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BARE AND RAGGED STAFF

18-09-2007

Warwickshire cricket coach Mark Greatbach is expected to lose his job any time now, after leading The Bears to a unique double relegation. Steve Beauchampé sums up a desperate season.

Warwickshire's seven wicket win over Champions Worcestershire in Sunday's final Pro-40 League game of the season at Edgbaston provided a rare positive note in what has been the club's worst season for decades, culminating with relegation to Division Two of both the County Championship and Pro40 (national one day) League.

A season that started well, with a brace of Championship wins and a run to the semi-finals of the Friends Provident Trophy, disintegrated with pathetic inevitability, the side picking up a paltry 84 points from their remaining 13 County Championship matches (finishing with back-to-back nine wicket defeats shortly after recording one of their heaviest ever innings defeats, to Yorkshire) and registering just two wins from eight in the Pro40.

Every department of the Bears game was a shambles, the batting subject to regular humiliating collapses, the bowlers unable to dismiss the opposition for anything like respectable totals (a fact reflected by the failure of Warwickshire's players to impact on the national averages), the fielding mundane.

Only wicket keeper Tim Ambrose, whose early season batting form led to speculation about an England call up, close season signing (and now skipper) Darren Maddy and Sri Lankan import Kumar Sangakkara, come out of the campaign with any credit.

he reported comments of New Zealand-born Coach Mark Greatbatch, that his two seasons at Edgbaston had been 'a lot of fun' and that he would be 'very disappointed' should his contract (which has one year to run) be terminated, will not have endeared him to the club's membership.

Greatbatch's dour demeanour and rumoured personality clashes (Dougie Brown and Michael Powell barely featured all season when the side was crying out for their experience and enthusiasm), allied to Heath Streak's decision to resign the captaincy after the failure to win the opening Championship match against Lancashire from a position of strength, only added to the sense of a club in trouble and one where fun appears to have been in very short supply.

Yet as recently as 2004, under Coach John Inverarity, Warwickshire won their sixth County Championship, a feat they came close to repeating the following season.

Few would argue that some extraordinary batting performances lay at the root of this success, with an impressive 18 championship centuries and 45 half centuries key to securing the title.

By comparison, Dougie Brown's 38 wickets provided the side's best bowling return as the team went through the season unbeaten, yet with only five wins and eleven draws, spirit and resilience were major factors in a team clearly better than the sum of it's constituent parts.

But without Inverarity's leadership (he returned to Australia in late 2005 to pursue his teaching career), the more average players, who had previously excelled, have produced mediocre cricket, while Greatbatch's new signings have been poor substitutes for those players who have inevitably moved on, out or up.

To Warwickshire's more discerning followers, the debacles of 2007 were perhaps predictable. In three years since that championship success, skipper Nick Knight and wicket keeper/batsman Tony Frost have retired (Knight's tactical nous, particularly in limited overs cricket, sorely missed), Mark Wagh departed and Jim Troughton and Jonathan Trott seemingly treading water.

Meanwhile Ian Bell has become a fully fledged international and Ashley Giles forced by injury to quit.

As counties such as Sussex and Surrey recently discovered, Warwickshire's friendly bowling, packed with South African journeymen and kolpak players (Paul Harris, Tim Groenwold, Dale Steyn, Neil Carter, even Zimbabwean Streak) is unthreatening and unimaginative.

When, in desperation, Greatbatch turned to slow left armer Anthony Botha (another South African, when an Australian was clearly required) from perennial no-hopers Derbyshire, then things looked grim indeed.

The sight of Alex Louden, an England fringe player only last year, confidence shot through, bowling off just three paces in a limited overs game against Hampshire, summed up the frightened state of the team.

Warwickshire may have reached rock bottom (at least for now). Greatbatch's position is untenable and he will go. Better sides than Warwickshire have been relegated after winning the title (Surrey and Yorkshire for instance) and while the Second Division has it's share of decent sides (Middlesex, Essex, Worcestershire) rank no-hopers such as Glamorgan, Derbyshire and Gloucestershire should provide the chance to register a few confidence boosting wins next term.

But unless the club can nurture a crop of exciting young pace bowlers and a decent spinner and until Troughton, Trott and opener Ian Westwood can find consistency and backbone, then the chances of the championship pennant flying over Edgbaston for the seventh time in the forseeable future are nil.

What's gone wrong at Edgbaston? Leave a comment on the Sport section of our Message Board.

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