Ian Bell’s Bears Column

Ian Bell's Bears Column

PLEASING END TO A TOUGH SEASON

5th October, 2017

We might not have got the win we wanted against Hampshire in the final Specsavers County Championship game of the season at Edgbaston, but as a team we showed good character as we head into the winter.

We felt we were in a strong position to win the match and send the Bears members and supporters home with something to cheer about. But Hampshire showed tremendous grit and determination to hang on in there when chasing 239, and they secured the draw that they needed to secure their Division One status.

On a personal note, I was pleased to contribute 77 not out to our second innings total, which helped put us on top in the game and gave Hampshire a very challenging run chase. I obviously haven’t scored as many runs as I would have liked to this season, but I was pleased to end on a positive note.

New signing Dom Sibley, who is only 21, carried his bat through the first innings with 92 not out, and showed great signs for the future.

Next year will really be the start of a new era at the club, with Dom joined in our Championship side by fellow recruits Adam Hose and Will Rhodes.

Bears’ fans have already seen a bit of Adam in the NatWest T20 Blast, where his hard hitting and ability to regularly clear the ropes has made an immediate impact. However, his original loan agreement prevented him playing any Championship cricket this season.

Will also joins from Yorkshire when we start back for our pre-season programme in November and will strengthen us with bat and ball.

A special word for Jeetan Patel, who was shortlisted for PCA Player of the month for September after excellent performances against Yorkshire and Hants. Jeets also followed up his PCA Awards for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the domestic game for 2014 and 2016, by finishing second this season to Notts all-rounder Samit Patel. He has proven time and again that he is one of the greatest overseas players in the club’s history, alongside the likes of Allan Donald and Brian Lara.

With the season now over, it’s the time of year when many of the playing and coaching staff take time away from the game before we return in November ready to start our 2018 preparations.

Many of the young members of our squad are going to be based in Australia and South Africa playing club cricket, which is a fantastic experience where you not only develop as a cricketer, but as a person. I had winters in the early part of my career playing grade cricket for the University of Western Australia, which I thoroughly enjoyed and I have recommended the experience to the younger lads.

Come the start of next season, I believe that we will be ready and well placed to mount a serious challenge for promotion.

It will be tough as there are some very good teams in division two, but we showed great signs by reaching the final of the NatWest T20 Blast, with some impressive performances from the new lads and young players. Hopefully we can build on the positives and take some of that form into all formats next year

Finally, thank you for reading this column this season. I hope it has given you a little glimpse in the inner sanctums of Edgbaston.

Let’s hope England can do the business in the Ashes, and good luck to Chris Woakes flying the flag for Warwickshire.


RELEGATION HURTS BUT WE MUST LOOK FORWARD

21st September, 2017

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a number of highs throughout my career with Warwickshire, but last week’s relegation from Specsavers County Championship Division One was a real low point.

We have been in a relegation battle all season but, when the final moment comes, it is still extremely difficult to take.

I’m sure there is a lot of disappointment amongst the members and supporters. That is totally understandable and is shared by the players. For me and all the other boys in the changing room, this really hurts.

I was at the club when the team was relegated in 2007 but I didn’t play many games as I was away with England. I’ve been around for the whole season this year and, believe me, as a lifelong Warwickshire supporter, relegation is very tough to be part of.

I certainly don’t think it’s been through a lack of effort, it just feels as though a very successful period in the club’s history has drawn to a close.

If we are being honest, since the midway point of the 2015 season we have been clinging on in the top flight. You see it in football sometimes that a team hangs on to their Premier League status for a few seasons and then, ultimately, time catches up with them and relegation happens.

That’s how it feels here. As a club, we have had some amazing success over the last 10 years, winning all the major trophies.

But it goes in cycles and we now have to rebuild, which is an exciting challenge in itself.

That process has already started and will go on throughout our final two games of the season, starting at Yorkshire this week. Obviously we would still want to be in there fighting but the fact is that the pressure is off us now and hopefully we can end the season on a high with two big performances.

Looking ahead to next season, division two won’t be easy and anyone who thinks we only have to turn up to games to bounce back at the first attempt will be sadly mistaken.

Next year will be tough but if we work hard and embrace the challenge, then we can be successful.

From a personal point of view, I haven’t scored the amount of runs I would have dearly loved to this season and I take full responsibility for that.

But I love playing for this county and I will be doing everything I can to help the club back into the top flight as soon as possible.

The best way I can do that is to score the weight of runs I’ve consistently produced in my career and I will be working hard as ever to do that.

Warwickshire remains one of the great counties in English cricket and now we are all determined to get the club to where it belongs – in division one of the County Championship and challenging for major honours.


SO CLOSE TO GLORY, SO MUCH TO BE PROUD OF

7th September, 2017

It’s always disappointing to lose a big final but when we look back at the whole NatWest T20 Blast campaign, everyone associated with Birmingham Bears has a lot to be proud of.

We have played some terrific cricket in this format and to come within one game of winning the trophy should give everyone a lot of heart for the future, particularly with youngsters such as Ed Pollock, Sam Hain and Adam Hose showing how dangerous they can be.

Saturday was a fantastic occasion. The boys performed excellently to see off Glamorgan in the semi-finals and, if we had broken the partnership of Samit Patel and Brendan Taylor early, we would have been right on top in the final.

You have to take your hat off to the two Notts Outlaws batsman who remained calm when their team was struggling at 30-3 with the power hitters of Alex Hales and Riki Wessels back in the pavilion.

They both played proper cricket shots throughout their innings and then Harry Gurney’s spell with the ball was outstanding.

At half-time, we still fancied our chances of chasing down 190 but we just lost momentum at crucial times and came up a little short.

Of course, it was disappointing not to be directly involved on the field on Finals Day but it was fantastic to be part of such an outstanding occasion.

Edgbaston has become renowned for hosting major days in English cricket and everyone involved with the club should be proud of the way the event went.

The atmosphere was fantastic and I can’t go further without a word for the Bears supporters.

We’ve had some great backing in Lord’s finals but the support we had down at The Oval for the quarter-final a couple of Fridays ago was the best I’ve seen at a county ground in quite some time.

They helped carry the team over the line that night and contributed to an amazing spectacle at Edgbaston last weekend. From me and the entire squad, a huge thanks.

It’s been back to the Specsavers County Championship for us this week and, despite an indifferent weather forecast, we entered the Somerset game knowing that we have to somehow get a win to keep our realistic hopes of survival alive.

The Lancashire game last week was typical of our Championship season so far in that we were behind the game early on and, hard as we fought, the damage had been done and there was no way back.

We didn’t quite hit our straps with either bat or ball in the first innings. The Old Trafford pitch was better than the 200 all out we scored but not as good as the 500 the hosts posted in reply.

We will continue to fight for every point between now and the end of the season and see where it takes us and nobody is accepting that relegation is inevitable.

England’s deciding Test against West Indies at Lord’s this week has taken on more significance than many people would have thought as it’s now a decider.

