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Warwickshire CCC likely to be hit by international call-ups again

Warwickshire’s defence of their championship title in 2013 was pretty much obliterated by key players being called-up to England and England Lions. But it is something they had better get used to, reports Brian Halford.

Chris Woakes captained England Lions to a series win in Sri Lanka


The better teams in county cricket, self-evidently the county champions, always have to deal with losing key players to international duty.

No-one has any complaints about that. Every player wants to represent his country. Every club enjoys the kudos of having chaps in the national side and, of course, is financially compensated by the England and Wales Cricket Board for each player’s absence.

Top teams, aspiring champions, must have sufficient squad-depth to accommodate losing players to the national team. But the demands on those counties have increased drastically now that the landscape of an English cricket season has changed so dramatically.

England now invariably play seven Tests during the season plus at least two sets of one-day internationals and sundry T20s. There might be a friendly lobbed in too, as on May 9 this year when England face Scotland in a 50-over match at Aberdeen.

That all means top players can become near-strangers to their counties. But these days not just those at the very top are affected.

Into the fixture-list are mixed England Lions games sometimes, bafflingly, clashing with key championship rounds.

Last May, the Warwickshire’s match against Middlesex should have been a cracker between champions and Division One leaders.

But it coincided with England Lions v New Zealand. For a game with a giant bearing on the title race and which should have been a brilliant advert for county cricket, Warwickshire lost Varun Chopra, Chris Woakes and Chris Wright while Middlesex lost Toby Roland Jones.

With Keith Barker injured and Rikki Clarke not fully fit, the Bears went into this titanic encounter with a seam attack of Boyd Rankin, Tom Milnes, Tom Allin and Jonathan Trott. It was a ridiculous belittling of the county game.

Other counties suffer too, of course. Next season, Durham must cope without Ben Stokes and possibly Graham Onions and Scott Borthwick. But last year it was emphatically Warwickshire’s turn to be hit. It’s fair to say the constant call-up of players made a mockery of their title defence.

If it is for Tests or ODIs, fair enough. But for the Lions? When Somerset visited Edgbaston in late August, they desperately needed points to avoid relegation while victory would have levered Warwickshire into the title race. But Rankin and Jos Butler were called away for, wait for it, three ODIs against Bangladesh A!

Worryingly for the Bears, they could be just as hard hit this year, bearing in mind another clogged itinerary for the national team.

England face Scotland on May 9 then Sri Lanka in a T20 on May 20, ODIs on May 22, 25, 28, 31 and June 3 and Tests starting on June 12 and 20. Then they play India in Tests starting on July 9, 17 and 27 and August 7 and 15 and ODIs on August 25, 27 and 30 and September 2 and 5 before a mouth-watering T20 on September 7.

England Lions, meanwhile, have a triangular one-day series against New Zealand A and Sri Lanka A between August 6 and 12. Any Bears involved in that will miss three 50-over games including, unfortunately for Rugby School, the match there against Kent.

So England will take a heavy toll of some counties next season and, barring a sea change in the way the game is run globally, every season from now on. And Warwickshire must get used to dealing with absentees aplenty.

They have a team’s worth of players in the selectors’ thoughts already or likely to be in them soon...

 

Bears players likely to be away on international duty this year

(Using the Brian Halford Lord Lucan Factor rating system)

 

IAN BELL
Had an unproductive Ashes in Australia but less than a year has passed since his brilliant home Ashes series. With England’s team heading for transition, Alastair Cook will want some stability and Bell’s class and experience will be one source of it.
 Will start the season with Warwickshire but then become the usual wanderer with England.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 5

 

JONATHAN TROTT
Trott’s turbulent winter took an uncomfortable twist following Michael Vaughan’s graceless attack. His situation is complex, to say the least, and some of his phraseology in his recent TV interview was certainly ill-judged and won’t have endeared him to everybody inside the England camp.
 But professional sport is a pragmatic business. After the winter batting implosions, England badly need top-order runs and if Trott scores heavily for the Bears early on he will be hard to overlook.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 5

 

