The Birmingham Post and Warwickshire CCC teamed up to bring you the chance to put questions to the club's new director of coaching, Mark Greatbatch.
Inevitably there was some repetition and, in such cases, questions and answers may have been amalgamated and edited...
Q: Do you think the squad has enough strength in depth to challenge for major honours? (George)
A: Yes. We feel the core group that was here last year was solid, anyway. We didn't win any trophies last season but we were competitive in them all and won promotion in the totesport League. And we've added value in terms of bringing in Daniel Vettori, Tim Ambrose and Heath Streak.
Q: What attracted you to work for Warwickshire? (Andrew Smith)
A: I had a passion to get back into cricket at a high level. Obviously, I had to come to England, I spent a great year at Giggleswick and then this opportunity came up. It was just too good to turn down. I love the history and traditions of this great club.
Q: How many times do you think Ashley Giles or Ian Bell will be available for Warwickshire? (George) How is Ashley's hip? (Lesley Greensmith)
A: We don't expect them to be available, so if they are it will be a huge bonus. Obviously, we can't control their availability, but when they play, they will add value.
Ashley is progressing. The experts said it was a three-month process and now they're trying to get him ready in ten weeks. That's quite a big difference. We guess if he can't play in India, he'll play for us in early season, but you'd need a crystal ball to predict that.
Q: I can foresee a situation early season when you will be asked by England to play Ashley Giles in Championship games. However, with Daniel Vettori as our overseas player, this will mean we have two very similar bowlers available in early-season games when it is usual to play only one front-line spinner. Will we compromise on the balance of our attack to accommodate both players? (Alan, King's Heath, Birmingham)
A: I'd like to be in a situation where we have Vettori, [Alex] Loudon and Giles to pick from. That's exciting for me. All three are all-rounders, too, so they add to the side in every way. It might be we play them and leave out a batter.
Vettori isn't with us until late May, so it could work out that we have Ashley until then. That could work out very neatly for us, but it's hard to predict.
There's no quota on the overs Vettori can bowl, but we do have to be sensible with his workload.
Q: How is Mark Wagh? (Various)
A: Mark is currently playing club cricket in South Africa. His knee is getting stronger and he is getting more confident all the time. He may not have scored many runs yet, he got a pair in a day recently, but he's been spending time at the crease and getting used to batting again.
I wouldn't worry too much about his bowling for a while yet. His batting is the priority. I know he's been a very consistent performer for a few years and there's no doubt he was missed last year. It's hard to tell how his fielding will be affected but there's no reason he can't recover fully. He's doing everything right.
Q: Were Warwickshire serious about keeping Graham Wagg? I understand we offered him only a summer contract. (Kim Jones, London)
A: We didn't offer a summer contract to Graham. We discussed with him how we saw a possible involvement with the club.
We didn't see a contract as being the most important issue early on. Our discussion with him was based on looking at areas like helping him set up suitable accommodation near Edgbaston so he could start a fitness and skills training programme from January 1 2006, also looking at some possible employment until the season started so he had another commitment and interest outside of cricket to focus on.
If the above had gone well and Graham had shown us that he was physically fit to bowl (as 18 months ago, he was injured with a stress fracture to the back) we would then have offered him a contract.
In the end, he chose Derbyshire as they had offered him a contract straight away. We wish him all the best in the re-starting of his new career.
Q: How do you see your working relationship with skipper Heath Streak?
A: I'm getting to know him by email and phone at the moment. We're talking about how he wants to run things and I've given him some thoughts. March 6 [when Streak arrives in Birmingham] to April 15 [the start of Warwickshire's first-class season] will be a crucial five or six weeks for us.
He is a man with great leadership qualities.
He has captained Zimbabwe in adversity, so to come into this environment, where the team is strong must be great for him. When things are tough, he'll be able to cope. He has learnt the need for patience and I'm sure he'll do a great job.
Q: Will you be appointing a vice captain this season? (Jane Hyatt, Kings Heath, Birmingham).
