All-round duo lead the way for Warks
Posted in Domestic Cricket
All-rounders are a precious commodity in cricket, so it is surely no coincidence that one of the leading contenders for LV= County Championship glory boast two of the best in the domestic game.
After being pipped to the Division One title by Lancashire on the final day of last summer, Warwickshire are once again among the frontrunners as the closing weeks of the season approach.
Ashley Giles’ men currently sit level on points with Nottinghamshire at the top of the table, but also boast a game in hand on their rivals, who they still have to play home and away.
And while numerous individuals have contributed to the Edgbaston club’s success, the efforts of Chris Woakes and Rikki Clarke - two men at different stages in their respective careers - stand out.
Woakes, who has represented England in four ODIs and three Twenty20 internationals, has long been viewed as one of the country’s most gifted young talents, and appears to be getting better and better.
The 23-year-old’s strongest suit remains his bowling; an accurate seamer boasting maturity beyond his years, he has already claimed 244 four-day wickets at an average of 24, a figure that continues to come down.
However, back-to-back scores of 107 and 118 not out against Somerset and Surrey have lifted his first-class batting average to 36, the highest in Warwickshire’s team (with the exception of England duo Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott), and he boasts a technique and array of strokes that compare favourably to many top-order counterparts.
Should Woakes maintain his marvellous form with bat and ball - he averaged 48 and 22 respectively last year and has improved on those figures this summer - then it may well be a matter of when and not if he gains Test recognition.
Many would be surprised to see Clarke, who earned the last of his 22 England caps back in September 2006, break back into the international fold, yet his performances in recent times show he is a far better player than the one who struggled at the highest level earlier in his career.
Hailed as the next big thing following a rapid rise to prominence almost a decade ago, Clarke slipped off the radar completely after failing to do justice to his enormous potential.
Yet after losing his place in Surrey’s side, he sought a fresh start at Derbyshire before moving to Birmingham ahead of the 2009 season, a switch that has reinvigorated his career.
This year he has already contributed 541 championship runs at an average of 60, in addition to claiming 16 wickets at 25 either side of a five-week stint without bowling due to a torn abdominal muscle.
At the age of 30 and freed from the immense pressure placed on him at a young age, Clarke is arguably playing the best cricket of his life, but he is by no means the only member of Warwickshire’s squad to have enjoyed a second coming.
Captain Jim Troughton, Darren Maddy and Tim Ambrose have all tasted life at the highest level with England and now bring valuable experience to a batting line-up that rates among the more consistent in the country.
Opener Varun Chopra, meanwhile, is a former captain of England Under-19s who has found a new lease of life since arriving from Essex ahead of the 2010 season.
With the likes of Keith Barker, another talented all-rounder boasting 40 championship wickets this summer, fit-again seamer Boyd Rankin and New Zealand spinner Jeetan Patel providing plenty of firepower with the ball, Warwickshire would appear to have all bases covered.
Can they therefore go one better than last season? We shall soon see...