Trott strikes several blows for the pros

Warwickshire 345-5 dec v MCC

There was an automatic reason to fear for the future of county cricket as Warwickshire took guard yesterday. The sweaters worn by their opening pair bore the name of one of their sponsors, Rover. The connotation was inescapable: a dying firm of car manufacturers helping to sustain a dying cast of sportsmen.

There was an automatic reason to fear for the future of county cricket as Warwickshire took guard yesterday. The sweaters worn by their opening pair bore the name of one of their sponsors, Rover. The connotation was inescapable: a dying firm of car manufacturers helping to sustain a dying cast of sportsmen.

Not Warwickshire as such, the champions after all, but domestic professional cricket in general. Since there were only about 100 spectators in the Grand Stand and a smattering of members sitting in the magnificently refurbished pavilion, it would have been possible to hear the Grim Reaper sharpening his scythe.

Paradoxically, this year represents something of a chance for the counties to impinge themselves on the nation's cricketing consciousness at the start of the season. The Championship and Twenty20 have an unfettered run until the main, breathlessly awaited, feature of the summer, the Test series against Australia.

But that does not start until late July, and two Tests against Bangladesh and a triangular one-day tournament in which they feature as makeweights do not seem remotely alluring as proper contests. The county chaps, the real boys of summer, can put themselves centre stage, if not quite drenched by the limelight.

The Championship, sponsored by Frizzell, begins on Wednesday as Warwickshire open their defence at home to Glamorgan, who would seem to be one of the few counties without a chance of taking the title, although if you asked them they would certainly rather win a one-day trophy. Ask Gloucestershire, perpetual limited-overs winners these past six years, what appeals to the punters.

The Championship, however, is still the players' blue riband, and the yardstick by which potential international players must be judged. It would help if more players in it could be considered for England. Many of the plethora of imports are unsung, unknown and will remain that way. There is a place for the journeyman cricketer, but preferably not at the expense of the potential English equivalent.

One of Warwickshire's EU- qualified players, Jonathan Trott, born and raised in South Africa but with a British passport by virtue of an English mother, scored a well-crafted half-century yesterday. He has impressed constantly since his maiden century on debut in 2003 and will qualify for England at the end of next year, when he will only be 25.

If, say, both Trott and Kevin Pietersen, with similar antecedents, were to find themselves in England's middle order, the England and Wales Cricket Board could find one way of saving cash by closing down the expensive National Academy in Loughborough - soon to be called the National Cricket Centre - and trawling the world for other passport-holding cricketers.

Trott, who has made his home here but still spent much of the winter in South Africa, is the sort of potentially exciting player who makes it difficult for counties to exercise judgement, which is just as well, since so many do not.

The highest innings and the first century of the season was compiled most agreeably on a bitterly cold day by Nick Knight, who plundered four sixes in his 168 balls, was dropped on 70 and undone by a reverse sweep. It is the fourth time he has scored a century in his opening match.

Graeme Swann bowled over after over of off-spin and, if not exactly economical, he often made the batsmen think with decent drift. David Harrison's probing, if medium-paced, length brought him deserved reward.

Ian Bell's stay was brief, but Warwickshire batted as they did for so much of last season, recognising the importance of the first innings and thus laying down their template.

This fixture has attracted criticism for being meaningless and overloading the schedule, but MCC versus the Champions has a ring about it and is a more fitting way to herald the season than the Universities against anyone. But it was not really a day for cricket. Madame Tussaud lived in Wellington Road, a six- hit from Lord's, 170 years ago, and despite the best efforts of the MCC's fielders to stay on the move yesterday, she would have seen something of her waxworks in them.

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