Never has a Warwickshire team, or perhaps any team, been so crazily impeded by the unavailability of players.
Never (with the possible exception of 1914 when the First World War broke out halfway through the season but the counties decided to fulfil the fixture list anyway) has a Warwickshire campaign been as difficult to properly assess as their 2013 campaign.
To reflect upon a season it is logical to list how a team did in the relevant competitions and draw conclusions from that. But, with the Bears this year, bare placings and statistics don’t tell half the story. Not a quarter of it.
For never has a Warwickshire team, or perhaps any team, been so crazily impeded by the unavailability of players.
Having won the title in 2013, calls from the England set-up, far beyond the habitual absence of Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, were expected. But not to the degree that transpired.
Injuries were also expected. They always crop up. But nobody could foresee the catalogue of fractures, ruptures, strains and impingements that crowded in.
Even taking Bell and Trott out of the equation, not once did Warwickshire field their strongest team. They did not have the same XI in any two championship matches.
All teams are affected to some degree, of course, but as England’s selectors constantly nibbled away at the squad, the Bears suffered by far the most.
During their 16 championship games, Warwickshire had, on average, 4.69 first-team players unavailable. That’s getting on for half a side and significantly more than the next hardest-hit team Yorkshire (average 3.03 unavailable).
Most counties were deprived, on average, of somewhere between one and two players per game.
For the Bears, it meant no chance whatsoever of continuity of selection. For seven of 16 games they made at least three changes from the previous match. Not once was the team unchanged.
In four-day cricket they used 25 players, 11 of whom played four games or less. Only one – Jeetan Patel – was ever-present. Only five played 13 games or more.
In the closing weeks it approached slapstick proportions when Wicketkeeper A suffered a broken finger on the first day of a match and a broken thumb on the third, Wicketeeper B played with a broken finger then wrecked his ankle and Wicketkeeper C came in and promptly broke a finger.
You wouldn’t make it up. As, indeed, you would hesitate to create a fiction whereby a 2nd XI player is punished by the ECB for having mint-flavoured saliva – a practice shared by half the fielders in first-class (including Test) cricket. Funny old year!
So, with such a skeleton-staff on duty, Warwickshire’s fortunes are difficult to sum up. In the championship, a drop from first to fourth could be deemed a big backward step but, in the circumstances, fourth place was a highly creditable effort. They were resilient. Nobody lost fewer games – champions Durham lost more, three to the Bears’ two. But while invariably playing solidly enough not to lose, unlike the previous season they often lacked the cutting edge to win. That’s hardly surprising with the seam-attack decimated – Keith Barker missed five games, Chis Woakes six, Boyd Rankin seven and Chris Wright eight while Rikki Clarke was not fit to bowl in the closing weeks.
There were big pluses. Just when most needed, Laurie Evans (943 championship runs at 55.47) and Ateeq Javid (619 at 44.21) emerged as accomplished batsmen. Varun Chopra scored 1,000 championship runs for the third successive season, though he perhaps needs to be less vulnerable right at the start if he is to make the final step up to Test cricket.
Jeetan Patel was simply everything you could want from an overseas player. He played every match in every format and his value far transcended his 52 wickets and 438 runs.
While others were crocked left, right and centre, the Kiwi ploughed on as wholehearted and passionate about his adopted county in the last match as in the first. To the delight of the dressing-room, he is already signed up for next year.
Through all the slings and arrows, Warwickshire actually emerged from their championship season with fourth-place, plenty of credit and the feeling that, given any luck next year, they will challenge hard for the title.
But there was no such encouragement from their limited-overs cricket.
Yet again their Twenty20 campaign went nowhere, this time a slow start leaving them too much to do when they finally got their act together in the middle of the group stage.
In the YB40, they started badly and deteriorated, culminating in truly awful performances in the last three home games – defeats to The Netherlands, Worcestershire and Nothamptonshire. By then key players were being rested for the championship, but the spectators deserved much better.
The Bears supporters bore those wretched efforts with great tolerance. Warwickshire’s regulars can be a tough jury but are, by and large, a fair one and they understood the extenuating circumstances.
Also, Dougie Brown, in his first season as director of cricket, had plenty of brownie points in the bank from his playing days.
A few of those were cashed in during this year’s YB40 though. ‘Must do better’ will be the demand from all concerned – and from no-one more passionately, for sure, than DR Brown.