Edgbaston (third day of four): Warwickshire 154 (Danish Kaneria 6-48) v Essex 38-2
Perhaps it was something they ate? Until lunch Warwickshire were progressing smoothly, but they collapsed so cataclysmically in the afternoon that their last nine wickets fell for just 74 runs and their last eight for 37.
A glance at the context of the game might suggest that the hosts were obliged to bat on a damp surface, but it is not so. This is a fine pitch, offering some assistance to bowlers, but quite good enough to justify the captain’s decision to bat first.
The bowling was impressive. Danish Kaneria, Pakistan’s leg-spinner, clinched his fourth five-wicket haul in his last six championship matches and underlined his status as a world-class bowler.
But the batting was undeniably poor. In succumbing to their lowest total of the season, Warwickshire maintained their worrying recent form in the championship and looked light-years away from a division one side. It is just as well, from a home perspective, that only 84 overs are left in the game. Essex still require a miracle to secure anything more than a moral victory
Captain Darren Maddy was characteristically honest in his assessment of the day. Dismissing any suggestion that Warwickshire should have inserted Essex, he accepted his batsmen had under-performed.
“It’s a really good pitch,” he said. “There’s no blame on it what so ever. It was just a case of very good, very clever bowling and the fact that we didn’t bat well.
“I can’t remember a session where we’ve played as badly as that for some time. I’m shocked, really. We were going nicely, but to lose nine wickets for 70 is very disappointing. We’ve wasted an opportunity to get three or four batting points and, while I wouldn’t say we gave our wickets away, we definitely under-sold ourselves. We’re better than that.
“It’s not an excuse, but Danish Kaneria is the first really top-quality spinner we’ve come across this season and we didn’t play him well. He makes the ball dip so late, on a leg stump line, that you are enticed into opening up and playing leg side.”
It was not a successful tactic. While Jonathan Trott, for example, may have been somewhat unfortunate in receiving a ball that appeared to stop on him, his choice of shot, attempting to hit through mid-wicket against the spin, allowed no margin for error. Jim Troughton was enticed into playing at one outside off stump, while Maddy, beaten by a quicker, flatter ball and Tony Frost both attempted to play leg-breaks into the leg side.
They had started so well. Despite losing the increasingly hapless Navdeep Poonia to a straight delivery that he simply missed, Ian Westwood batted with rare fluency and Maddy looked in fine form as they took the score to 80 for one at lunch. The ball after the break, however, Westwood followed one angled across him to precipitate the steep decline.
There were, however, some diamonds amid the rubble for Warwickshire. Though Jimmy Anyon, playing ahead of Chris Martin who is absent for personal reasons, squandered the new ball with a wayward spell, the bowling of Chris Woakes and Boyd Martin is immensely exciting and promises much brighter things ahead.
The pair helped Warwickshire respond with two early wickets. Woakes, generating substantial swing, had Jason Gallian well caught at third slip edging a perfect outswinger, while Rankin’s struck with just his 24th delivery for the club.
While his control remains far from perfect, the extra bounce he generates from his six foot, eight inch frame causes horrible problems for batsmen and both not out men will have bruises to show for their effort. The wicket he took, in truth from a wide long-hop, owed much to that bounce as Chopra, attempting to cut, edged to second slip.
All in all, an absorbing day’s cricket. So what a shame this game should be so reduced. While no one can do anything about the wet weather, it is surely regrettable that the umpires waited so long before allowing play to begin in the morning. Instead, in bright sunshine, they allowed damp patches fully 50 metres from the pitch to prevent play for another 75 minutes.
It was nothing that some sensible footwear would not have resolved and the game would certainly have started had it been televised. County cricket is not so popular that it can continue to pamper the players at the expense of the paying public.
The problem, largely, is that too many ex-players are involved in administration and umpiring. None of these fellows know what it is to pay to see a cricket match and many have forgotten that this is meant to be a spectator sport. County cricket remains, at its best, fantastic entertainment, but with another soporific (or perhaps it should be ‘soccerific’) football season now under way, it is vital the summer game works harder to retain its supporters.