You have to admire the West Indies for the way they bounced back from the cricketing disaster of losing 19 wickets in a day at Edgbaston to winning at Headingley.

But, weather permitting, I still fancy England to wrestle control back and win the Test and the series this weekend.


WE’RE READY FOR TILT AT T20 GLORY

31st August, 2017

There’s always a great sense of anticipation ahead of NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston.

It’s become one of the highlights of the English cricket calendar and to have the chance to play in such an occasion on home territory is a brilliant feeling for the whole Birmingham Bears squad.

This will be our third Finals Day appearance in four seasons and everyone is excited for Saturday and focussed on trying to repeat our success of 2014.

There are still fantastic memories of three years ago and those of us who played that day and are still in the squad will be telling the ‘new kids on the block’ all about the special feeling of winning a big trophy on home soil.

We are under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge and the three other teams who have qualified for Finals Day – Glamorgan, Hampshire and Notts Outlaws – are all playing exciting T20 cricket and have plenty of potential match-winners.

We, however, will also go in with a huge amount of confidence after a brilliant victory at the Oval against Surrey in the quarter-finals.

There was tremendous support from our travelling army of Bears fans who got behind the boys and were in great voice throughout the evening.

It goes without saying that I would have loved to have been part of the team but to witness what was a very special performance from the boys was extremely satisfying.

The power hitting of Ed Pollock and Adam Hose was brilliant to watch before Sam Hain, Grant Elliott and Colin de Grandhomme all played inspirational knocks to get us over the line.

Any time you chase down more than 200 in a T20 is some achievement, but to do it when it’s all on the line in a big game like that makes it extra special.

While the Specsavers County Championship game against Lancashire – which deadlines meant hadn’t finished at the time of writing this column – has been our main focus for much of this week, come training tomorrow and game day on Saturday, we will all be ready for that first semi-final against Glamorgan.

We’ve heard that it’s set to be a record Finals Day attendance and we know there will be plenty of Bears fans there on Saturday cheering us on and hopefully we can give them something to remember and cherish by going all the way to lift the trophy.

It’s been a great week for Test cricket with two brilliant matches across the world, with Bangladesh beating Australia by 22 runs and the West Indies getting home in a thrilling chase against England.

Both games have gone to prove that, while the thrilling spectacle of T20 cricket like we will see on Saturday is hugely popular, there is – and hopefully always will be – a place for the cut and thrust of five-day Tests.


END OF AN ERA – AND THE START OF A NEW ONE

24th August, 2017

It has been a massive honour to captain my home club of Warwickshire over the last 20 months and my decision to step down, announced at the weekend, was an extremely difficult one.

I’ve been mulling things over in my mind over the last few weeks and, most notably, after the Specsavers County Championship victory over Middlesex at Lord’s two weeks ago.

I felt it was the right time to step down and in my best interests and, most importantly, those of the team as we approach a NatWest T20 Blast Quarter Final and a big five games in the Specsavers County Championship.

My full focus now is on playing important and meaningful innings for the club between now and the end of the season and beyond.

I haven’t scored as many runs as I would have liked over the last couple of months but I don’t feel as though I’m far away from returning to top form.

I still feel I have a huge amount to offer and very much back myself to perform for Warwickshire and Birmingham Bears when it matters most.

Jonathan Trott and Grant Elliott are picking up the captaincy in four-day and T20 Blast cricket respectively and I think that’s the right move.

Grant has captained Wellington in New Zealand in the past and has great T20 experience across the world. Jonathan, who was previously our Championship Vice Captain, has an excellent cricket brain and has previously led the Bears and England Lions.

Winning the Royal London One-Day Cup at Lord’s last year was the undoubted highlight of my reign but I would like to think that the true legacy of my time as captain has yet to come.

Along with other people at the club, I’ve played a part in bringing new players to Edgbaston and giving opportunities to our talented, young cricketers who can create a really strong platform for us to be successful over the next few years.

I want to be part of that and help us win big games like I have done over the 18 years I’ve been involved in senior cricket with the club.

Like any player is when missing out, I was naturally disappointed not to be involved against Lancashire Lighting on Friday, but I was thrilled that the boys did the business and it was a fantastic performance and result.

It has set us up for a big quarter-final at The Oval against Surrey tomorrow night. With the County Championship game at Lancashire starting on Monday it’s a huge week for the club and, as I say, I’m ready to play in both of those games.

England’s victory at West Indies was very straight-forward last weekend but I thought the first day-night Test in this country was a fantastic occasion.

I was there for the opening day on Thursday and proud to be part of a parade of former players to mark the 50th Test at Edgbaston.

It was great to catch up with some real legends of the game and to have an hour in the company of Viv Richards talking about batting was a real treat.

While I didn’t try to replicate playing like him in the back garden, when I was younger, one of my first cricketing memories was watching Viv bat against people like Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser and Gladstone Small – who all had real pace back then – with no helmet in England’s tour to the West Indies in 1990. His confidence and self-belief was incredible.

I must say huge congratulations to the entire backroom team at Edgbaston who put on another great event when the spotlight of English cricket was on us as a club.


RELIEF BRINGS BELIEF

10th August, 2017

I must admit I slept a bit better on Tuesday night than I have for a while after we secured our first Specsavers County Championship victory of the season.

There was no better place to do it than against Middlesex, the defending champions, at the Home of Cricket and there was a small celebration – as well as plenty of relief – in the dressing room afterwards.

But it was only a small celebration. Yes, you have to enjoy these moments but we are also aware that we have a huge amount of work to do to preserve our division one status.

We are still in the bottom two and with a decent gap to make up but the win has given us hope with five games remaining.

I’m told while I was doing my media commitments the music from the Great Escape was being played in the dressing room and we still believe it’s possible.

For me, it was our best performance of the season by some distance. While we only got 126 on the board in the first innings, the wicket was doing enough to suggest if we bowled well, we would still be in the game and that’s exactly what we did.

We always knew the third innings of the match would be decisive and to get over 350 on what still wasn’t a great wicket laid the platform for victory.

It was great to see academy graduate Matt Lamb play a crucial innings and he was well supported down the order by the likes of Chris Woakes and Keith Barker, who were then brilliant with the ball in wrapping up victory.

We knew, with the forecast, it was going to be a bit of a race against the rain and we are delighted we managed to get the job done before the heavens opened.

Since my last column, we have brought another two new players to the club. Dominic Sibley has arrived from Surrey and is an extremely talented young player across all three formats with plenty of time to develop.

Ryan Sidebottom has come a slightly different route, playing in Victoria in his native Australia before impressing for Berkswell in the Birmingham & District League and then our second XI. I have good friends at Victoria who speak very highly of Ryan and it’s fantastic that he has been identified within our local recreational game.

To watch someone take his chance at Lord’s on his First Class debut with six wickets in the match was a great boost for everyone in the dressing room.

