Warwickshire will tonight embark on their Twenty20 campaign for the 2010 season determined to thrive in the new enlarged group format – and then go on and sink their quarter-final jinx in the tournament.
Since Twenty20, the brainchild of then Bears marketing chief Stuart Robertson, landed in the English cricket calendar in 2003, it has brought the Bears the full gamut of emotions. T20 has given them some great games and heaps or promise – but ultimately more frustration than achievement.
Only once in those seven years have Warwickshire failed to qualify from the group stage, a trend which indicates that, all along, they have had a pretty good grasp of the format. But then their progress has hit a wall at the quarter-final stage which has been their downfall on five occasions.
That wasn’t a problem in the inaugural year because there were no quarter-finals. The Bears qualified from the group straight into the semi-finals and, rather ironically under a coach in John Inverarity who, safe to say, didn’t regard T20 as top priority, went on to reach the final before being eclipsed by Surrey by nine wickets.
Thereafter, Warwickshire have invariably played strong and attractive cricket to escape the group phase only to perish in the quarter-finals in circumstances ranging from the deeply frustrating to the downright bizarre.
In 2004, they ran into a strokefest by former team-mate David Hemp and lost to Glamorgan by five wickets at Cardiff. In 2005 came the infamous debacle at The Oval when nobody, including the umpires, appeared to have a firm grasp on the rules and, amid crepuscular chaos, Surrey eventually went through by winning a bowl-out with the moon bright in the sky.
After failing to qualify for the quarters in 2006, there was more last-eight disappointment the following year when Muttiah Muralitharan landed in England on the morning of the game and promptly took four for 18 to drive Lancashire to wards victory at Edgbaston.
In 2008, Kent, assisted by Bears captain Darren Maddy deviating from the well-worn team plan, triumphed by 42 runs at Edgbaston. Then last season came a comprehensive defeat to Sussex for Ashley Giles’s side under the floodlights at Hove.
So Warwickshire have an increasingly annoying jinx to overturn this season if they are to reach the finals day at The Rose Bowl on August 14. But for those in the Bears’ dressing-room that hoodoo is very much a bridge to cross if they reach it.
To get to that point they first have to negotitiate a group stage which is bigger and tougher than ever before. Warwickshire face 16 group matches over the next six weeks, starting against Northamptonshire at home tonight and culminating against Leicestershire at Grace Road on July 18.
With the likes of Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Durham in their group for the first time, the Bears must sustain high levels of performance, mentally and physically. But captain Ian Westwood insists they will relish those challenges
“We are in a different group this year and will face teams we haven’t played before in this type of cricket,” said the skipper. “So it will be a bit of a learning experience for all the teams.
"That’s good because it can get a bit dull if you are playing the same teams year in and year out, particularly if you overlap in other competitions. You can be playing the same side even or eight times. We will welcome new opposition and it will be a good new test for us. Our side is well-suited to one-day cricket.
"A lot of our top-order batters are also our bowlers so that’s good for the balance of the side and gives us a lot of options. We also have a good balance between power hitters and touch players who can nurdle the ball around and seem to have found a pretty good formula.
“If we do get to the quarter-finals, as we aim to do, we will have to aproach it with confidence and just treat it as a one-off like any other game. We can’t do anything about the last few years.”
Warwickshire have resisted the opportunity to recruit a second overseas player, as counties are allowed to do In T20, alongside spin-bowler Imran Tahir. The reasons are partly strategic, as the existing squad has a good record in group stage of late, and partly financial as, of course, overseas player don’t come cheap.
The Bears’ hopes this year will hinge heavily on how much they see of England pair Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott in the next six weeks. Trott, in particular, starred in the competition last season and was top-scorer in the country in the group stage.
The linchpin of the Bears’ T20 side, meanwhile, Neil Carter has everything cross that he is not about to lose his proud record as the only man to play in every single one of Warwickshire’s T20 games since 2003.
Carter missed the championship match against Durham this week due to a sore hip and it is touch and go whether he will be fit to face Northamptonshire tonight.
The Bears are hoping for some bumper crowds for their eight group home games, not least against Worcestershire on Friday July 16 July. All spectators with pre-booked tickets that night will enter a draw to win a cheque for £10,000, with the cheque to be presented on the night of the game.
* The Bears home T20 games are: Tonight v Northants Steelbacks, Friday June 11 v Durham Dynamos, Sunday June 13 v Lancashire Lightning, Wednesday June 16 v Notts Outlaws, Wednesday June 23 v Leicestershire Foxes, Friday June 25 v Derbyshire Falcons, Wednesday July 14 v Yorkshire Carnegie, Friday July 16 v Worcestershire Royals.
All games start at 5.30pm except Lancashire game on Sunday June 13 which will start at 2.30.