It would be an exaggeration to say that the next four days will determine Warwickshire’s fate in the championship promotion battle, but they are likely to prove highly significant.
Warwickshire, top of the table at the halfway stage, meet the second-placed side, Middlesex at Uxbridge. While victory will not guarantee a thing, it would provide a very handy lead and just the boost Warwickshire require to the second half of their campaign.
“It’s a big game, isn’t it?” Ashley Giles, Warwickshire’s director of cricket said. “We’ve a bit of a lead and if we can win this it will put us in a great position. It’s a great chance to push on.
“We’ve done very well in the first half of the season. We’ve just played strong cricket. There’s no great secret; it’s about batting well in our first innings and trying to put them under a bit of pressure. Yes, the way we went out of the Twenty20 Cup was a bit disappointing, but we’d played well up to the end and can generally take some momentum from that.”
Middlesex’s form has improved sharply in recent weeks. Indeed, it has been noticeable that the turnaround came when Ed Smith became injured and Ed Joyce took over the captaincy. It is unlikely to have been a coincidence.
Certainly their batting looks formidable and the pair of young bowlers, Steve Finn and Dan Evans are also exciting. It is veteran seamer Alan Richardson, however, the man who Warwickshire so baffling allowed to leave them at the end of 2004, who is likely to prove most demanding.
arwickshire’s initial views of the flat pitch and short boundaries suggested the batsmen will enjoy the next few days more than the bowlers.
Giles will also use the trip to consider a couple of new faces. He hopes to talk to Ed Joyce about the contract Warwickshire have offered as well as assess 20-year-old Dawid Malan, who has perhaps been the find of the season and is out of contract at Lord’s in September. It is highly likely that Warwickshire will make a formal approach for him within days.
“I watched him score that century [against Lancashire in the Twenty20 Cup] the other day and he impressed me from ball one in that innings,” Giles said. “Yes, I’m certainly thinking about making an approach for him.”
Warwickshire attempt to reinforce their squad remain fruitless at present. Despite approaches for several players, none have yet signed and Giles admits to some unease about the situation.
Alex Gidman’s prevarication is disappointing. He had strongly suggested to his team-mates at Bristol and his perspective new colleagues in Birmingham that he was on his way to Edgbaston. Now, however, after a conversation with John Bracewell, he is rethinking his options and would appear to be leaning towards remaining with Gloucestershire. Giles will phone him once more to make his case.
“It all seems to have gone a bit quiet on that front,” Giles admitted.
“I don’t know why, I’ve not done this before, but it does frustrate me.
“I don’t feel I should need to sell Warwickshire to people. I would hope that people could see that the club is moving forward. And I’d hope they could see we have a decent coaching team and a good spirit in the dressing room.
“Short of dealing out blank cheques – which is not going to happen – I don’t know what more we can do. I would hope that money’s not the factor, anyway. We’ll pay well for good players but that really shouldn’t be the main issue for any of these guys.
“I’m not setting any deadlines [on any of the contract offers] at the moment. We’re quite a long way out. But we will need to know by the end of August so we can plan for next year. We’ve done really well with what we’ve got, but I still think we could strengthen in a couple of areas.
“What will I say [to Gidman]? I’ll just tell him the truth: that I think he would be making a mistake not to come here. I really believe that. Apart from that I’d just be going over old ground.”
Keith Barker has also yet to sign his contract offer. The 21-year-old all-rounder, who has impressed with Warwickshire’s seconds, is being courted by several counties. “I’m told that [Barker’s uncle, former West Indian captain] Clive Lloyd wants to speak to me,” Giles said. “We’ve made a good offer.”
One man who looks certain to be at Edgbaston next year is Neil Carter.
The all-rounder has enjoyed a fine year to date and is as keen to stay as the county are to retain him. A full contract for 2009 and limited-overs deal for 2010 is one possible plan for his future.
Tim Groenewald impressed with the ball on the opening day of Warwickshire’s Second XI Championship match against Derbyshire atDunstall,
Groenewald, finding lavish movement, took three wickets in his opening spell to reduce the hosts to 30 for four.
But some resolute batting from Rikki Clarke (64), the Derbyshire cpatain playing for the seconds in search of some form, and Dan Redfern (80) revived the home team.
The pair added 116 for the fifth wicket before Kunal Jogia (55) helped Derbyshire to 277 for eight at stumps.
Groenewald finished with three for 46 from 21 overs. Naqaash Tahir (one for 37 from 21 overs), Andy Miller (two for 51) and Tom Allin (two for 61) were the other wicket takers. Trialist off-spinner Paul McMahon finished wicketless from his 14 overs.