EDGBASTON (first day): Gloucestershire 190-2 v Warwickshire
Amid all the talk about the changing shape of English cricket, the most obvious remedies are in danger of being over looked.
If the England and Wales Cricket Board are really serious about improving the quality and popularity of the game, they will act to produce better pitches. Not so that they suit batsman, or bowlers, but so they suit spectators. Harder wickets will produce more attractive cricket, help weed out the less able players and replicate international conditions much more closely.
Pitches like the one prepared for the championship game against Gloucestershire beginning at Edgbaston on Sunday serve little purpose. It’s not that it was in any way dangerous. It was just dull. Slow, lifeless and benefitting neither batsman or bowler in particular. It will make for attritional cricket. That’s not necessarily any reflection on the groundstaff. After five Twenty20 Cup games in little more than a week, a one-day international just before that and several rain-hit days, the groundstaff have hardly enjoyed ideal preparations. Indeed, the circumstances underline the attraction of out-ground cricket.
Nor is the ‘holy grail’ of hard, quick tracks easy to produce. But if the ECB really wanted to improve English cricket, they should conduct research into the best methods of pitch preparation and think about a series of incentives for counties that do so. If they re-directed the money they spend on keeping the army of ex-players in employment at Lord’s, they would have fortunes at their disposal. English cricket would, I suspect, do just fine without a ‘managing director of cricket partnerships.’
Certainly Warwickshire’s bowlers struggled to make much impression on a sluggish Edgbaston pitch yesterday. They didn’t bowl badly but, lacking Jimmy Anyon (ankle), Naqaash Tahir (back) and the partnership-breaking medium-pace of Darren Maddy (broken thumb), they did seem overly reliant on winning the toss and allowing their spinners to bowl last. There was precious little assistance for them on Sunday.
Perhaps more importantly, they were frustrated by a very fine innings from Hamish Marshall. The 29-year-old New Zealander, who performs as an EU-qualified player courtesy of an Irish passport, recorded the 15th first-class century of his career, adding 176 with ‘fellow Irishman’ Will Porterfield. Perhaps surprisingly, that is a record for the second wicket for Gloucestershire against Warwickshire.
The subject of EU and ‘Kolpak’ registered cricketers can provoke wildly contrasting reactions in spectators. What cannot be in doubt, however, is that the likes of Marshall have, in the short-term at least, improved the quality of county cricket. This innings (154 balls, 16 fours and two sixes), was his tenth first-class century in just his 30th game for the club.
Very impressive it was, too. His driving, anywhere between cover and straight, was excellent, and the manner in which he skipped down the pitch to drive each spinner for a six was the hallmark of some class. He was beaten a couple of times by Neil Carter outside off stump, and was fortunate to top-edge a sweep off Ant Botha into a gap, but this was a fine innings.
The left-handed Porterfield (175 balls, 13 fours) is an altogether less eye-catching batsman. He was beaten often in the early stages of his innings but while he may not be the most elegant or naturally gifted cricketer, he is certainly blessed with the determination and resilience of a top opening batsman.
Chris Martin, in particular, proved dangerous early on. Porterfield played and missed often and was reliant on nudges off his hips and toes for the majority of his boundaries. He did, however, lean into a couple of pleasing drives and, after passing 50 in three out of four games against Warwickshire this season (once for Ireland and twice for Gloucestershire) has clearly developed a taste for their bowling.
Perhaps Warwickshire’s bowlers could have bowled a more consistent line. After the admirable Chris Woakes, running into a stiff breeze, persuaded Kadeer Ali to prod at one he could have left – Ian Bell at second slip taking the catch – the bowlers did drift on to the batsmen’s legs rather too often.
A lengthy rain delay (more than 36 overs were lost in all) appeared to help Warwickshire. Moments after the resumption, Porterfield launched into a somewhat out of character drive at a wide ball. Though he missed his first attempt, he tried again later in the over and succeeded only in edging to Tony Frost to present Martin with his first championship wicket for Warwickshire.
Meanwhile the club have announced their ticket prices for the Twenty20 quarter-final against Kent on July 9 from 5.40pm. Members’ tickets cost £10, with non-members’ advance tickets costing £15. Juniors and concessions are £5. Call 0870 062 1902 for details.
*?Chris Martin, Ashley Giles and Allan Donald will be among the panel at tonight’s members’ forum at Edgbaston. It begins 30 minutes after stumps.