We said at the start of the season that it would be something of a transitional period for the club and we feel the signings we have made are helping to create a bright long-term future for the club.

In the short-term, our focus is on a return to NatWest T20 Blast cricket tomorrow and a trip to Notts Outlaws before heading to Durham Jets on Sunday.

We have three games left to secure a top four finish in what is a very tight North Division but we are just taking it one game at a time.

It was disappointing to lose last week’s local derby with Worcestershire Rapids and we didn’t quite play our best cricket on the night.

But I must say a huge thanks to all the Birmingham Bears supporters who created a terrific atmosphere at Edgbaston.

Despite that defeat, we still feel we have good momentum behind us at the moment and hopefully that will continue this weekend.


GREAT WEEK AND TIME TO PUSH ON

3rd August, 2017

It’s been a successful week for us, topped off with a great result against Northamptonshire Steelbacks. When you get over the line in games that you perhaps shouldn’t have won, it’s very satisfying.

Good teams win those games and when you’re on the wrong end of things and confidence is low, you tend not to win them.

Especially pleasing was the way we won the match – it was just a bit of a gut feeling putting Aaron Thomason on to bowl the final over.

He’s a good young man, works very hard and a real local lad too. He deserved that opportunity and to do it on a big stage, live on television, was fantastic. Hopefully now that inspires him to keep working hard and keep improving all the time.

Every batsman went out there and did a job. At the start of the T20 season we were beginning our innings well, but now we’re really starting to put everything together.

One thing we have lacked in recent times is that power through the middle order, and with Colin de Grandhomme and new boy Adam Hose, I feel like we have what we’ve been missing.

Both lads have been a breath of fresh air for us and it was a great knock from Adam on his debut against Lancashire Lightning.

His score of 76 was brilliant for us and I’ve never seen anything as big as that shot he hit onto the Skyline Terrace. I’ve put a couple into the third tier myself, but even in the international games I’ve been involved in, I’ve never seen anyone put it up there.

To have the Yorkshire Vikings game abandoned was disappointing, but that’s cricket. We had been gathering momentum and I’m so glad we’ve been able to pick that up again.

Last year we started off with a ruck of wins and then the momentum shifted. This time around we feel like we have it at the right time and we want to make sure we finish on a high. It’s important to push on now and get over the line in the league.

The Worcestershire Rapids game tomorrow night is massive for us because of the rivalry, but more importantly the two points. The boys are really looking forward to it – it’ll be a great atmosphere at Edgbaston.

It’s the last T20 game for a little while so if we can get that win it will put is in a great position. If you can get into the top four, anything is possible as you’re three games away from winning it.

It was announced this week that Rikki Clarke will be leaving us and it’s sad to see him go. He’s been a fantastic servant, winning lots of trophies over a good period. I suppose it’s a dream move for him, going back to Surrey. I’d really like to wish him all the best.

England against South Africa has been such a topsy-turvy series where both teams believe that, if they get on the right end of things, they can beat each other.

I think the criticism after the second Test match was very over the top and the England lads have proved that they’re working hard. Fingers crossed they can back it up for the last one and make it 3-1.


DOUBLE SETBACK BUT STILL A LONG WAY TO GO

20th July, 2017

We are back in NatWest T20 Blast action at Yorkshire Vikings tomorrow night and there is no better way to try and get back on track after last week’s double disappointment than the trip to Headingley.

It’s a great place to play your cricket and there will be a big crowd on a Friday night so hopefully we can rise to the occasion and return to winning ways.

To lose both legs of last week’s home double header was disappointing but we have to bounce back quickly because the games are coming thick and fast over the next few weeks.

At different stages of both games we were in position to come out on top. Against Northamptonshire, we were 100-1 off 12 and only got to 156 and against Leicestershire, we should have been able to chase down 147.

It’s important that we learn the game management lessons. The chances are the team which hits the most fours and sixes in a T20 game will come out on top.

But there are times when picking up singles and rotating the strike is just as important and the Leicestershire game was one such example.

Looking back at the stats, we had 10 more dot balls in our innings than they had in theirs and lost by nine runs. That, ultimately, was the difference.

Even if those 10 dots had been singles, we would have been celebrating another win.

The number of dot balls in an innings was always a key stat we looked at in my time with the Perth Scorchers last winter and it’s games like Sunday’s which shows exactly why.

In the Northamptonshire match, we needed to be braver in those final eight overs and push on towards 170 or 180. They only got the winning runs off the last ball so I’m fairly sure that would have been a match-winning score and it was certainly attainable.

All that said, we are not in a bad position. Two wins and two defeats from our first four games have us in the mix but there are still 10 to play.

Our aim is to peak at the right time and make sure we are in that top four at the end of the group stages. You are then only three games from winning the tournament and anything can happen. As well as preparing for tomorrow night’s trip to Yorkshire, we have also been taking part in mid-season fitness tests. It was a challenging session but really important for the backroom team to gauge where we are both individually and as a team.

England’s defeat to South Africa at Trent Bridge has certainly thrown the Test series wide open.

In fairness to South Africa, they came back brilliantly from that opening defeat at Lord’s and produced a really good performance.

Given the talent in the squad, I’m sure the England batsmen will be extremely disappointed with the way they performed and inevitably there have been calls for changes.

The batsman I would like to see given a chance at the top of the order is Mark Stoneman. The Surrey batsman has really caught my eye since I’ve been back in county cricket regularly over the last 16 months and I would be surprised if he doesn’t get his chance in the last two games of this series.


GREAT START – NOW WE MUST BUILD ON IT

13th July, 2017

Following a difficult start to the season, it’s nice to begin this column with some positives after what has been a great opening to our NatWest T20 Blast campaign.

To get wins over Worcestershire Rapids and Notts Outlaws was a real boost for everybody and has given us some momentum to take into this weekend’s home double header at Edgbaston.

Obviously, the Outlaws game was over-shadowed by a sickening injury to Luke Fletcher.

It was a horrible incident and not one anyone likes to see on a cricket field. Thankfully, ‘Fletch’ was given the all clear and that was the best possible news that we could have heard on Saturday night.

Cricket pales into insignificance when something like that happens and everyone was relieved at the final outcome.

I thought the situation was managed very well by both teams and the umpires. Both sides were shaken by the incident and had Notts wanted to call the game off, we wouldn’t have any problems with that at all.

As it was, it was decided to have a short break and then look to resume and try and get a full match in which I think was the correct decision.

To secure maximum points was a reward for two very strong team performances and it’s now a case of trying to push on at Edgbaston against Northants Steelbacks tomorrow and Leicestershire Foxes on Sunday.

Getting the two wins was even more pleasing after what was a huge disappointment to be edged out by Middlesex the day before at the end of a tight and tense Specsavers County Championship match.

To lose by one wicket is always gutting, particularly in the situation we are in, but I think there were plenty of positives to take from the performance and it demonstrated how close we are as a unit.