A: No. I think that can cause avoidable problems. The problem comes if the vice-captain is injured or out of form but you're still almost obliged to play them, particularly if the captain is also unavailable. I'm confident that three or four guys could do the job, but if we need a stand-in we'll assess it at the time. And the most important thing a captain can do, in my opinion, is to lead by example.
Q: How much chance are youngsters going to get in the first team this year? (Beverley Tremlett, Bristol)
A: All players will have opportunities in the first or second team. From there, it will depend on their consistency. By instinct, I tend to go for youth, but they won't be picked unless they can do the job consistently.
The good thing is that this year we have 13 Second XI games, so there will be lots of good opportunities for young players to express their talent. In the end, though, it's up to the players to take their chances.
They have to show character and consistency. League cricket offers another development opportunity for the guys to impress and it's important that they perform well there. It can be hard for them at league level. Everyone targets them and they're expected to do well.
We're not necessarily looking for them to dominate, but to perform consistently. It will show impressive mental strength if they do well and they'll earn more chances if they perform well consistently.
I wouldn't want to name anyone, yet. I'm still learning about the young guys and it wouldn't be helpful to pick names at this stage.
Q: In next season's one-day cricket, will you encourage your strike bowler(s) to retain at least two slips during his/their first four overs? And will you bowl out a bowler who has taken early wickets rather than saving him to the 'death'? These questions are based on the fact that in the last ten years of Warwickshire cricket, 98 per cent of games where either side had their opponents at 50-4 or better have been won by that team. (The Villan)
A: Those are interesting statistics. Are they facts? Could The Villan provide us with more details? I really would be interested to see them. Click here to get in touch
Generally these issues are decided on the field depending on instinct, the batsmen and conditions. They are issues for the captain to make depending on the unique circumstances of each game but, for swing bowlers in particular, the answer is possibly, yes.
It may not just be two slips, either. Having a catcher at short cover can be just as positive and effective.
We will focus on one-day skills. All the bowlers will practise bowling 'at the death' so Heath will know that the best three or four are very proficient at that. They will practise bowling at that stage of the innings, an area I understand has been a bit of a problem, and become specialists. We haven't decided who those guys will be yet.
Once that is decided, it should be easier for the captain to decide whether he can bowl someone out at the beginning.
Q: What would you consider a successful season? (Various)
A: We'd like some sun, some luck and a trophy or even some trophies. We want to go one better than last year. We're looking for us to win at least one of the four trophies available. We want us to play consistently and I want to get to know the players.
Q: How do you think your 18-month meteoric rise from coaching at Giggleswick School to coach of regular county champions will help you? (Benjamin Wood, Birmingham)
A: I'm not sure how meteoric it was! I had 12 years experience of first-class and international cricket and seven years in coaching and management of a first-class club. That was a pretty good grounding.
Q: Do you feel that playing two overseas players is limiting opportunities for younger, home-grown talents? (Paul Davies, Birmingham)
A: We approached this issue on a 'needs' basis. We identified areas we thought we needed to strengthen and made signings accordingly. We believed we needed a captain, a quality seamer and a spinner.
If we had signed Min Patel from Kent, as we tried to do, we probably would not have signed Vettori.
Both our overseas players are quality signings. They will do more than play and help to win matches. They will help our younger players develop and provide an excellent example.
When we went down this route, I wanted players who were available for a minimum of four months. The dynamics of a team can be adversely affected by short-term signings and we've avoided that. Let's also not forget that we're in the entertainment business. Bears fans should derive a lot of pleasure from watching these guys.
So no, not really. Even if every county has two overseas players, there should still be 162 English-qualified guys playing first-class cricket. That should be more than enough to provide opportunities for the best.
Q: How do you decide (with such great players) who will play in the next match? (David Coulson). With some of the bowlers being over 30, will you look at squad rotation? (Andrew Smith)
A: We will look to manage our bowlers. Now every ball that they bowl, indoor and out-door, will be logged so we can see exactly how much they have bowled. In the past, the guys who have bowled most are those on the fringe of the first team. They may play for the firsts, then the seconds and then league cricket. We need to measure the bowlers' workload and ensure that they receive the workload that is right for them in future matches.
