In 2022, Warwickshire had an “almost but not quite” season in that the Club were nearly relegated from the top flight but just managed to escape the drop. This season, the same phrase applied but with an opposite meaning. The Club came close to finishing in the first three of the County Championship’s top division, getting to Finals Day in the T20 Blast and reaching the One Day Cup Final – they almost but not quite made it in each case.
What could have been an outstanding season was, in the end, just a fairly good one.
Fourth place in the LV= County Championship was a reasonable result. After last year’s near disaster, it represented genuine progress. Six wins, including two in the last three games, plus only four defeats give genuine hope that a title challenge is not too far away.
The batting in four day cricket relied heavily on Sam Hain. Rob Yates came next amongst the regular batters; but over 60% of his runs were scored in two innings, home and away against Kent.
The two top red ball bowlers were Olly Hannon-Dalby and Chris Rushworth, who took 107 wickets between them. There were those who doubted the wisdom of signing Rushworth from Durham. He was, after all, almost 37 years of age at the start of the season. They were proved emphatically wrong.
Overseas signing Hasan Ali also showed his worth until recalled to the Pakistan squad; and Ed Barnard made some useful contributions with the ball. There was very little in the way of spin, with Danny Briggs being only occasionally effective.
As for white ball cricket, the Bears topped their Groups in both the Blast and the One Day Cup but, in each case, fell at the first knock-out stage.
The quarter final Blast loss to Essex came by a margin of two wickets with just one ball left. The Bears had won 11 out of their 14 Group matches.
Once again, Sam Hain stood head and shoulders above the other batters in the Blast campaign. He averaged almost a hundred at a strike rate of 160. Rob Yates gave him good support and there were some useful contributions from Alex Davies and Dan Mousley. Overseas star Glenn Maxwell was a disappointment, averaging only 17. Davies captained the side except for the four occasions when Moeen Ali was available.
Dan Mousley, with his medium paced off spin, was the surprise top wicket taker with 21 victims, well ahead of Danny Briggs, Henry Brookes and Jake Lintott.
As for the One Day Cup, seven out of eight Group matches were won but those results were just the prelude to a humiliating nine wicket semi-final defeat to Hampshire who bowled the Bears out for just 93 and won with more than 30 overs to spare.
Ed Barnard was a revelation in the One Day Cup. Promoted To open the batting, he scored two hundreds and three fifties. He also took valuable wickets. Will Rhodes scored steadily and others chipped in with useful runs from time to time. As in the red ball game, Rob Yates was inconsistent, scoring one hundred but no other totals of over 50.
Olly Hannon-Dalby took 24 wickets in the One Day Cup, twice as many as Jake Lintott who was the the next highest.
One player who does not feature in the above summary is Liam Norwell, the hero of the last gasp win that prevented relegation a year ago. Plagued by a bulging disc in his back, he failed to bowl a ball in anger at any stage in 2023.
Overall, the Bears won 25 matches in all three competitions, a success level only exceeded by Hampshire who won 28. Somerset won 21 and Surrey and Worcestershire 19, with the rest of the counties trailing behind. To have performed so well but failed not only to win a trophy but even to get to a final was a major disappointment.
LV= CC: 4th in Division One
Vitality Blast: Quarter finalists – top in Group
One Day Cup: Semi-finalists; top in Group
LV= CC: Sam Hain, 706 runs at 47.06
Vitality Blast: Sam Hain, 481 runs at 96.20, SR 160.33
One Day Cup: Ed Barnard, 616 runs at 77.00
LV= CC: Olly Hannon-Dalby, 54 wickets at 19.07
Vitality Blast: Dan Mousley, 21 wickets at 17.38, Econ 7.42
ODC: Olly Hannon-Dalby, 24 wickets at 13.20
Player of the season:
The choice comes down to two players. Sam Hain was exceptional with the bat in the Championship and the Blast. Olly Hannon Dalby was equally dominant with the ball in the Championship and the One Day Cup.
Sam at last received his well deserved full international call-up in the ODI series against Ireland in September. Olly is unlikely ever to be similarly honoured; but he is one of the most popular players ever to appear for the Bears. When it comes to crowd favourites, he sits alongside past heroes such as Eric Hollies and Gladstone Small. So it seems appropriate to declare Olly Hannon Dalby the Player of the Season.
There were several players who didn’t quite do enough to be described as having a breakthrough season. The Brookes brothers were never totally convincing; and Ethan Brookes is departing to Worcestershire. Dan Mousley almost qualifies but was too inconsistent with the bat. George Garrett had few opportunities and Jacob Bethell was hampered by a stress fracture of the back which prevented him from bowling.
And so we are left with Ed Barnard. With half a dozen seasons of good performances for Worcestershire behind him, maybe describing 2023 as a breakthrough season is stretching things a bit. But his ability to perform in the top division in red ball cricket was largely unproven until this year; and his exceptional work in the One Day Cup in a new role as an opener was certainly a revelation. And so we will make him our Breakthrough Player.
Could have done better:
For a side that won so many games, there is a disturbingly long list of under-performers, including those mentioned above as not having the breakthrough season for which they would no doubt have hoped.
It would be difficult, however, to match the under-performance of the distinguished Test cricketer brought in to bolster the batting for the last four Championship games of the season. Kraigg Clairmonte Brathwaite (for it is he) managed just 45 runs in six innings, a wretched return that must have been at least as depressing for him as it was for the Bears supporters.
Need to work on:
The team management must surely look back wistfully at the happy days when Jeetan Patel occupied the overseas player slot season after season and made such a massive contribution on and off the field. In 2023, overseas players came and went with varying success. Hasan Ali was undoubtedly the pick of them; but Glenn Maxwell, Paul Stirling, Dominic Drakes and the aforementioned Kraigg Brathwaite were all disappointing.
The conclusion must be that more work needs to go into choosing the right overseas players next year. That is, of course, easy to say but hard to deliver, bearing in mind how few players are definitely available for all or even most of a season. But those are the kinds of difficult decisions that head coaches are paid to make and get right.
On the field, Warwickshire will hope that, next season, they will see more of three established performers. Can Liam Norwell can get back to full fitness? Will the two England players coming to the end of their international careers, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes, be available for more than the total of ten games that they played between them in 2023? It would make a massive difference if all three could be regularly back on the team sheet.
Off the pitch, the Club has ambitious plans for further development of the Edgbaston ground. This includes redeveloping the Priory and Raglan Stands to incorporate a hotel. Earlier this year, Birmingham City Council agreed in principle a loan of £32 million to fund the project.
So far, so good. Unfortunately, the Council has recently declared bankruptcy. Warwickshire Chief Executive Stuart Cain has confirmed that this “does mean they can’t support us with the stand and hotel redevelopment, which is in the next phase of work, so we’re having to look at alternative funding options.”
If any Deep Extra Cover readers have £32 million to spare, do let Mr Cain know.
Overall, a season in which the Club won more games than all but one county must be viewed as a success. But the failure to come close to winning a trophy is a disappointment, as is the lack of progress made by some of the Club’s young players.