Being 47 points adrift from safety makes it extremely difficult for us to stay up but all our members and supporters can be assured we will be giving it absolutely everything between now and the end of the season to pull off a Great Escape.

I was forced to miss that game through an elbow injury. It’s a problem I’ve had to manage over the last couple of years and it will be with me until the end of my career.

I was in pain before the game and we thought it was best I sit it out to try and ensure I can play as many games as possible over the rest of the season.

It was great to see the Joe Root era for England start in such impressive fashion. After an iffy first session, it was a very dominant performance from the team and – while I hope these words don’t come back to haunt me – I would be very surprised if South Africa won a game this series.

Finally, for anyone attending tomorrow night’s game, it is the nominated charity match for our main T20 sponsors Selco Builders Warehouse.

They are raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support so please give generously to collections happening around the ground and provide your backing to a fantastic cause.


BRING ON THE T20 SEASON

6th July, 2017

There is always a bit of buzz around a new NatWest T20 Blast season when we switch into Birmingham Bears mode and tomorrow night will be no different.

Regular readers of this column will know I’m a huge fan of the longer format of the game but it’s always great to be involved in a fast-moving T20.

It’s difficult to make any predictions over what might happen over the next month but I am excited about the squad we have got available.

We got off to a flying start to the group stages last season before falling away and we have strengthened with the New Zealand duo of Grant Elliott and Colin de Grandhomme, who will both give us extra firepower in the middle order.

While there are no guarantees, there is also a chance that we may see Chris Woakes for a game or two as he works his way back to full fitness and an England spot.

It’s an exciting start with tomorrow’s trip to Worcestershire Rapids followed by a Saturday night home match at Edgbaston with Notts Outlaws in front of the television cameras.

T20 cricket is all about momentum so hopefully we can get off to a good start and build as the season goes on.

Before donning the coloured clothing for around a month, we had a very important Specsavers County Championship Division One game at home to Middlesex which was due to come to a conclusion today.

I was gutted to miss that game with an elbow injury but I’m hoping to be fit for tomorrow and Saturday.

I’ve had a niggling issue with my elbow for quite some time now but we have managed it so that I’ve been fine for games.

I was in a lot of pain with it last Friday so it was the only real choice to sit out the Middlesex match, even though I desperately wanted to be out there leading the lads.

Hopefully all Bears followers could see some signs of progress from the team in the recent day-night game against Lancashire.

It was a shame the final day was washed out because it was building up to an exciting conclusion, but there was plenty for us to take heart from, not the least the performances of two of our youngsters.

George Panayi bowled extremely well during the game and, while he will be the first to admit he is not the finished article just yet, at just 19 he showed a huge amount of promise.

The century in the first innings from Andy Umeed should also give him a huge amount of confidence. Jimmy Anderson threw the kitchen sink and more at him and Andy not only withstood the challenge but went onto make three figures.

The game represented the first taste of day-night domestic four-day in England and I hope now that there is a consultation with supporters over how they found the new experience.

From a players’ point of view, it was good to be part of something different but it certainly led to a change in our routines. We weren’t getting home until after midnight so it was a week of sleeping in the spare room for me to try and prevent waking the rest of the family up!

Having experienced it now, I think there is room in the calendar for one day-night County Championship match per season.

Any more would be too many for me but I think the England-West Indies day-night Test Match at Edgbaston next month will be an outstanding atmosphere.

Finally, I’d like to welcome on board our new signing Will Rhodes from Yorkshire. He’s a very good recruit for us – a genuine all-rounder who can bat anywhere in the top six and someone who will bring great leadership qualities to the dressing room.

At 22, he is another young player with a bright future.


MORE THAN EVER, WE NEED SUPPORT NOW

29th June, 2017

After last week’s defeat at Essex, we find ourselves approaching the halfway stage of the season in a massive battle to stay in Specsavers County Championship Division One.

There is no hiding away from that and nor would I, as captain, want there to be. It’s fine taking the plaudits when you are winning titles or celebrating one-day final triumphs at Lord’s, but it is times like this when you find out what you and other people are really made of.

I can assure members and supporters reading this that the players and coaching staff are hurting as much as anybody. A good number of the squad have been with Warwickshire a long time, the club is extremely close to our hearts and we desperately want to be successful.

I can totally understand the frustrations of our supporters. Before I started playing, I was a Junior Bear and used to sit in the stands watching the team. When it’s not going well, people are going to be critical and I was no different back then.

Our supporters have every right to be disappointed with the way the season has gone but the one thing I would ask is that they stick with us as much as possible for the remainder of the Championship and T20 season.

This is a testing time for the club and, truth be told, our Championship form hasn’t been good over the last three years.

There may well be more pain to come before things improve – but we have been here before and come through it and will do so again.

I think back to the late 1990s and around 2006 and 2007 when we had come off successful periods and had to go through the process of changing the squad. They were difficult times and yet we came out the other side.

Over the last few years, I think we are the only county to have won major trophies in all three formats of the game. Yes, there are other counties that have won certain competitions more than us but we are very proud that we have been successful across the spectrum.

Our aim now is to recreate those times and make Warwickshire the number one county in the country.

It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a number of changes to the squad over the next 12 to 18 months.

There are no quick fixes and overnight solutions. Cricket isn’t like football where you can go out and rebuild your squad in a few weeks.

It’s going to take time but we will get there. We have got some fantastic people at the club who are determined to bring the glory days back to Warwickshire and they are currently working hard behind the scenes to both recruit players from outside the club and.to develop our youngsters

Over the last 10 to 12 years, we haven’t got a great track record of people coming through the academy but, with Ashley Giles busily planning for the future, we are determined to put that right.

We have got a talented crop of young talent and the likes of Andy Umeed and George Panayi are getting their chances at first team level.

They need to be given time to progress and patience will be vital but we are hoping that some of the young players we have got now can be real stars of the future for the club.

You may have read this week that Ian Westwood has retired from cricket. It came as a bit of a surprise when I heard but Ian has obviously thought long and hard about his decision.

As a former captain who has scored a lot of runs for us, Ian has been a great servant to the club and we wish him well for whatever the future has in store.

We held our annual Community Day on Sunday. It was great to see plenty of people down at the stadium and the players enjoyed meeting the supporters who continue to follow us through thick and thin.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the day was to see so many youngsters leaving the ground with bats and ready to take their first steps in cricket.

The club and our sponsors Selco Builders Warehouse have teamed up to give away 1,000 bats into the community throughout the summer, 200 of which went on Sunday.

It is a great initiative to encourage the next generation of cricket – and hopefully Bears – stars along their way and I look forward to seeing the bats in action on my travels around Birmingham.


IT’S TIME FOR OUR VERY OWN MINI-SERIES

15th June, 2017

We may have a week off from action but the hard work has certainly not stopped as we prepare for what I’m viewing as our very own mini-series.

Before the NatWest T20 Blast season starts in early July, we have three Specsavers County Championship matches, away to Essex starting on Monday and then at home to Lancashire and Middlesex.

