Warwickshire might not have had events all their own way, but in terms of preparation for the County Championship season, the fixture against the MCC has been ideal.

With the poor weather at last relenting, Warwickshire's batsmen and bowlers had the opportunity for a hard workout against highquality opposition. Captain Nick Knight hit the first century of the domestic season

and, despite the bowlers struggling to break through on a flat pitch, Warwickshire at least go into the game against Glamorgan at Edgbaston starting on Wednesday, with some of the ringrust chipped away.

"With three of our warmup matches being washed out, this game has become increasingly important to us," said Warwickshire's captain, Nick Knight.

"We lost the opening day of this fixture too, so we've had to play things a little differently to how I'd have liked but it was good to see the batsmen find their form and I felt in pretty good touch, having hardly batted for months."

Knight has been at pains to play down the expectations on his reigning champions this year. He stresses his team is still a few years away from its peak.

"It's no secret that we were all a bit surprised to win the Championship last year," Knight said. "We knew we had some good, young players, but we thought it would take a couple of years for the team to develop.

"That's still the case, really,and we're going to take the long-term view. We want to build success for years to come at Warwickshire and we want our guys to go on and play for bigger teams."

Warwickshire's success last season was greeted with faint

praise from some quarters. Critics pointed out not just their low ratio of victories, but that none of them came

after July and Knight is frank about his team's need to improve if they are to retain the trophy.

"We did have some luck last year," he said. "We can't expect to keep winning the toss and we can't expect one of the top four to score a century every time we bat. There's no room for complacency.

"We did run out of steam last year. I think we have to play even more cricket this season, so that's something we have to look out for again. It's difficult to get the balance right between fitness and rest."

With Warwickshire's start to the season so disrupted by rain, the game at Lord's has

taken on greater importance as players vie for a place in the Championship side.

"In an ideal world, we would have liked everyone in the squad to have had a fair bit of cricket leading into the season," said Knight. "I don't want people thinking in terms of a first team and a second; we're all part of a first-team squad.

"The guys in this game against the MCC are the batters for the first Championship game against Glamorgan, though we will have to look at the balance of the side with Ashley Giles returning."

Two spinners are unlikely to be necessary for a game in April, so Alex Loudon could be the man to make way,

though the other option would be for one of the seamers - probably Nick Warren - or a batsman - probably Michael Powell - to make way.

Meanwhile, the club has arranged games against Ireland and Scotland for those players on the periphery of the side, such as Neil Carter and Jim Troughton, who are still likely to play an important role during the season.

With both Mark Wagh and Dewald Pretorius sustaining injuries at Lord's yesterday, Warwickshire's strength in depth is likely to be tested rather sooner than they might have hoped.