Grace Road (second day) Leicestershire 432 (H D Ackerman 199, T C Smith 63, C W Henderson 53 no, I D K Salisbury 5-87) v Warwickshire 17-0
There must be days on any long journey when the destination appears dispiritingly distant.
Just as Columbus, sea sick and longing for home, must have looked out from the Santa Maria and wished he’d become a plumber, so Moses, 35 years into his wanderings, must have rubbed his blisters and wondered whether Egypt was so bad after all.
Warwickshire endured just such moments on the second day of their County Championship match in Leicester.
After a season of quiet progress, a bland pitch and determined display of batting rendered their bowling attack so impotent that it bore distressing resemblance to the unit of recent years.
It also underlined how reliant – how uncomfortably reliant – they have quickly become on the teenaged Chris Woakes and the injured overseas bowler, Chris Martin.
Leicestershire can hardly be faulted for preparing such a lifeless pitch. They were keen to prevent defeat at all costs, reasoning that they could not afford to fall further behind Warwickshire in the race for promotion and accepting that their own batting line-up was low on confidence. They also expected Martin to feature in the visitors’ attack.
As it was, Warwickshire failed to gain full bowling points for the first time this season. Leicestershire, without a single batting point in their three previous matches, ended with a full complement of five for only the third time this summer. Having been on the ropes at 79 for four, that represents an admirable recovery.
“We had an opportunity at that stage,” Ashley Giles, Warwickshire’s director of cricket, said, “but we failed to take it. No one means to drop catches, but we seem to be missing quite a few this season. We missed [HD] Ackerman on 36 [off Ian Salisbury] when the ball flew between Jonathan Trott [at slip] and [wicketkeeper] Tony Frost and, had that been taken, we might be in a very different position.
“Everyone knows we’re trying to strengthen but I wouldn’t read too much into this. There was nothing in the pitch for our seamers – they couldn’t even get it above waist-height -– and we were missing Woakes and Martin. Jimmy Anyon is just coming back from injury and Boyd Rankin has the pace and bounce to make a difference, too, and is not that far away.”
Warwickshire’s attempts to strengthen are not going well. Steve Kirby, David Sales and Alex Gidman have confirmed that they will not be joining the club while informed sources suggest that Graham Onions is poised to sign a new long-term deal with Durham.
Bearing in mind that Onions is unable to gain a regular place in their side, Giles confessed such a scenario would “amaze” him. He called Onions’ agent – Alec Stewart – and texted the player but received no reply.
At least Salisbury offered some threat. He must wish he could play against these opponents all the time as, for the second time this season, he claimed a five-wicket haul against Leicestershire. Indeed, he has taken ten wickets for 154 against them this year while, against all other opponents, he has only three for 263.
“He bowled better than he has at any time this season,” Giles said. “If there had been a bit more pace in the pitch I think he would have cleaned up and, if our batsmen can do a good job, I’d expect our spinners to cause them some problems in their second innings. The pitch will spin more as the game progresses.”
The remainder of the attack was unimpressive. After a fine opening spell on the first day, Anyon faded badly and conceded more than four an over while Naqaash Tahir found neither swing nor rhythm and has a championship bowling average for the season of 104.
There is much belief in his talent at Edgbaston but unless Naqaash can summon a little more visible effort he may find the club’s patience limited. There have been times here when he has run up like an asthmatic tortoise delivering anvils.
Neil Carter was the pick of the seamers but found no joy in this unresponsive surface while Darren Maddy and Ant Botha could aim for little more than economical figures.
Besides, some of the batting of Ackerman (295 balls, 29 fours and a six) has been beautiful. An elegant straight drive off Anyon was followed by the most perfect cut and it was some surprise when, one short of a double-century, he drove at a widish delivery which swung back a little and gave an inside edge to Frost.
It was far from the end of Warwickshire’s suffering, however. Tom Smith (168 balls, nine fours), on loan from Lancashire, showed pleasing temperament and technique in registering his maiden first-class half-century while Claude Henderson scored his third half-century of the season. Smith finally fell, caught on the boundary as he tried to slog-sweep a six, before Salisbury’s trickery did for the tail.
At least Warwickshire’s batsmen appeared untroubled in reply. Bad light and rain cut more than 40 overs from the day but, in the early stages of their reply, Leicestershire’s seamers did nothing to suggest they would find any more life in this dull surface.
* Tickets for the 2009 Ashes Test match at Edgbaston go on sale to members from Monday August 11 at 10am. Members will have priority until September 15 when previous Edgbaston International Bookers (between 2005-2008) will have the chance to buy.
The remaining tickets will go on general sale on October 1. Tickets will be £60 for members (a maximum of four tickets can be purchased per person) with juniors costing £20. Public tickets will be £75 per person with disabled tickets at £20 including a helper ticket. The Ashes hotline number is 0844 277 1882.