Our aim from those three games is to try and get at least two wins and, if we manage to do that, the league table will look a lot better.

We head to Essex with them sitting top of the table and bang in form, which appears to be the same for all the opponents we are facing at the moment!

They are on the crest of a wave after coming up from Division Two last season and we will have to be at our very best to get a result.

As I’ve said before, though, I believe we are capable of beating any team in this division when we are firing on all cylinders. We are excited at the challenge ahead.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with my old England captain Alastair Cook who I have a huge amount of respect for.

He has enjoyed a fantastic career with both Essex and England and he can continue to be a huge success at the highest level, despite handing on the top job to Joe Root.

The great thing about Cooky is that he knows his game so well, he keeps things simple and focuses on his scoring areas.

It has made him one of England’s most prolific ever run scorers, although hopefully we won’t see too much of him in the middle down at Chelsmford!

We took virtually a full squad over to Bridgnorth to play two T20 warm-up matches against Shropshire last Friday.

It was a great day – the wicket was very impressive, there was a good crowd there to watch and we were looked after superbly well.

We gave lots of lads a game over the day and won both games. The pleasing thing was that, after we bowled out Shropshire cheaply in the second game, we set ourselves a revised target of 170 in game two to put the guys under more pressure and we knocked the target off.

It was extremely useful preparation for what’s to come and there is no reason why this can’t be a regular addition to the fixture list over the next few years.

Before we head on to the field at Essex, the ICC Champions Trophy will have come to an end.

Deadlines ensured that I had to pen this column before England’s semi-final against Pakistan yesterday but hopefully they will come through that and the whole country can get behind the team for a big final against either India or Bangladesh on Sunday.

It was a great day last weekend at Edgbaston to watch England beat Australia and I enjoyed seeing the boys perform at such a high level.

We know what England are capable of with the bat but the most impressive thing for me was the way we bowled to restrict Australia to a score well below par.

Mark Wood and Adil Rashid were both outstanding and well backed up by the rest of the bowlers.

I must admit I thought it was game on when Australia reduced us to 35-3. But the advantage in having a battling line-up in which Liam Plunkett and Rashid are coming in at nine and 10 is that you can recover from the loss of two or three quick wickets.

Whatever the outcome of the final stages of the Champions Trophy, hopefully we are at the start of a bright new dawn for English One-Day Cricket.

I was part of the team that finished runners-up in the ICC tournament in 2013 and then fell away badly in the run-up to the 2015 World Cup.

Hopefully this team will stay on the upward curve and can continue to go from strength to strength.


IT’S A STRUGGLE – BUT WE STILL HAVE BELIEF

8th June, 2017

It’s a tough time for all the squad at Warwickshire at the moment and the defeat at Hampshire last weekend certainly didn’t make it any easier.

The four days at the Rose Bowl weren’t dissimilar to many of the other games we have played this season. We have produced some decent cricket at times but bad sessions in the game are costing us dearly.

Being 49-6 in our first innings after Hampshire scored 515 certainly represented one of those extremely poor periods which ultimately cost us the game, even though we battled hard after that.

You have to give credit to Jimmy Adams and Sean Ervine for their 367-run partnership for the fourth Hampshire wicket which was totally out of context with the rest of the match.

When they came to the crease at 31-3 I felt confident we were one wicket away from really putting Hampshire under pressure and potentially getting them out for a low total, but that one partnership took it away from us totally.

There is no doubt that we are in a very tough run at the moment but I still have the belief that we can get out of trouble and, on our day, beat anybody in this division.

The spirit in the squad remains very strong and we know that our first priority is to get a win or two to get us closer to sixth position and secure our Specsavers County Championship Division One status.

There were positives to take from last weekend. Young Sunny Singh bowled extremely well for his six wickets and it was great to see Jonathan Trott continue his good form with a century, despite having to briefly return home for a family emergency during the match.

We are changing formats and donning our Birmingham Bears hats tomorrow to prepare for the new NatWest T20 Blast season with a day at Bridgnorth to take on Shropshire in two matches.

Apart from our overseas players, we will be taking a full squad over and everyone will play in at least one match. Unfortunately, I have to have an injection in my elbow which will prevent me from batting but I do intend to field.

I genuinely think we could do well in the T20 format this season and this will be a useful warm-up against Minor Counties opposition.

I used to really enjoy the first round of the old NatWest Trophy when First Class counties tried to avoid coming a cropper against Minor Counties so I’m looking forward to getting to Bridgnorth tomorrow.

The Champions Trophy is building nicely, despite the British weather. It’s been a shame that the tournament has been affected by rain so far but the action we have seen has been good.

I’m encouraged by England’s performances against Bangladesh and New Zealand so far and still genuinely believe there is a lot more to come from the squad.

Hopefully that will come to the fore against Australia at Edgbaston on Saturday when I’m looking forward to being a spectator for the day.

The Aussies know they have to win and they will bring their normal aggression to the party. They have world class players and England need to do everything within their powers to knock them out of the tournament on Saturday.

For me, England’s chances increase if Australia are out of the tournament before the final week begins.

It’s a shame that our own Chris Woakes has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament through injury but, knowing him as I do, he will undoubtedly come back stronger.


ENGLAND CAN END WAIT FOR ONE-DAY GLORY

1st June, 2017

I think we are in for a fantastic couple of weeks of cricket when the ICC Champions Trophy gets underway today – and I for one am predicting an England success.

There are eight hugely talented teams going head-to-head and most, if not all, will fancy their chances of going a long way in the tournament.

But I think England’s strength in depth, playing in home conditions and in front of a big support will tip the balance in our favour.

Whatever team is selected for today’s opener against Bangladesh at the Oval, there will be some very good players left out of the side.

You need plenty of options in a tournament like this and England certainly have them.

I think most people would agree that Joe Root is England’s classiest stand-out performer across all formats, but we have an abundance of potential match-winners.

One of the key men for me will be Ben Stokes who has been outstanding with both bat and ball in the IPL.

If he comes off then England’s chances increase still further and I’m excited to watch Warwickshire’s very own Chris Woakes in action.

Chris has stepped up on the international stage over the last year to 18 months and he has some huge days to come in this tournament, not least when England play Australia on his home ground on Saturday week.

With the quality of the other teams in the tournament, there will be plenty of threats.

You can never write off Australia, South Africa will always be a danger with AB De Villiers in their line-up and, the longer the tournament goes on and the drier the pitches become, the more I expect India to come into their own.

But if I was being pushed into a corner to select a winner, I would look no further than England to end our long wait for a 50-over tournament success.

It’s a real honour for me to be an ICC ambassador for this tournament where I will do some media work and hopefully attend a game or two, including England’s big clash with Australia at Edgbaston on 10 June.

But it’s nice to play a small part in what is one of the major sporting events in England this summer.

As well as keeping half an eye on the Champions Trophy, I’ve also been busy preparing with the boys for a big Specsavers County Championship match at Hampshire which starts tomorrow.