CHRIS WOAKES
Having played in the last Test last summer, Woakes was hugely disappointed not to make the winter Ashes tour. That transpired to be like missing out on a ticket for the Titanic and while England suffered one of their unhappiest tours in living memory, Woakes captained the Lions to an impressive series victory in Sri Lanka.
 Called into the T20 World Cup squad last Friday, the 25-year-old is right in the selectors’ thoughts and likely to stay there. Could have a significant role in Test cricket batting at six and fleshing out the seam attack. Excellent temperament, illustrated last September when, gutted by omission from the Ashes squad, next day he scored a superb century in difficult conditions at Derby.
Input for Bears will probably be sporadic for years to come.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 4

 

BOYD RANKIN
While Woakes missed the ‘tour from hell’ poor Rankin copped for it. If the Ashes tour as a whole was an ill-planned, accident-prone shambles, it was encapsulated by the treatment of Rankin. Selected as one of three tall fast-bowling options, he was overlooked until the final Test then made his debut far from fully fit in a demoralised mess of a team against rampant opposition.
 Hardly surprisingly, he didn’t shine.
It remains to be seen whether he will get another chance. If not, he could count himself desperately unlucky that his only Test was possibly the most joyless one in England’s history.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 3

 

CHRIS WRIGHT
Fit again and - sorry, it’s a cliche, but I can’t help it, it just has to be deployed here, there’s no other way to put it - champing at the bit after recovering from his stress-fracture, Wright has genuine England ambitions. His form in 2012, when he bowled with great pace and hostility as Warwickshire won the title, earned him elevation to the England Performance Programme and Lions team.
 Injury wrecked his 2013 season but if Wright gets back to where he was in 2012, he won’t be far away from the national side.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 3

 

VARUN CHOPRA
After scoring 1,000 championship runs for three successive seasons, Chopra has become a Lions regular but a Test call has eluded him. It doesn’t help that England’s captain is an opener, halving the vacancies in that role. It’s hard to see why Michael Carberry slipped above him in the pecking order, though Sam Robson may have done so now after his productive Lions tour in Sri Lanka.
 The selectors evidently have a doubt about Chopra - perhaps that it can be feast or famine for the 26-year-old. He plays long, match-shaping innings but can be vulnerable right at the start.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 3

 

KEITH BARKER
A case could be made for every one of Warwickshire’s senior seamers getting the nod for England. If Barker stays fit, I think he’ll play Test cricket in 2014.
Just as his route into professional cricket (via Blackburn Rovers and Northwich Victoria) was different, so is his offering on the field. Barker’s fast left-arm swing has dismissed and rattled the best - Ricky Ponting and Marcus Trescothick, to name but two. His batting can be under-rated but he has scored three first-class centuries in the way to an average of 28.18.
 Has the temperament - laid-back but steely - to deal with the step up if it comes. Watch this space.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 3

 

LAURIE EVANS
One for a little way down the line but if Evans plays as well in 2014 as he did in 2013, Lions recognition, at the least, cannot be far away. The Lions series against New Zealand A and Sri Lanka A in August could have his name on it, although first-class cricket is where his strength lies.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 2

 

ATEEQ JAVID
A little further down the line, the Birmingham-born 22-year-old is another with England potential. His first-team chance came very early, then his progress stalled during Ashley Giles’s last two years as director of cricket, but last year he really came of age.
 Javid played big innings when his team was under serious pressure. Should be a Bears regular next season but another strong year would pitch him into Lions and Development Squad contention at least.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 1

 

TIM AMBROSE
A long shot. Ambrose played the last of his 11 Test matches five years ago, never having convinced some critics. Like many players (Nick Knight is a striking example) Ambrose, now 31, has played some of the best cricket of his career when his Test match days are evidently over.
 If Matt Prior is to be replaced, England could do a lot worse than return to Ambrose. It’s highly unlikely they will, in which case, his appetite for cricket as high as ever, he will continue to be a linchpin for his county.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 1

 

RIKKI CLARKE
Another long shot. At 32, Clarke is probably beyond a Test recall though it seems ridiculous that a player of his natural ability will end his career having played just two Tests (in Bangladesh in 2003/04).
 With England places up for grabs, a blazing start with bat and ball might just force him back in, but Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes block his path. If England persist in picking essentially different teams in each format, his chance could come again in 50 or 20-over cricket.
LORD LUCAN FACTOR: 1

 
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