A year ago Warwickshire were involved in a championship game against Hampshire at The Rose Bowl.
The season had started pretty well. They had already reached the semi-finals of the Friends Provident Trophy, they were assured of a place in the quarter-finals of the Twenty20 Cup and, despite some persistent grumblings behind the scenes, on the surface, at least, all seemed well with Warwickshire cricket.
Yet, in the space of a few weeks, it all went horribly wrong. They wilted under pressure in the semi-final at the hands of Shane Warne, were duped into an unnecessary declaration in the championship match by the same man and were then overwhelmed by the brilliance of Muttiah Muralitharan in the Twenty20 quarter-final. From a promising position, their season fell apart with alarming speed. They barely won another game.
It seems unthinkable that events could repeat themselves. Whatever happens in tonight’s Twenty20 Cup quarter-final against Kent, Warwickshire appear to have far more stable foundations for ongoing progress. The behind the scenes muttering, the factions and the unhappiness are largely gone. They may not win, and they may not achieve championship promotion, but they are surely heading in the right direction.
Victory tonight could accelerate the progress. At the start of the season Warwickshire were still a timid team. Yet, thanks to some determination (from the likes of Jonathan Trott), some bravado (from the likes of Ian Salisbury) and some brave, consistent selections, they have gained in confidence by the match.
They now have a strong team spirit, some solid game plans and, most importantly in limited-overs cricket, an understanding of their specific roles in the side. They are much improved, but victory in such a high profile game would banish once and for all the defeated spirit that pervaded Edgbaston last year.
“What ever happens we’re on the right track,” Warwickshire’s director of cricket, Ashley Giles said last night. “We’re definitely going in the right direction and it probably is fair to say that we’ve exceeded expectations at this stage.
“Having said that, I do think it would be brilliant for the team if they were to win. It would be due reward for their hard work and their good play to date and it might help give them that confidence they need. We’ve talked before about the scars of last year and I really do think they’re nearly gone now.”
Kent, reigning champions and already into the Friends Provident final, are the bookies’ favourites this evening. Certainly their batting line-up is deep and impressive and they benefit from the presence of several decent all-rounders.
Yet Warwickshire hope they can surprise them. The regionalisation of the Friends Provident and Twenty20 Cup mean that these sides have yet to meet this season and Warwickshire hope their tactics and conditions can give them an edge.
Certainly the pitch is likely to be slower than Kent anticipate. They will know little about Chris Woakes and in their spinners, Ian Salisbury and Ant Botha, Warwickshire have the two more economical regular bowlers in the competition’s group stages.
They are also likely, though not certain, to be strengthened by the return of Darren Maddy. Though Warwickshire’s captain has recovered from his broken thumb and is, at present, pencilled in to replace Luke Parker in the middle order, he may still be forced to withdraw. His wife is heavily pregnant and Maddy will miss the game if the birth is deemed to be imminent.
The fact that the game could spill over into a second day could complicate that decision. At the time of writing, the BBC are forecasting “heavy rain” for this evening and the prospect of using the reserve day are high. Such concerns perhaps explain the relatively disappointing advance ticket sales of just over 6,000.
Perhaps they are also explained by events elsewhere. While cricket’s authorities continue to treat spectators with the contempt shown to them either at Durham on Monday or at Edgbaston a couple of weeks ago (in the farcical ODI between England and New Zealand), people will be understandably reluctant to part with their money. Cricket is not so popular, and times are not so good, that the sport can afford these self-inflicted injuries.