As I mentioned last week, most of the training has taken place at Rugby School while the Champions Trophy has taken over Edgbaston and we have been very well looked after.

We are fully prepared for a tough battle down at the Rose Bowl over the next four days but we also travel with real confidence after good performances over Yorkshire and Somerset in our last two games.

A couple of Warwickshire victories and an England ICC Champions Trophy success over the next fortnight will do just nicely.

Please note that a select number of tickets for ICC Champions Trophy 2017 matches at Edgbaston are still available. Visit https://www.icc-cricket.com/tickets/champions-trophy to purchase.


A BREAK – BUT THE HARD WORK CONTINUES

25th May, 2017

We are in the middle of our first mini-break of the season and, on balance, I think it has arrived at a good time.

In some ways it’s a shame we haven’t got a game this weekend. Firstly the British summer appears to have well and truly arrived – for now at least – and it also felt like that we had a little bit of momentum behind us after the last two performances.

We followed up the Royal London One Day Cup victory over a very strong Yorkshire side with an excellent display at Somerset last weekend, where the weather denied us a chance to really push for our first Specsavers County Championship victory of the season.

But the short break before next week’s trip to Hampshire will give the lads, particularly the bowlers who have played a lot of games, the chance to recharge their batteries and be ready to go again.

The hard work, however, will continue during this 10-day break. With the ICC Champions Trophy beginning next week, the international teams are starting to take over Edgbaston which means we have to find a new home for the next three weeks.

That home, at least for training, will be Rugby School. We have played a few fixtures there in the past, the facilities will be good and the change of scenery will be refreshing.

On the subject of the Somerset game, I was really pleased with the way we applied ourselves and how we tried to force the pace despite losing the best part of two days to the rain.

Jonathan Trott’s brilliant 175 was well backed up with half centuries from Rikki Clarke and Tim Ambrose and to score 413 in the first innings on a turning wicket, albeit one which didn’t spin as much as last year, put us in control.

Taking 20 wickets in the time left after the weather interruptions was always going to be tricky, but it was brilliant for me – and I’m sure the Warwickshire supporters – to see two newcomers shine on their First Class debuts.

Grant Thornton has made a really strong impression in the 50-over game and continued that with four wickets in the first innings at Taunton and a second innings wicket for Sunny Singh was the least he deserved for the way he bowled.

It bodes well for the future and both lads deserve great credit for the way they have adjusted to first team level.


WE’RE READY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP RETURN

18th May, 2017

A long time seems to have passed since we last played a game in the Specsavers County Championship Division One but all Warwickshire followers can rest assured we are ready and raring to go at Somerset tomorrow.

It’s a big four days for us and a game we are all really looking forward to.

One draw and two defeats from the first three games wasn’t the start we were hoping for but hopefully the next four days will prove a turning point in our Championship season.

Having come within a whisker of winning the title last season, I’m sure there will be a few raised eyebrows across the country to see Somerset having lost both their games so far.

This first division is so strong that nothing surprises me but we know we will have to produce a big performance to get a result.

Taunton is gaining a reputation for being a spinning wicket and we have made sure some of our training has been tailored to that this week, practicing on old and “roughed up” wickets at Edgbaston to try and replicate conditions we will face.

But that’s not been our only preparation and, in addition, we have also done some regular training to ensure we are fully ready, whether it is turning square or we are greeted with a flat and true wicket.

Since my last column, our Royal London One-Day Cup campaign has come to an end, with defeats at Derbyshire and Worcestershire Rapids followed up a home victory over Yorkshire Vikings.

It was a great all-round performance against Yorkshire Vikings to register a relatively comfortable five wicket victory in a game where they were at full strength with all their England stars.

We bowled exceptionally well to keep them to under 300 on a good pitch and then batted impressively throughout to knock them off.

It was great to end with a victory against a team who topped the division at the start of play but it was a bitter-sweet success because of the feeling of what might have been.

I believe we are a good team in the 50 over format and, had we produced that Yorkshire performance in the majority of our games this season, I’m confident we would have been looking at a top three finish and qualification to the knockout stages.

As it is, we have provably not come out on top many times in the really crucial stages of the game and that has cost us.

There have been some positives though, one of which would be the performances of new addition Grant Thornton who followed up four wickets against Worcestershire Rapids on Friday with three against Yorkshire Vikings on Sunday.

The theme in the Royal London One-Day Cup this season has been aggression and, with the ball, that means trying to get a team six or seven wickets down after 40 overs to blunt their aggression in the last 10, rather than them being four down and being able to go hell for leather at the end.

Grant is a local lad and has proven that he can take wickets and I think there is still more to come from him in the pace department which is very encouraging.

From a personal point of view, it has been pleasing to get a century and a couple of 90s in the last week and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel I was hitting the ball well. But I would have sacrificed all those runs to have been leading the team into the knockout stages of the competition.


TIME TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED

11th May, 2017

There is no hiding from it, it’s been a very tough start to the season for everyone at Warwickshire and that has continued over the last week.

Defeats to Notts Outlaws and Lancashire have ended our chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

It’s hugely disappointing to be in that position after five of our eight group games, particularly as we are defending champions.

We genuinely thought we had a squad strong enough to challenge in the later stages again but we simply haven’t performed to the levels required on a consistent basis.

In the games against Notts Outlaws on Friday and Lancashire on Sunday there were spells where we played some very good cricket, but we just haven’t been able to put those periods together for long enough to get wins.

The margins are very fine and we have lost more of the crucial stages of games than we have won.

It’s disappointing that our last three games in the Royal London One-Day Cup will be ‘dead rubbers’ in terms of us qualifying but they are still important games we want to do well in.

Due to the time constraints, this column has been written before the Derbyshire game yesterday but there was certainly strong consideration being given to freshening the team up and having a look at different options in that match and those against Worcestershire on Friday and Yorkshire on Sunday.

We need to see what other people in the squad can do and these three games are an ideal chance to do that.

On the whole, it has been a very tough start to the season but the challenge of turning things around is one that excites me a lot.

Even though we won the Royal London One-Day Cup last season, we haven’t played consistently good cricket for, probably, 18 months.

There isn’t a magic formula to getting things right – it’s a case of working extremely hard and looking to improve both as individuals and as a team.

There is a huge amount still to play for this season, the dressing room is very tight and we will be doing everything we can to turn results around.

While I didn’t get to see much of it as we were playing on both days, it was hugely encouraging to see England register two comfortable wins over Ireland in the One Day Internationals over last weekend.

It’s always a ‘no-win’ situation when you are such overwhelming favourites but both performances were very clinical and it bodes well for the Champions Trophy this summer.

I’ve said from the outset I think England are one of the huge favourites for glory this summer and I’ve seen nothing to make me change my mind.


HIGHS, LOWS AND NEW FACES

4th May, 2017

Our first week of Royal London One-Day Cup action has really summed up the highs and lows of sport.

