Stubborn Hampshire deny Bears at the last
Warwickshire 493 Hampshire 324 & 327-7 (Match drawn)
Almost exactly a century ago, the Warwickshire team left the field of play as County Champions and were taken back to their hotel by a four-in-hand carriage. When eventually they arrived back in Birmingham they were greeted by thousands of supporters outside the railway station and ferried amid public euphoria to the Grand Hotel.
There was to be no repeat of such scenes yesterday. There was to be no repeat of that first title in late August, 1911. It is unlikely that horses, parades and hotel banquets would have been involved but they would have settled merely for coming first.
When Warwickshire arrived here on the fourth day of the final match, they were leaders and favourites to land the prize ahead of Lancashire. Hampshire had seemed weary and spent the night before, three wickets down, 126 runs behind, already relegated, nothing to play for. But throughout the morning and the afternoon they kept Warwickshire at bay.
No wickets came before lunch, only four after it and by then it was too late. At 5pm with 11 overs left, the captains shook hands on a draw. Hampshire were 327 for 7, by then 158 ahead. The runs-overs equation had become impossible for Warwickshire, made so primarily by the patience and resilience of Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie who both made last-day hundreds.
Ashley Giles, Warwickshire's coach, said: "I was awake at 2.30 this morning with conundrums in the head. We'll have a few quiet beers and a chat and slap each other on the back and get on with it in the winter. If we won it this year we would have been ahead of schedule, which isn't a problem."
Warwickshire were denied ultimately by three things. The pitch simply refused to deteriorate as cricket pitches ought to. The fast bowler might as well have been flogging the four-in-hand that transported their forebears. Carberry and McKenzie, two of the most vigilant batsmen in the game, were bloody minded and professionally fastidious enough to give nothing away.
Finally, an experienced, truly high-calibre spinner might still have propelled them over the line. Well though the 21-year-old Chris Metters kept at it, finishing with five for 115, his irregular length in the morning was especially costly. It allowed Carberry and McKenzie to settle.
They put on 182 for the fourth wicket. In the morning session they scored 135 in 31 overs, the fastest rate of the match, and by the time Carberry was leg before, a trifle harshly, to Chris Woakes, Hampshire were 41 ahead.
There was not a sour grape in sight from Warwickshire. Their captain, Jim Troughton, in his first season, said: "I would say Lancashire are the best side because they have won 10 games. I think they have used home advantage fantastically well and they play a brand of cricket where they are willing to fight for those small score games."
Giles said some of the matches in Division One were played with the intensity of Tests which bodes well for England – and he should know a thing or two about it since he played 54 of them.
The final table shows that Lancashire were 11 points ahead. Good job, because it means the eight points Warwickshire were contentiously docked for a poor pitch in May did not cost them. Lancashire did cost them and Warwickshire made their way up the motorway in their cars, not a parade in sight.
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