When the 2008 season is done and dusted what, I wonder, will be considered the key moments?
Might it be the return to form of Jonathan Trott? Or the emergence of Chris Woakes? The growing influence of Ashley Giles and Allan Donald, perhaps? Or simply the departure of a bad-tempered New Zealander?
For club captain, Darren Maddy, the answer is clear. The Friends Provident Trophy defeat in Ireland marked, in his words, “an all time low” both for the club and the individual players.
Indeed, Maddy believes the pain of that loss provided fresh impetus (“a kick up the backside” as he put it) for the team to start anew. Sometimes the darkest hour really is just before the dawn.
“Defeat in Ireland really hurt,” Maddy said yesterday. “It wasn’t one of the highlights of my career and I don’t ever want to experience anything like that again. Our pride was dented. We knew we had let everyone down and that a great club like Warwickshire deserves better.
“I wouldn’t say there were harsh words afterwards, but there were honest words. I think we all knew we had to do better. We had to improve. In retrospect I think it was a turning point. Everyone had to look at themselves. Everyone had to improve.
“As a result I think we became closer as a group. We started to work harder for each other, to rely more on each other but, at the same time, take more personal responsibility. I just think we knew we had let ourselves - and our supporters - down and we wanted to make amends.”
They are well on track to do that. A series of much-improved performances have resulted in them moving to the top of the Division Two of the championship points table (as the only unbeaten team in the country) and into the quarter-finals of the Twenty20 Cup. It’s much too early to plan any victory parades but, after two sad years, the club is heading towards brighter times. No realistic supporter could ask for more at present.
Maddy is hoping to make his comeback from injury in the Second XI Trophy side that is due to play Somerset at Coventry & North Warwickshire (though he may be forced to withdraw if his heavily pregnant wife goes into labour) and he confident that he’ll be able to take his place in the side for the Twenty20 Cup quarter-final against Kent at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
He will not, however, go straight back to the top of the order. Despite earning a reputation as one of the finest Twenty20 players in world cricket at an opening batsman, he is loathe to disrupt the pair of Trott and Neil Carter who played such vital roles in qualifying from the group stages.
“The top three have done so well that I’d see myself going in at four or below depending on the match situation,” he says. “Why change a winning formula?
“It always frustrating to be injured, but the way the team has performed has made it much easier. They reacted brilliantly to me and Sanath Jayasuriya [the Sri Lankan who changed his mind about coming to Edgbaston for the Twenty20 campaign] not being able to play.
“In a way it just seems to have made them even closer and take more responsibility. They knew no-one was going to do it for them and they’ve pulled together. We always knew we had some good character in that dressing-room and they’ve just shown their true colours in the last few weeks.”
Maddy is hoping Warwickshire supporters come out in force to support the side in Wednesday’s game. Ticket sales so far are respectable, rather than spectacular, but Maddy is urging people to attend.
“It would make a huge difference if we could have a big crowd cheering us on,” he says. “There’s nothing like it and I think all the guys would agree that it does help you bring out the best in your game. I really hope we can get 20,000 in and make it a fortress.”
It is a huge game for Warwickshire. Not only would it banish all the memories of last year but it would put them only one game away from the Champions League. Both finalists will qualify for the competition, though doubts remain as to whether it will take place.
“The Champions League is always in the back of the mind,” Maddy said. “It means that the semi-final is an even bigger game than the final, doesn’t it? I’ve no idea if that game will go ahead but if it does it would be fantastic for the club and for the team to qualify. Really, these next two Twenty20 games are as big as it gets for most county cricketers.”
Maddy retains personal ambitions, too. Though you would never think so from the national media, he actually enjoyed a good World Twenty20 at the end of last year.
With bat, ball and in the field (his fielding is exceptional for a man of his age) he was one of the few success stories and would hardly be human if his mind hadn’t slipped, from time to time, to the fortunes offered by the Standford ‘million dollars a man’ game.
“I thought I had a good World Twenty20, too,” he said. “It’s been frustrating in the last few weeks. I’d really like to show people what I can do, but I’ve not been able to.
“Of course I’d love to play in that game and maybe Wednesday is a great opportunity to remind people what I can do?”
One thing Maddy will not be doing is playing in the Indian Cricket League this winter. As one of the few Warwickshire men on a 12-month contract, he has been obliged to abandon any plans of a return in the foreseeable future. It is a huge sacrifice for a fellow who may have three or four more seasons in the game, but it’s entirely typical of his commitment to the team ethic. Warwickshire’s quarter-final team is far stronger for his return.
* Ian Westwood is now not expected to return to play before mid-August after the break in his finger was found to be more serious than originally thought.
* Tickets for the quarter-final (Wednesday, July 9, 5.40pm) are available from the club now. They are priced £10 for members, £15 for non-members in advance and £5 for concessions. Call 0870 062 1902 for details.