One victory and two defeats over five days has been something of a rollercoaster with a number of positives but also plenty of things to work on.

Results wise it hasn’t been the greatest start to the league section of the tournament, but it is exactly the position we were in 12 months ago after three games and we ended up lifting the trophy at Lord’s in September.

All is certainly not lost but, starting with the visit of Notts Outlaws tomorrow, we know we need to put a run together to get in the top three and qualify for the knockout stages.

The theme for the first three games is that when we have been good, we have been very good. But, and this certainly hasn’t been through any lack of effort, there have also been times when we have been indifferent.

As starts to a trophy defence go, last Friday’s opener against Northants Steelbacks was just about perfect.

A 10-wicket victory in a rain affected game was a super effort from the boys. We bowled extremely well to dismiss them for 150 and then Sam Hain and William Porterfield knocked off the runs with the minimum of fuss.

Against Durham and Leicestershire Foxes, we have seen just how aggressive teams are going to be in this competition.

The Foxes in particular came at us like it was the start of a T20 in the early stages of their innings.

Conceding big scores in those two games has been tough for all of us but we have to accept that, when the pitches are good, 330 – and above – has become the new 300.

That is not to say that you are going to need 300-plus to win every match. There will be times when it is ‘doing’ a bit for the seamers or taking spin where 260 or 270 will be a good score.

It’s about assessing conditions as quickly as possible and, where necessary, adapting your game. It will be crucial we do that over the next 10 days as we play our remaining five games and try and ensure that we qualify.

You may have seen in the news this week that we have given short-term contracts to two young seamers, Grant Thornton and Mitchell Spencer.

Both lads played plenty of second team cricket last season and have been around the group over the winter.

Grant has already broken into the first team in our first two Royal London One-Day Cup games and, along with Mitchell, will be looking to push on and forge a long-term career in professional cricket over the coming months.

It’s an exciting time for them and hopefully they can build on the huge amount of hard work they have put into training and take their chances as and when they come along.


LET THE DEFENCE BEGIN

27th April, 2017

I’m very excited to be leading Warwickshire in our defence of the Royal London One-Day Cup, starting today with a trip to Northamptonshire.

Winning the trophy by defeating Surrey in the final at Lord’s seven months ago ranks as one of the highlights of my career and I would love to emulate it again this year.

I captained the team when we beat Somerset in 2010 but that was in a stand-in role after I returned to the club following a summer with England.

To win silverware last season, my first as official club captain, was an amazing feeling and I genuinely feel that we have the squad to compete once again

The bowlers have always performed well in this format and – with the likes of myself, Jonathan Trott, William Porterfield and others – we have plenty of batsman who have great experience in the 50-over game, both for Warwickshire and on the international stage.

That said, we couldn’t have asked for a tougher start in a game which will be shown live on Sky Sports. Over the last few years, Northamptonshire have proved that, when the white balls come out, they are a match for anyone and I expect them to be contenders in both the Royal London One-Day Cup and NatWest T20 Blast in 2017.

We then face Durham at Edgbaston on Monday before travelling to Leicestershire on Tuesday. It’s a busy week and my main hope is that it warms up a little!

On Tuesday, I popped to Moseley to watch our seconds play Worcestershire and it was freezing. I think at one stage snow stopped play and I was certainly happy to be watching from my car rather than being out in the field!

We go into the Royal London One-Day Cup section of the season in higher spirits after stopping the rot in four-day cricket.

As I’ve documented in this column previously, the first two performances of the season weren’t good enough but there were signs against Surrey at Edgbaston last weekend that we are starting to execute our skills as we know we can.

Returning from his broken foot, Ian Westwood led the way with a brilliant 153 in the first innings and it was great to see him get a ‘daddy hundred’ back in the team opening the innings.

If I was being picky, we should have got 400 or 450 in the first innings rather than 332 and, facing a deficit of 100, we were under big pressure in the second innings. But credit to the lads, they responded really well as we batted our way to a draw and give us a platform to build on moving forward.

It was pleasing to see Tim Ambrose back to his best with the bat in the second innings and, from a personal point of view, I was satisfied with my form, although it was a little frustrating to miss out on a century after reaching 99.

I’ve done a lot of work on my game over the past couple of weeks and felt the rhythm coming back in the first innings when I scored 33 so hopefully there will be more runs to come in the batch of 50-over matches we now face.


WE’RE UP FOR THE FIGHT

20th April, 2017

It’s fair to say it’s been a testing opening two weeks of the season for everyone at Warwickshire but one thing I can promise is that we will come out fighting.

Anytime you lose heavily hurts badly so you can imagine the dressing room was pretty down after the Yorkshire defeat at Edgbaston last weekend. It certainly wasn’t a very happy Easter.

There has been a lot of hard thinking and talking this week and we have to go again when Surrey visit Edgbaston, starting tomorrow.

I’m a great believer that you find out most about sportspeople with how they react when the going is tough.

It’s pretty easy to perform when you are on the crest of a wave and everything is going with you but the challenge is to do it when the chips are down.

I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of Test Match series with England but have also been on the end of two 5-0 defeats in Australia and watching how people react in that scenario is very interesting.

That’s why I’m so determined that everyone is fired up and ready to perform as we know we can this weekend. We are desperate to hit the performance levels everyone involved with Warwickshire expects and deserves.

We have had criticism over the past two weeks and rightly so. Last September we were at Lord’s lifting the Royal London One-Day Cup and receiving plenty of adulation.

If you are happy doing that then you also have to be prepared to cop the flak when things aren’t going well and the last fortnight has certainly fallen into that category.

That said, this is not the time for panic stations and we are lucky to have someone like Ashley Giles, who has been there and seen it all before, as part of our backroom team.

Ashley, Jim Troughton and myself are having lots of conversations this week trying to get the right formula.

It’s fair to say none of us saw this start to the season coming. We prepared well and were looking forward to hitting the ground running but it hasn’t happened.

You have to give credit to Surrey and Yorkshire for the way they have performed in our two matches so far but, at the same time, we know we haven’t executed our skills well enough with either bat or ball.

Today will be the second of two very hard days training we will be doing to get ready for Friday and then it’s a case of people standing up to be counted.

We have yet to decide on a team but it would be foolish not to at least give some thought to a change or two after the first couple of games.

This time last year we had got off to a flying start and then fell away so we know things can turn around very quickly.

I still believe there is more than enough ability in this squad to win matches regularly and put us in a position where we can challenge for at least one trophy later in the season.

But we have to prove that on the pitch, starting tomorrow.


TOUGH OPENER BUT HOPES STILL HIGH

13th April, 2017

It’s the first competitive home game of the season tomorrow and the excitement at returning to Edgbaston for another season is as high as ever.

I speak for the whole squad when I say that none of us ever get tired of playing at this special ground. It’s a fantastic place to have the chance to perform regularly and hopefully we can make it something of a fortress this season.

