Whatever else Warwickshire achieve in 2023, they are unlikely to match the final day thrills of their last two seasons. In 2021, they clinched an unlikely County Championship title. Last year, they somehow managed an equally exciting final day with an improbable escape from relegation, beating Hampshire by just five runs and sending Yorkshire into Division Two.
There have been close season departures from the squad. Dom Sibley, Adam Hose and Matt Lamb have all gone to other counties and Ryan Sidebottom has been released. Neither Nathan McAndrew nor Carlos Brathwaite will be returning as overseas players.
Off the field, Director of Sport Paul Farbrace has left and been replaced, after a prolonged recruitment process, by Gavin Larsen. He will be called Performance Director – but, as an old Warwickshire man once said, what’s in a name? Bowling coach Matt Mason has been replaced by Stuart Barnes.
Will Rhodes continues as club captain, though Moeen Ali will lead in the Vitality Blast. Alex Davies, who seems vastly more popular with the Club hierarchy than with many members and supporters, becomes vice-captain.
Warwickshire’s batting was fragile in all competitions last year so the hope will be that Rob Yates returns to his 2021 form after a nightmare year, that Davies stops giving his wicket away with extravagant shots and that the likes of Jacob Bethell and Dan Mousley make major advances whilst Sam Hain, Michael Burgess and Rhodes himself regularly deliver.
Chris Woakes, who was injured last year, has committed himself to getting into the Ashes team so this should mean some four day appearances for the Bears so that he can stake his claim. He will join a whole battery of pace bowlers who, in the unlikely event that they all stay fit, will provide an embarrassment of riches. Selecting maybe four from Woakes, Hassan Ali, Ed Barnard, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Liam Norwell, Craig Miles and Chris Rushworth will not be easy. It leaves others such as the Brookes brothers, George Garrett, Manraj Johal and Che Simmons struggling to get a game.
Warwickshire have signed all-rounder Ed Barnard from Worcestershire. Moeen Ali also comes from New Road, re-joining the Club where he spent his formative years. In a surprise move, Chris Rushworth has left Durham to become a Bear in his cricketing middle age.
How well Ed Barnard performs will be key to the Bears’ fortunes. He is, at age 27, nearing the peak of his powers, having already played over 250 matches. Last year, he took 31 first class wickets and averaged 60 with the bat. Anywhere close to that level of achievement in both departments would more than justify his signing. He should make a major difference to the balance of the team, filling the all round shoes previously occupied by the likes of Rikki Clarke and Keith Barker.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Aged just 19, Jacob Bethell is an outstanding prospect. Though born in Barbados and boasting Sir Garfield Sobers as a family friend, he has been in the Warwickshire system since age 12. As well as starring for England in the under-19 World Cup in 2021, he has more recently toured Sri Lanka with the England Lions and scored two half-centuries.
As a top order batter and left-arm spinner, he is another who can provide valuable all round balance to the team. He and Danny Briggs, who under-performed last year, could well vie for the number one spinning role.
Pakistan pace bowler Hasan Ali, who was successful for Lancashire last season, joins as the main overseas signing.
For the Vitality Blast, Paul Stirling returns briefly after variable success last year. After the first few games, he will make way for Glenn Maxwell, assuming that the Australian’s slow recovery from a broken leg continues and the injury is not exacerbated by his IPL stint. Warwickshire supporters may well reflect that even on one leg, Maxwell might well be a better bet than a few of the Bears’ recent overseas signings.
HOW WILL THEY FARE
In the LV= County Championship, Warwickshire hardly look like title contenders. Maybe a place in the top four would be achievable if that flaky batting line up can get its act together. Otherwise, another relegation struggle could loom.
In the Vitality Blast, the Bears (who have quietly dropped the Birmingham part of their name) should do well. Finals Day is a realistic target and, if achieved, would give them the advantage of playing on their home ground.
The One Day Cup is anyone’s guess. Seven Warwickshire players will be missing in The Hundred There are rumours that players not selected for Hundred matches could be released to play for their county. That would ensure that there is no repeat of the ridiculous situation last year where Sam Hain sat on the sidelines for a month, unwanted by his Hundred team but unable to turn out for the Bears.
POTENTIAL STARTING ELEVEN
1. Alex Davies
2. Rob Yates
3. Will Rhodes
4. Sam Hain
5. Ed Barnard
6. Michael Burgess
7. Chris Woakes (or Jacob Bethell if Woakes not available)
8. Liam Norwell
9. Hasan Ali
10. Chris Rushworth
11. Oliver Hannon-Dalby
LV= County Championship: Somerset v Warwickshire at Taunton, 6-9 April
SEASON ODDS (SKYBET)
LV= Insurance County Championship: 10/1
Vitality Blast: 10/1