Cricket: Neale weighs up his options

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The Independent Online
Warwickshire 323 Northamptonshire 167-6 Match drawn

THE MOST fruitful way of passing idle hours at Edgbaston yesterday was to speculate about the chances of Bob Woolmer becoming Warwickshire's coach next season. The decision is important because Woolmer is the favourite for the England coach's job, hence the England and Wales Cricket Board's current deputation to see him in South Africa.

The best speculation is that Woolmer will choose Warwickshire, and the best evidence is that Phil Neale, the incumbent, has already begun to consider what he will do if he is gazumped. "I'm interested in a slight change of direction, towards the managerial side, about half a step up from where I am at the moment," he says.

Neale has already discussed his future with Dennis Amiss, Warwickshire's chief executive. Amiss confirmed that Woolmer has been sounded out, but he told Neale that he is still one of the options. The two discussed the possibility that Neale could become the county's cricket manager, especially as Woolmer is expected to spend only six months a year in England. This is another indication that he will not take the England coach's job; it is a full-time occupation.

Neale was manager of the England A team's tour of southern Africa. He found it exhausting, but rewarding. "It's given me a taste for that side of things," he says. It is not as though he failed as Warwickshire's coach, and he has been encouraged by this season's robust start against Northamptonshire. His replacement would be unjust. He shrugs: "The world's not always fair, is it?"

There never was a chance of a result between the showers yesterday, but both sides were keen to get on with the game. Batting and bowling points matter more this season, and Warwickshire could reasonably hope for two more by bowling Northamptonshire out, and Northamptonshire needed only 33 more runs to get a batting point. With promotion and relegation, single points will be crucial in September.

Edgbaston is one of the few grounds where you could confidently expect play to begin as soon as the sun came out at midday. Except that another rule change means that Warwickshire cannot deploy their famous Brumbrella just before or during a game.

Both rule changes were intended to produce better prepared pitches. The theory is that flat sheets can be used to sweat a wicket to the benefit of the home team; and since bonus points now add up to a maximum of 8 out of a possible 20 for a win, there is an incentive to prepare pitches that help batsmen and bowlers. (Winners now get 12 points, not 16, and a draw is now four points each.)

Banning the Brumbrella meant that the bowlers' run-ups were unplayable yesterday, although there were only a handful of spectators present to wonder whether the cricket authorities had shot themselves in the foot again. But that is always the way: Warwickshire's yearbook reveals that total gate money shelled out by paying customers in eight County Championship games last year amounted to pounds 8,013 exactly.