We couldn’t have asked for a much tougher start to our home County Championship season than the visit of Yorkshire. For them to win back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015 was a fantastic effort and they are very much a force to be reckoned with in what is an extremely strong division.

It goes without saying that last week’s result at Surrey was extremely disappointing. You never want to lose a match by an innings and we know as a team we didn’t perform as we could, particularly over the first two days at The Oval against a team who look very strong.

We were not quite ‘at it’ with the ball on the first day and to be bowled out for 91 was well below the high standards we set ourselves.

The positive for me, though, was the way we fought back with bat and ball. We got better with the ball as the Surrey innings went on and Chris Wright – who had the boost of an early-season five wicket haul – and Oliver Hannon-Dalby both bowled well at the end of the Surrey innings.

With the bat, we showed a real determination to dig in during our second innings and, while it was too little too late to rescue the game, it bodes well for the season ahead.

One thing that shone through at The Oval was what big assets our sport director and first team coach – Ashley Giles and Jim Troughton – will be behind the scenes this season.

It’s fair to say there were some harsh words from both of them after the first couple of days and rightly so.

As a group of players, we want to be pulled up and criticised when we haven’t performed as we can and both Ashley and Jim have shown they won’t be afraid to do that.

The first game has gone now and we move on. The Championship was never going to be decided in the first four games of the season and we have a lot of cricket to look forward to.

I’m still very confident we have a lot of talent in the squad and, if we reach our potential regularly, we will have a very good season in the four-day game.

There was a bit of a landmark for me this week as I turned 35 on Tuesday. I think it’s fair to say that classes me as one of the elder statesmen of the dressing room but I can put up with the ribbing from the lads that comes with that!

I’m touching wood when I say this but my body seems to be holding up pretty well and long may that continue.

We were in the field for 140 overs in that first innings against Surrey and I didn’t feel any worse for wear physically.

While I don’t want to be doing that every week, it is reassuring to know I can still do it.


PLENTY OF ENCOURAGEMENT – NOW FOR THE REAL THING

6th April, 2017

So tomorrow is the big day. After months of planning and preparation, we finally get another domestic season started with a trip to Surrey in the Specsavers County Championship.

As you would expect, the lads are hugely excited about what lies ahead over the next six months. We feel we have a strong squad and now it’s a case of executing our skills and delivering when we need to, starting at The Oval tomorrow.

It’s hard to predict what will happen and who will finish where in the Championship this season.

Reducing the top division to eight teams and with two facing relegation, it’s going to be hugely competitive and we will be doing everything possible to get the early momentum which is so important in the County Championship.

There is always a lot of discussion about the merits of four-day cricket in the modern game but I’m 100 per cent convinced it still has a very important part to play.

While T20 is a great spectacle and exciting for both spectators and players alike, Test cricket – and particularly The Ashes – remains the ultimate for any English cricketer.

For us to be successful in that arena, we need a strong domestic platform for the longer format of the game and I believe the County Championship provides that. As far as I’m concerned, long may it continue.

Our preparations for this season concluded with a three-day First Class game against Oxford University on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

It ended in a draw with the students 62-6 in their second innings chasing over 300 and it was the ideal build-up for tomorrow.

I wanted the lads to go into the Oxford game with maximum intensity. That’s exactly what we got and there were some excellent individual performances over the three days.

Jonathan Trott led the way with the bat with a century and Sam Hain, Alex Mellor and William Porterfield were all amongst the runs which bodes well.

As a unit, I thought the bowlers were very good but I must make mention of our young spinner Sunny Singh.

It was great to give Sunny a chance at The Parks but even more pleasing that he took it with both hands. He deserved the first four First Class wickets and is a hugely promising your cricketer who, along with Jeetan Patel and Josh Poysden, offers us great spinning options.

I couldn’t end this week’s column without mentioning the contract extension which was announced yesterday.

It will keep me with Warwickshire until 2020 and I couldn’t be happier to have extended my commitment to a club which has been such a big part of my life.

I wouldn’t have had the career I have without the input of so many people at Edgbaston and I’m desperately hoping to give something back now in my position as captain.

I will be 38 by the time this contract comes to an end and I have aspirations, all things being equal, of playing into my 40s so hopefully this won’t be my last contract.

But it’s fantastic to know I will spend my next four seasons at the club I love and hopefully we can enjoy plenty of success in that time.


GREAT WINTER – NOW THE BUZZ BUILDS

27th March, 2017

I’m about to enter my 18th season as a professional cricketer and the buzz of anticipation I’m feeling today is every bit as great as it was back when I first started in 1999.

There is nothing quite like the start of the domestic cricket season and we are just eight days away from our opening game in the Specsavers County Championship at Surrey.

I drove past Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club last weekend and, with glorious weather and the square cut, there was a real sense that the action is ready to get underway at cricket grounds across the UK.

I’ve had a very busy winter with the unforgettable experience of winning the Big Bash with the Perth Scorchers and then playing in a new tournament in Hong Kong, but I feel extremely fresh and excited for the challenge ahead.

It’s another hugely important season for everyone involved with Warwickshire and the Birmingham Bears.

We know the levels of expectancy are always high here and so they should be – we are a big county and want to be challenging for silverware come the latter stages of all competitions.

While we won the Royal London One-Day Cup last year, there was inconsistency in our performances in both Championship and T20 cricket and that is something we are desperate to put right.

We certainly couldn’t have had any better preparation and that included spending two weeks at a pre-season training camp in Abu Dhabi.

The work ethic from the whole group during the fortnight was fantastic and we also had plenty of game time in the form of an internal practice match, a two-day game with Worcestershire and playing in a T20 tournament.

We lost both T20 matches but – as is always the case in sport – pre-season is not all about results and it was pleasing to see plenty of lads producing good performances against both Lancashire Lightning and Lahore Qalanders.

The only real blip of the trip came on the way home when weather and airport issues in Doha meant the squad was delayed returning to the UK by around 30 hours.

I have a slight confession to make here as, because we were travelling from different parts of the world, myself, Josh Poysden and Director of Sport Ashley Giles were all on different flights home and avoided the chaos.

I’m bracing myself for plenty of stick from the lads for that one but I can put my hand on my heart and say there were no captain’s privileges being utilised!

That said, I did feel guilty about being back at home in Birmingham while the rest of the lads were stuck in Doha, but I’m told the squad dealt with the issues brilliantly so full credit to them for that.

We arrived back from the trip at the weekend but there has been no thought of scaling back preparation ahead of the season.

We played Northamptonshire in a two-day game Tuesday and start a three-day game at Oxford University on Sunday before we head down to The Oval.

Entry for all warm-up games is free so it would be brilliant to see a few members and supporters down there as we continue preparations for the big one at Surrey on April 7.

Finally, I’m excited to be bringing all Bears followers the inside track on the season with this column, courtesy of our club sponsors Selco Builders Warehouse.

I will be as honest as I can and try to bring an insight on life as a professional cricketer – and hopefully a very successful season!