If success in cricket is all about timing, Warwickshire’s batsmen may come to rue their performance at Grace Road.
Ashley Giles and co. have spent a good portion of this match discussing the future of their squad and deciding who to retain and release ahead of next season, so it was not the ideal time to produce the least impressive batting display of the summer.
On a perfectly sound pitch, Warwickshire were obliged to follow-on for the first time since the game in Canterbury in July 2007. Most distressingly, a good portion of their dismissals owed more to poor batting than brilliant bowling and they resume requiring another 146 just to make Leicestershire bat again.
In truth, Warwickshire should still be able to save this game with some comfort. The pitch remains blameless, the Leicestershire attack is honest but not exceptional, and it is hard to imagine the visitors batting so poorly twice in the game. If they do, and subsequently slip to their first defeat of the Championship season, it will put a huge dent in their promotion hopes.
Yet the performance in this game, with bat and ball, does underline their requirement to bring in new players.
While this squad has raised their game admirably after the debacle of last year, there is clearly an absence of quality in depth that will sustain the Division One status a club like this demands. This is, basically, the same group of players that failed in the first division last year; it’s expecting an awful lot of them to develop into world beaters.
Recruitment is proving harder than anticipated, however. Giles now expects none of the six players he approached in May to join the club.
Though Ed Joyce, Stewart Walters and Graham Onions are yet to confirm their intentions, Warwickshire expect them all to remain with their current clubs, while Dawid Malan’s future remains less certain. Giles concedes that Warwickshire have probably been used as a tool by players in their salary negotiations at their current clubs and admits that obvious avenues have “dried up.”
If players in the current squad think that the failure to recruit will save them, however, they may not be entirely correct. Giles is preparing to make some tough decisions and one or two quite long-serving players appear precariously placed.
“Everyone finds this part of the job hard,” Giles said. “I’ve played cricket with these guys and I’ve enjoyed coaching them. It is tough but tough decisions need to be taken. It’s not a nice thing to have to do, but it’s about taking the club forward.”
One thing Giles will not be doing is ranting in the dressing room after a poor couple of days. After the emotional reactions to success and failure in the last couple of seasons, Giles reasons that the best thing he can do is provide a stable response to success or failure.
“There were a couple of soft dismissals today,” he said. “We got ourselves into a position to avoid the follow-on, but then failed to do it, so that is disappointing. The missed opportunities – dropped catches especially – have cost us.
“But we’ve played good cricket all year, and there are bound to be a few bad days at the office. We’ve got ourselves out of a few tough scrapes this season and we can do so again. It’s a good challenge against a Leicestershire side that have played very well.”
At least the team for next week’s fixture against Northamptonshire should be stronger.
Ian Westwood plays for Moseley in the Birmingham League today and will play championship cricket next week if he suffers no reaction, while Chris Martin and Chris Woakes (tiredness permitting) are also available.
Certainly few of the top-order earned themselves automatic selection for next week.
Only Darren Maddy, the victim of a perfect outswinger in the day’s fifth over, was innocent of blame for his dismissal. Three balls later Michael Powell, surely living on borrowed time, lost his middle stump after missing a straight one. Navdeep Poonia, batting like a millionaire, or a fellow who could avoid a pair of tickets for the Ashes Test at Edgbaston, drove horribly to mid-off, before Jonathan Trott, who had looked in good form, edged a cut in trying a repeat of a shot that had brought him a boundary earlier in the over. Claude Henderson, bowling a little fuller, deserves some credit.
For a time it appeared that Jim Troughton (55 off 200 balls, five fours) and Tony Frost (43 off 106 balls, eight fours) would once again bail Warwickshire out. They added 103 for the fifth-wicket, Frost unveiling those characteristic elegant drives and well-timed sweeps, and Troughton battling hard.
Yet, with safety seemingly within their grasp, Frost pulled a rank long-hop to square leg to plunge Warwickshire back in trouble. To make matters worse, the bowler was a 17-year-old part-time leg-spinner and the ball should have been deposited far into Rutland.
Troughton, after completing his third Championship half-century of the season, played-on after attempting to force a ball that was too full for the shot, before, next ball, Ian Salisbury shouldered arms to one that nipped back and bowled him.
Ant Botha and Neil Carter resisted for a while, the latter showing pleasing improvement against the spinners, but Nadeem Malik struck with the new ball, producing fine away swingers for Botha and Naqaash Tahir before Carter played on.
Malik was easily the pick of the bowlers. This was his third five-wicket haul of the championship season, a tribute not just to his own improvement but to the coaching system at Grace Road. Worcestershire, still without a club bowling coach, might reflect that both Malik and Doug Bollinger have improved substantially since leaving them. It may not be a coincidence.