sports Paul Farbrace have all been in post for two years or less. On top of that, the 30 year Edgbaston career of Jim Troughton was abruptly ended when he was sacked as Head Coach at the end of the 2020 season. His replacement is Mark Robinson. He has an impressive track record, having coached the World Cup winning England women’s team as well as leading the Sussex men’s side to six trophies in 10 years.
On the field, too, there have been departures. 2020 was always going to be the final season for two long-serving stalwarts in overseas star Jeetan Patel and wicket keeper Tim Ambrose. Less expected was the retirement of Ian Bell, bringing to an end a stellar career for Warwickshire and England.
Troughton, who has found a new home as assistant coach at Somerset, left Edgbaston after a largely unsuccessful 2020 campaign. In the Bob Willis Trophy, Warwickshire were one of only three sides not to win a game, finishing third in the Central group with four draws and a loss.
Likewise, the Birmingham Bears had to settle for third place in the Central Group of the T20 Vitality Blast and so failed to qualify for the knock-out stages. In their last T20 group match at Edgbaston, the Bears rattled up a decent 193-7 against Northants, and then had their opponents on the ropes half way through their innings at 71-6. It would be wise to draw a veil over what happened next. Suffice it to say that Northants won a most unlikely victory. They, rather than the Bears, went through to the knock out stages.
To be fair, all was not doom and gloom. There were a few positives, which hopefully can be carried forward into the 2021 season. New captain Will Rhodes settled well into the role without his batting suffering, and fellow Yorkshire import Tim Bresnan made an immediate impression with both bat and ball. Yet another Yorkshireman, Ollie Hannon-Dalby, continued his late emergence as a highly effective four day bowler. And for the Vitality Blast, the Bears unearthed, in Jake Lintott, that rarity, a wicket-taking left arm wrist spinner.
Best of all, there were very clear signs that the long run of failure of young players to make the transition to the first team was at last coming to an end. Dan Mousley, Rob Yates, Matt Lamb and Henry Brookes all made an impact.
There will be a big hole left by the loss of Jeetan Patel’s spin bowling, hence the signing of left arm spinner Danny Briggs from Sussex. Regarded by the south coast club as a white ball specialist, he is expected to get plenty of extra opportunities for the Bears in the longer format. Whether he can match Patel’s regular tally of wickets remains to be seen.
Overall, the Bears’ strength surely lies in their seam bowling. Paul Farbrace has said that, in the post-Patel era, he expects the pitches at Edgbaston to be more seamer friendly. As well as Bresnan, Hannon-Dalby and Brookes, this should create opportunities for the likes of Craig Miles, Liam Norwell and Ryan Sidebottom, with younger pacemen George Garrett, George Furrer and Manraj Johal in the wings and ready to step in if needed.
And, who knows, maybe Chris Woakes, who mysteriously failed to be given a single game for England in the winter, may get the odd opportunity to turn out for the Bears.
Ins: Danny Briggs
Outs: Ian Bell, Tim Ambrose, Jeetan Patel (all retired), Liam Banks (released)
It may be that the best player on view at Edgbaston this year will be Australian all-rounder Ellyse Perry. However, she will be appearing, not for the Bears, but for Birmingham Phoenix in the inaugural season of The Hundred.
Key player for the Bears could well be Sam Hain. His abilities as a white ball batsman are undoubted, as demonstrated by his List A average of almost 60. Although he has also scored ten first-class hundreds, he has not quite lived up to his early potential in the longer form of the game. With Ian Bell’s departure, there could be no better time for him to have a big four day season.
Player to watch
Not yet 20, Birmingham born Dan Mousley looks to have the temperament and talent needed for a successful career. He has already made an impact with England at Under-19 level and scored half centuries for the Bears last year in both four day and T20 formats.
Paul Farbrace brackets Mousley with another young prospect in saying: “In [Rob] Yates and Mousley we have two of the best young batsmen in the county game. I think it is going to be a race between them to see who plays for England first.”
No pressure there, then!
Pieter Malan (CC), Carlos Brathwaite (T20)
During the close season, Paul Farbrace expressed the intention to sign an overseas batsman to fill the gap left by Bell and a power batter for the Vitality Blast. Accordingly, South African Pieter Malan arrives for the Championship and West Indian Carlos Brathwaite will become a Bear for the T20 competition.
Malan boasts a first class average of 45. He celebrated his signing by making a career best 264 for Cape Cobras. As for Brathwaite, his most memorable T20 feat was to hit four final-over sixes off Ben Stokes to win the 2016 ICC World T20 title. Worryingly, his overall T20 record with the bat, averaging in the mid-teens in both internationals and domestic games, is fairly modest.
How they will fare
It may be too soon for those young players to be able to compensate for the loss of Bell, Patel and Ambrose. Getting into the top two of their group in the Championship would be an excellent result. Good group performances in both the Royal London and the Vitality Blast can be expected but are unlikely to lead to a win in either competition. If all goes well in the Blast, a place at Finals Day is an outside possibility.
Opening Fixture: 8-11 April v Derbyshire at Edgbaston Stadium
Season Odds (Skybet):
County Championship: 16/1
Bob Willis Trophy: 12/1
Vitality Blast: 10/1
Royal London One Day Cup: 12/1