George Dobell at Warwickshire (178) v Yorkshire (295-6)
Like turning to the person next to you at a wedding and remarking ‘these things only end in divorce or death’ it seems untimely to predict Warwickshire’s fate this season.
But, as they failed to secure a batting bonus point for the second game in succession and then conceded a match-defining first innings deficit for the second game in succession, it was hard not to look at them as a vulture sizes up a sickly wildebeest. Suffice to say, they have earned themselves the tag of relegation favourites.
Yes, it mid-April. Yes, there’s a lot of cricket to play and yes, they they may salvage something from this game with some better second-innings batting and some rain. But, going into this match, they had won one and lost four of their previous eight Championship matches. It is a talented team, certainly, but it is a team in decline, a team with holes and a team lacking the spark of youth in its bowling in particular. And in a tough division where 25 per-cent of the sides will be relegated this season, those are weaknesses that will have the vultures licking their lips.
There are birds coming home to roost at Edgbaston. The failure to develop players in the quantity or quality required of a big club is one key factor – Chris Woakes is the last capped player at the club to emerge through the youth system and he made his debut a decade ago – but so is the failure to retain and recruit. Last year’s fall-out with Varun Chopra, which looks more damaging by the week, might be compared to the failure to retain Moeen Ali a decade or so earlier, while the decision to spend relatively heavily on a bowler who had just sustained what may well prove to be a career-defining injury is puzzling. Ashley Giles has returned to the club to find half his squad look like the cast of Cocoon and half the cast of Kindergarten Cop.
Given time – and that is a key issue at a club that has become accustomed to success; Dougie Brown was sacked last year despite securing the Royal London Cup – Giles is the ideal man to sort things out. But he has an enormous job on his hands. It’s not just about improving the scouting from the leagues, the schools and surrounding non-first-class counties. It’s not just about improving the development process so that talent is better exploited and encouraged. And it’s not just about intelligent recruitment from other counties. Most of all, it’s about changing the culture of a club that can, at times, be held back by a hubris that fools itself into thinking it doesn’t need to change. Really, for a club this size to field a team containing one or two home-grown players (Ian Bell and Sam Hain) is a crushing indictment of the failure of their development system.
They don’t have to look far to see how these things can work. The Yorkshire side here, despite missing four Yorkshire-born Test players (Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ryan Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett) through injury or ECB policy, still contains eight home-grown players. While Yorkshire’s catchment area contains more cricket clubs than Warwickshire’s, their ability to produce England players while continuing to challenge in trophies is a testament to a club that, in cricketing terms at least, has been exemplary in recent times. The emergence of Ben Coad, who bowled Chris Wright early on the second morning to claim his second five-for in two Championship games this season, is just the latest example.