Cricket: All roads lead to Edgbaston: Warwickshire attack grand slam

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The Independent Online
RAYMOND Illingworth is a great chuckler when he is in a good mood, but mention Warwickshire and the County Championship to him, and he produces a strangled gurgling noise, like a man whose windpipe has just informed him that a bit of food has gone down the wrong way.

England's chairman of selectors is not alone in believing that the premier domestic competition heading for a team of such modest talent is an eloquent comment on the general lack of quality in the county game, but it is short odds now that the pennant will be fluttering over the Edgbaston pavilion before Warwickshire take on Worcestershire in Saturday's NatWest Trophy final.

If so, with the Benson and Hedges Cup already on the sideboard, and a two-point lead with two games left to play in the Sunday League, Illingworth's gurgle will not be half as pronounced as the bookmakers', and Ladbrokes alone stand to fork out pounds 500,000 if Warwickshire end up with all four domestic trophies.

Warwickshire have not won the Championship since 1972, but they go into their penultimate match against Hampshire at Edgbaston today with a 44-point lead over a Leicestershire side not half as accomplished as the one Illingworth led to their one and only title in 1975. Victory for Warwickshire in this game is likely to render their final match - against Gloucestershire at Bristol - irrelevant.

Their two-day 10-wicket victory over Sussex in the last round of matches saw off one of the chasing pack, and for all the inspirational presence of Brian Lara, their success has been underpinned by more homespun talents. Tim Munton has taken 75 Championship wickets, and Andy Moles and Roger Twose both average more than 50.

Leicestershire's defeat by bottom-of-the-table Glamorgan yesterday underlined their own barely credible credentials, and while their captain, Nigel Briers, has been known to march into press boxes and harangue people for writing downbeat articles about them, he has been around long enough to know that the 1975 side (with the likes of Illingworth, Higgs, McKenzie, McVicker, Davison, Tolchard, Balderstone) would wipe the floor with the current X1.

Leicestershire are at Bristol today, where nothing but victory over Gloucestershire will keep them in with a shout, and the same applies to Nottinghamshire in their game with Glamorgan at Trent Bridge. Surrey (unemployed) and Somerset (at home to Northants) both have mathematical chances, but realistically are only going for place money.

Surrey led the table through the first half of the summer, raising hopes of their own first pennant since 1971. However, the white flag has now been hoisted over The Oval, while Warwickshire, shorter on talent but longer on teamwork, have chugged on relentlessly.