Cricket: Paper tigers lose stripes

Graeme Wright at Edgbaston considers why two Championship pretenders have palled
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The Independent Online
FOR the second day running, play was abandoned here without a ball being bowled, heavy overnight rain and regular showers cutting deeply into a fixture which, on paper anyway, might have pitted two Championship contenders against each other. But maybe that doesn't say much about paper.

When it comes to Lancashire and the County Championship, for example, strength on paper has little to do with winning the pennant. Still, they came into this match, approaching the halfway stage of the competition, just 30 points off the leaders, Surrey, and with a game in hand. Maybe this year would be different. Unfortunately for Lancashire, however, this is the match they have in hand. The way the weather is behaving, they will be lucky to come out of it with more than the three points for a draw.

For their opponents, Warwickshire, on the other hand, little seems to have gone right since the start of the season, when expectations among the members were so great that you could hear the pips squeak. The sound more commonly heard these days is one of squealing as they react to a record that reveals only two wins and a draw to set against four defeats. This is not the way to win a Championship.

I recall writing in April that Warwickshire's campaign would depend heavily on their new captain, Brian Lara. His scoring rate of virtually a run a ball (2,066 runs from 2,262 deliveries) in his first season at Edgbaston, 1994, was essential to Warwickshire's successful title chase then, because it gave their bowlers time in which to work through the opposition. This year, however, in his 12 Championship innings to date, the West Indies batting star has managed just 271 runs and Warwickshire, not surprisingly, have struggled accordingly.

The irony is that, despite the absence of Allan Donald, Warwickshire have in Ed Giddins the season's leading wicket taker.True, back injury has limited Tim Munton's appearances this year, but even so, Warwickshire's back-up seam attack of Dougie Brown and Graeme Welch garnered 120 Championship wickets in 1997. Moreover, in Ashley Giles they have an England A left- arm spinner pushing for promotion to the Test team.

On paper, then, Warwickshire look a team that should be performing consistently better than they have managed up till now. Perhaps it is not the runs and wickets that count so much as the attitude of the players.