Edgbaston (first day of four): Northamptonshire 292-5 v Warwickshire.
It says much about the man and the club that Warwickshire have come to lean so heavily upon the services of a 38-year-old who, a year ago, thought his career was over.
Yet leg-spinner Ian Salisbury has quickly vindicated the wisdom of his recruitment and once again led the way for Warwickshire on the opening day of their championship match against Northamptonshire.
This was a tough day for the hosts, but Salisbury found enough turn to trouble all the batsmen and will resume on the second day requiring just one wicket to record his third five-wicket haul of the summer.
To put that in perspective, only once in the last 50 years has a leg-spinner taken three or more five-wicket hauls in a first-class season for Warwickshire.
Warwick Tidy, aged just 17, was the last man to do so, in 1970. Until 1957, Eric Hollies used to do it regularly.
At his age, however, Salisbury can only be considered a temporary solution to Warwickshire’s bowling problems. While Chris Woakes’ emergence this season has been greatly encouraging, there does not appear to be another spinner on the horizon for the club and without Salisbury on the first day at Edgbaston, the Warwickshire attack would have looked very plain indeed.
It was a curious day’s cricket. In truth, it offered more in terms of entertainment than quality as the batsman played with an aggression that bordered on recklessness and the bowlers failed to maintain the tight line and lengths required to apply any pressure.
To add to the peculiarity of a rain-curtailed day, Allan Donald spent the first 90-minutes as square leg umpire after Vanburn Holder was forced to pull out for a bad back. Jeremy Lloyds arrived just before lunch to relieve Donald.
Northamptonshire will feel they let a golden opportunity slip. Four of their batsmen made 48 or more and each of them will reflect that they sold their wickets far too cheaply. On several occasions, they appeared to have Warwickshire under their thumb, but their lack of ruthlessness may come to cost them.
Perhaps Warwickshire were a little unfortunate. By losing the toss on another slow, low, Edgbaston pitch they were sentenced to a day of hard work, with a very short boundary towards the Hollies Stand. They also beat the bat quite often in the first session, with Ant Botha dropping a tough chance at third slip off Neil Carter when Niall O’Brien had 30.
Yet the fact that they conceded 184 in boundaries (four sixes and 40 fours) is telling. There were far too many poor balls, with Chris Martin enduring a particularly chastening day.
Clearly short of rhythm after an absence from the team through injury, he struggled for both pace and length and conceded nearly six runs an over, mainly through drives as he over-pitched regularly.
“Chris did look a bit ring rusty,” Warwickshire director of cricket Ashley Giles admitted afterwards, “and there were a few too many four balls. But it was an important toss and we could have had a few wickets in the first session.”
Giles denied that the form of the last few days - a hard-earned draw at Grace Road followed by a nervy win in the floodlit Pro-40 game - was a mid-season wobble.
“From where we are now, it would be a disappointment if we were not promoted,” he said. “We have made more progress than I thought we would by this stage, but I wasn’t happy after the [floodlit Pro-40] game. It was a big stage, we were on television and, in the last ten overs, we failed to execute our plans. It was disappointing, but we did win.”
Referring to the players that have spurned Warwickshire’s advances, Giles reiterated his determination to keep looking. “I wouldn’t exactly say we’ve missed out on players; they’ve chosen to stay at their current teams rather than moving. Eventually, I want to get in a position where people are begging to come here. I want them to be ringing me.”
At 96 without loss a few minutes before lunch, Northamptonshire appeared in total control. Yet O’Brien, charging down the pitch and lofting to deep mid-wicket, gifted Warwickshire the breakthrough in Salisbury’s second over while, moments later, the bowler spun one past Stephen Peters’ outside edge and saw Tony Frost complete a neat stumping.
David Sales was the only batsman who could claim complete innocence for his dismissal. Prodding forward, he was beaten by a googly, before Rob White’s swashbuckling innings (78 balls, nine fours and three sixes) was ended when his top-edged sweep looped to backward square leg.
Rikki Wessels’ equally brutal innings was ended by a top-edged hook off the deserving Neil Carter.
But if the wickets owed much to batting errors, Salisbury still deserved his success. He gained slow turn with his wrist spin that was totally absent for the finger spin of Botha and, in delivering a 22-over spell, showed impressive concentration and fitness.
Meanwhile, Warwickshire confirmed the signing of Keith Barker, the 21-year-old nephew of former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd.
Barker, a batting all-rounder who bowls lively left-arm medium pace, is contracted until the end of 2010 and could feature in the squad this season.
Giles admits that the lack of batting cover “is a concern” and remains on the search for further recruits. Indeed, such is the concern, that the club will consider a batsman as overseas player next season.
“I’ve never ruled out playing one Kolpak signing and one overseas player, either,” Giles says.
Martin has the option of staying on as overseas bowler. At present, as a New Zealand Test player, he is unavailable for 2009, but he is considering turning his back on international cricket to remain a Warwickshire player. “He has some thinking to do,” Giles said. “We’d like to know by the end of the summer.”