In terms of selection, there are a few things to look at. It may depend on the opposition, the conditions and how much bowling the guys have had in the previous games. It's also important to have a team where the players complement each other.
We expect there to be strong competition for places and we'll be looking to fit the youngsters in, too.
The good thing is we have options in our bowling attack, so we should be able to keep the guys fresh. We do have a strong and varied attack.
Q: With a number of players reaching the end of their careers, do you consider this season to be as much about rebuilding and bringing on the young talent within the club as winning things. (Mr J Ball, Edgbaston)
A: I think you're always rebuilding and developing. For any team to be successful, it's important to have the right mix of experience and youth. We have to find that balance as we want to challenge for trophies and bring players through so we can keep challenging for them.
We've brought in a few guys, the likes of Ambrose and Tim Groenewald and there is sure to be tough competition for places. That will bring good news for some and bad for others.
But we want to extend all the young players. We want youngsters playing above their level in age-group cricket and learning that the game is not easy and that we will extend them.
Q: Which competition will be your priority this season? (Adam Smith)
A: We really will be focusing on all of them. I believe we won something like 58 per cent of our one-day games last summer, which is a good ratio. I also believe that if you drew up a table of all games won through the season in all competitions, we would have come out very near the top. They are all important to us.
Q: Do you feel the squad still lacks a quality fast bowler and are you looking to rectify this problem? Both Streak and Dougie Brown are reliable performers but in all fairness their best days are behind them. I feel we just need another top-class fast bowler to regain the Championship. (Rory Hayward, Hull)
A: I disagree. We have a mixture of different types of bowlers who can all do a job. That variety is very good. We have swing bowlers like Brown and Streak and bounce bowlers like Neil Carter, Naqqash Tahir and James Anyon. We've also several options with our spin bowling. That mix is great for a captain.
I don't agree that Streak and Brown's best days are behind them, either. They're quality performers.
True, we don't have an out-out-out pace bowler. There aren't many around but that's just one element of an attack. It's not all about pace.
Q: Do you ever think that any of the previous players from Giggleswick that you coached you'd take to the Warwickshire Academy? (Ross Bousfield)
A: Hi, Ross. It's good to have dreams and aspirations. The secret is to work hard to achieve success consistently. Good luck this summer.
Q: Do you think a good Twenty20 scoring rate, say total 200 runs, could be maintained for a 50-over one-day game giving totals of 450+? With teams being out of the running after a few rounds in next season's winner-takes-all C&G Trophy, do you think someone will try it, in an attempt to enliven and prevent gate-money losses at the numerous dead matches which will ensue? (The Villan)
A: I'm not sure 450 is achievable, but 350-400 probably is, yes. Conditions are obviously are a huge factor. Central Districts made 356 against Canterbury in a New Zealand domestic final when I was coach and it was fantastic to watch. As for the second part of the question: there is always a competitive element to any game and we'll be playing to win, not just experiment. Perhaps this question should be directed at the ECB? I don't decide the format of the competitions, but I understand they've requested we play more 50-over cricket.
Q: Where do you see 20 wickets a game coming from in the coming season? (Various)
A: Look around the country, we've a good attack. We have a mix and variety that really excites me. And it's worth reminding people that we did it last year. The bowlers did really well, it was our batting that was the problem.
We're working on our options with the new ball at the moment. Jimmy Anyon has been practising that and some of the young guys will have opportunities to show what they can do this season.
Naqaash is a good kid, a lovely kid, but he's got to become more consistent with his training and work ethic which will help him play consistently over a season. There are other guys coming through, like Nick Warren, who is hungry for success and has the tools for the job.
