English County Cricket: Warwickshire and Leicestershire

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Ben Roberts

Warwickshire

Although the club was formed in 1882 and was competitive enough to record a number of victories against first-class team, Warwickshire had to wait until 1895 to be granted first-class status and entry into the County Championship. Success came relatively soon for Warwickshire, collecting their first of six championships in 1911.

But this early victory, and the county’s next two in 1951 & 1972, was followed by immediate periods of first declining form and then consistent mediocrity. In the past 20 years however this phenomenon has been put to rest with a more consistent success in the limited overs competitions and consecutive championships in 1994 and 1995. In 2010 the team won the CB40 limited overs competition despite some personnel changes that led to test representative Ian Bell being thrust into captain for the final three matches.

There is a solid history of West Indian and South African test cricketers making a home at Edgbaston in the last half a century. South African fast bowlers Alan Donald and Shaun Pollock and West Indians of high calibre in Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharan, Lance Gibbs and Brian Lara are recruits most teams would enjoy the services of in any era. The irrepressible Lara is probably the stand-out, playing a large part in the two championships in the 1990s.

In 1994 the county scooped the treble of both limited overs competitions and the County Championship, due in no small part to the phenomenal batting feats of Lara. During the 1994 season Lara scored his still world record individual innings of 501 not out against first-class newcomers Durham as Warwickshire totalled a club record score.

England’s opening batsman during the 1970s Dennis Amiss is the county’s leading run scorer having totalled more than 35,000 runs by his retirement in 1987. Eric Hollies is the county’s leading wicket taker with 2,201 wickets, indicating that he was indeed a fine bowler. Hollies of course is probably remembered most of all for one particular wicket that he captured in his test career, that of Don Bradman for a duck in his final test innings.

The influence that Australian cricket or cricketers have had on the county’s fortunes is far less than others. Probably the most significant contribution was made by former Australian, West Australian and South Australian cricketer John Inverarity who coached the county in 2004 when they collected their last championship.

Leicestershire

Leicestershire share some common history with Warwickshire, with one of the earliest recorded cricket matches for each having taken place between a team from Coventry (in Warwickshire) and a team from Leicester. Furthermore, like Warwickshire, Leicestershire had to wait until 1895 before being admitted into first-class ranks despite having been formed in 1879.

What is very much unlike Warwickshire is that Leicestershire had not even a scent of success for the following 70 years post admittance to first-class ranks. Some have commented that the historic county of Leicestershire was far smaller than other counties and therefore reduced the numbers of home-grown talent available. In more modern eras the lack of success and support along with not having a home ground with test match status has meant that the county faces financial restrictions in attracting and retaining the best talent.

The first championship Leicestershire won was in 1975 and it, along with a number of limited overs trophies it won in this golden era, was as a result of shrewd recruiting. Former England and Yorkshire captain Ray Illingworth was recruited to lead the team, and he brought with him the ruthless pursuit of success that had characterised his native county in winning 30 championships to this date. Australian fast bowler Graham McKenzie was also recruited for this period. The experience of 60 test matches allowed ‘Garth’ in his time at the county to collect over 400 wickets. An influence on McKenzie becoming a professional specifically with Leicestershire was Tony Lock who had captained both Leicestershire and McKenzie’s home state of Western Australia in the twilight of his own career.

The 1996 and 1998 championships, while no doubt holding pride of place in the club’s history, are seen as having been more a result of good fortune as key players all produced peak performance simultaneously. That there was no systematic change or cultural shift in the club is borne out in the immediacy of its fall back to mediocrity over the following decade.

Many, including Australians, have passed through the county on the road to higher remuneration elsewhere rather than carve out a career at Grace Road. Victorian batsman Brad Hodge, who has scored mountains of runs in first-class cricket, spent two seasons at Leicestershire before being lured to a bigger county in Lancashire. These two seasons however were productive for player and county, with Hodge’s name attached to a number of batting records.

Reviewing the leading players for the county does not prove fruitful in identifying household names. In fact, the most notable name for the modern cricket watcher may well be the 11th highest wicket taker in Leicestershire history who also played a handful of times for England. Probably more famous for his post-cricket work as a commentator on the BBC, the bowler is Jonathan Agnew, who collected 632 wickets for Leicestershire.

The most recent success has been in the T20 format with the 2004 and 2006 competitions being won by the county. The current international recruit for the county is Hodge’s fellow Victorian, all-rounder Andrew McDonald.

Ben contributes regularly to the following two Blogs:

Balanced Sports – The thinking fans sport opinion and analysis site.

Books with Balls – Reviewing the literature of a number of genres but definitely no Danielle Steele.


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