Edgbaston (final day of four): Gloucestershire 336 (H J H Marshall 121, W T S Porterfield 74, S D Snell 54 no, C S Martin 5-84) & 189-4 (H J H Marshall 62, S D Snell 54 no) v Warwickshire 528-8 dec (I R Bell 215, I J L Trott 164 no)
Warwickshire (12pts) drew with Gloucestershire (9pts)
They may have been thwarted in their attempt to clinch victory but Warwickshire can feel quite satisfied with their progress as they reach the halfway stage of their County Championship season.
Warwickshire currently top the table, 23 points clear of the field, and are the only unbeaten side in either division. They may have played a game more than the opposition but it would appear they are a team in the ascendancy and can approach the second half of the season with confidence high.
Perhaps, had rain not deprived them of more than 70 overs of this match, they might have secured victory. The rain that robbed them of more than two hours on the final day did them few favours, though it was always going to prove hard to bowl a side out twice on this surface.
Warwickshire couldn’t have bowled much better. On a pitch that remained slow, all three main seamers posed problems and, given more time, they might well have secured a third win of the championship season. In the end, there were 74 overs lost to bad weather.
Chris Woakes was impressive. Clean bowling top-order batsmen is pleasing; to clean bowl two on a slow pitch when they are intent on saving the game is the sign of real class.
Woakes took three of the four wickets to fall on the final day and, had Ant Botha not dropped a relatively simple chance in the slips, might have had all four. He has now claimed 14 wickets in three championship games this season at an average below 20. He has become a fixture of the first team and jumped in front of a queue of otherrs.
His emergence might not be great news for Naqaash Tahir or Lee Daggett. For that reason, it is hardly surprising that Warwickshire have withdrawn Woakes from England Under-19 duty next week.
He was due to play against Bangladesh A from Sunday but will be required in the Twenty20 Cup quarter-final instead. He is still scheduled to play against New Zealand U19 later this month.
He struck in the fourth over when Kadeer Ali edged a fine ball that lifted and left him. Better was to follow when Chris Taylor was set up by a series of away-swingers before an inswinger uprooted off stump as he looked to leave the ball.
“An absolute belter,” was director of cricket Ashley Giles’ apt assessment.
Hamish Marshall’s second fine innings of the match was ended when his forward defensive shot was beaten by one that held its own.
One chance went begging. Will Porterfield, on 32, was dropped by Botha off Woakes at second slip. It made little difference, however, as the Irishman fell to the next delivery he faced, aiming a furious drive at a ball angled across him from the admirable Chris Martin.
That was as close as Warwickshire came to victory, however. Perhaps, had a more able fieldsman than Navdeep Poonia been positioned at short leg, Marshall (on 26) might have been caught off his glove off the excellent Neil Carter, but the dead surface, rain and Steve Snell, with his second unbeaten half-century of the game, ensured Gloucestershire escaped. Both Alex Gidman and Marcus North, though injured, would have batted if required.
Warwickshire are already considering extending Martin’s stay. On and off the field, he has fitted in and there are hopes that he may return for further spells at Edgbaston.
Strange though it may sound, his availability for next season may depend on the outcome of the Zimbabwe situation. As things stand, New Zealand are due to tour Zimbabwe next July, though that could well be cancelled. New Zealand’s schedule for the 2010 season is much quieter.
The club have also made a contract offer to Keith Barker. The 21-year-old all-rounder, who scored a century on debut for the Second XI a month ago, has been offered a deal that would start immediately and keep him at Edgbaston until the end of 2010.
He was, until earlier this year, a professional footballer, and turned down a contract with Lancashire a few years ago in favour of a deal with Blackburn Rovers.
He played once for England U19 and joined Conference side Northwich Victoria in January. Sussex, Kent, Middlesex and Hampshire are also thought to be after him.
Of the Warwickshire players out of contract at the end of the season, only Carter is the subject of on-going talks. Jimmy Anyon, who has re-signed, was the subject of formal bids from four other counties. Carter has had one formal approach. None of the others have had any.
Firm contract offers have also been made to Steve Kirby, Graham Onions and Alex Gidman. Kirby and Giles have “talked a lot” (in the latter’s words) and a decision is expected imminently. The main stumbling block is simply Gloucestershire’s offer of a benefit season if he remains in Bristol.Gidman, described as “the perfect character” by Giles, is also expected to commit one way or the other soon.
Quiet optimism would, perhaps, best describe the mood at Edgbaston over his decision. Ed Joyce appears less keen.
“I feel we’ve made really good progress,” said Giles afterwards as he reflected on Warwickshire’s start to the season. “I read [The Birmingham Post] this morning and thought it was spot on.
“The guys are playing with intensity, but enjoying their cricket. They’re not worried about selection, or being criticised; they’re playing with freedom and playing as a team. There’s a nice atmosphere about the place and I do feel the scars of last season have just about gone. I’m very encouraged.
“I’d like to have won more games, but that will come. Our spinners will come into play more in the second half of the season.
“‘Woaksey’ just seems to get stronger day by day. He seems to swing the ball all the time which is extraordinary and he swings it both ways. There aren’t many of him around. He’s going to turn heads and he has a very bright future.”