Q: In view of the impact made by overseas batsmen on the county circuit last season, what plans, if any, do the Bears have to strengthen the batting line-up with such a player? (Ben Walton)
A: It's true that we didn't score enough in four-day cricket last season. We're still looking at the reasons for that, but we do have a good mixture of experienced and young batters who should be capable of doing the job and we weren't convinced that we needed to bring in a batsman from outside.
We also have to remember that the ECB will now impose financial penalties on teams that field fewer than nine England-qualified players. Now we're okay to take a hit, if necessary, in this first year, but the penalties will grow much bigger in future years and it is an issue we have to take seriously. We had a very youthful middle-order at times last year. We had injuries to established batters like Michael Powell and Mark Wagh which gave the young players opportunities. At times, they didn't quite 'do it' consistently, but they will have benefited from that experience and will have improved from that.
Q: While Naqaash has come through 'from the ranks' he is the first bowler that the county has produced for many years. In addition, the other younger bowlers Adam Shantry, Anyon and Lee Daggert have all been picked up relatively late from other counties. Why is our own system not producing and are there any plans to look at this/change our scouting methods? And, if our system isn't producing, how confident are we that we have a) the scouting and b) the coaching ability to turn around players who other counties have let go? (Kim Jones, London)
A: You are right about only a few true ' homegrown' seam bowlers coming through at the moment,, but it would be unfair to say o ur coaching staff haven't developed the likes of Brown, Carter and Anyon into very good quality first-class bowlers.
In an ideal world, you would pick all home-grown players but it would be foolish of us if we didn't look wider than the borders of Warwickshire. We've created a scout system, using people who watch cricket all over the country, to feed back to us if they see any exciting talents. We do have several young local seam bowlers coming through the Academy system at the present time and we have recently retained one local lad by the name of Chris Woakes, who is developing well under the quality guidance of Steve Perryman.
Q: Our young bowlers have suffered a large number of serious injuries over the last few seasons, also there have been a number of other fitness/preparation related injuries, e.g. Mike Powell's shin splints and players getting cramp during the C&G final. What changes if any will you be making to the fitness and treatment policies? (Paul Davies, Birmingham)
A: In my experience, the fitness and medical staff here have worked tirelessly. The point about the C&G final is interesting. As I understand it, there was a big partnership in the Hampshire innings and a wicket didn't fall for a couple of hours. During that time, the umpires didn't allow drinks on to the pitch and, with it being a hot day, that caused the problem. The workload of the bowlers remains a key issue and I'll be observing the preparation of all the players closely.
Q: How do you feel the changes you have made to the structure of the cricketing staff at Edgbaston will benefit the players and the club's success? (Andrew Steele, Henley)
A: Just to clarify, these changes were made by the chief executive, the cricket committee, the coaching staff and myself. We all looked at the situation and felt we could make improvements. We feel there will be increased communication, so that the good work being done will not be in isolation. There will be better links between the Academy Director and second XI coach, Neal Abberley, so the progress of young players is better monitored. Neal will be assisted during the season by Keith Piper who will be using identical skills and drills to the first XI, so that we have cohesion. Steve Perryman will also be involved with second XI matches at appropriate times so we can accurately gauge how our bowlers are developing during the season.
Q: What was the thinking behind signing Tim Ambrose? (Various)
A: I should point out that the process of signing him was underway before I took charge as director of coaching. The club has always had a policy of having two quality wicketkeepers on the staff.
He's a young, talented keeper and he moved for the right reasons. I've been impressed by him. Tim has a passion for keeping, but was asked to stay at Sussex and bat. He's training hard in South Africa and is prepared to fight for his place here. With Tony Frost here as well, we now have two very good-quality 'keeper-batsmen at the club, which produces fierce but positive competition. Both will have opportunities pre-season to impress.
I'm open to options; it could be that one plays as a batsman or that we use different options in four-day and one-day cricket. They are also quality batsmen so that also gives us depth and possible other options in the various forms of the game. Keith Piper will not be playing even if both keepers are injured, so there may be opportunities for the likes of Freddie Klokker, who is playing locally.