Warwickshire's perception problem

Adam Szreter wonders why a champion county still lack recognition
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The Independent Online
Tomorrow Warwickshire could reach a Lord's final for the fourth time in three years. Only Northamptonshire can prevent yet another invasion of headquarters by hordes of unpleasant Brummie types, sipping their "cowin' bovril" and polluting the fragrant St John's Wood air with their hideous accents.

Despite their appearance in the Benson and Hedges Cup semi-finals, nothing is likely to have given "English cricket" a shot in the arm as much as watching Warwickshire struggle, just a little, to recapture their best form this summer. As far as the established centres of excellence in the north and south are concerned, England's dismal recent record is nothing compared to the horrors of Warwickshire, and in particular Dermot Reeve OBE, demonstrating to us how cricket matches are won.

In modern times no county has enjoyed such a purple patch: of eight tournaments in the past two seasons they have won five and come second in two others. But, far from becoming standard bearers for the national game, their achievements have been little more than an embarrassment to those who believe they know how cricket should be played in the late 1990s.

The chairman of selectors himself has been quoted as saying that one of the principal problems underlying England's failure at international level is the poor quality of county cricket. Implicit in that remark is: "It must be poor. Warwickshire are winning everything". It is hard to imagine him expressing the same sentiments if Yorkshire were winning anything at all.

When the Australian, Dean Jones, arrived to captain Derbyshire this season, he said his new team must aspire to the professionalism and attitude of Warwickshire in order to win trophies. Jones was a star of the most successful international side of recent times, so he should know what he is talking about. But the establishment here, it seems, do not want to listen.

Jones probably finds it difficult to work out why, during this period of such dominance, Warwickshire have had so little international recognition, either on or off the field. Reeve, the best and most imaginative captain in the country, would undoubtedly have made a better fist of the World Cup than a tired Mike Atherton. Tim Munton, whose bowling took Warwickshire through the quarter-finals and semi-finals of last year's NatWest Trophy, was overlooked entirely. How long will it take for Keith Piper to be recognised as the best wicketkeeper in the land, and no mean batsman either? And will Andy Moles ever be given a chance, just a chance, to see if, maybe, despite his spherical physique, he can do it at the top level where more naturally talented batsmen have failed repeatedly?

On the management side, while MJK Smith will be pleased that his son Neil has played occasionally for England, why is the Warwickshire chairman himself left out in the cold? Dennis Amiss, their chief executive, was an England selector briefly, but no more. Bob Woolmer, their former coach, was snapped up by the South Africans, who know a good thing when they see one, while the current coach, Phil Neale, was effectively removed from the job of England A coach in favour of John Emburey. Why?

Meanwhile Nick Knight opens the batting for England, presumably on the grounds that, until recently, he played for Essex, so that's fine. David Lloyd, of Lancashire, has been given his chance as coach; Yorkshire's Ray Illingworth, almost unbelievably, is still there as chairman and Lancashire's Atherton as captain. Tim Lamb, of Middlesex, has been voted in ahead of Warwickshre's Tony Cross as the next TCCB chief executive; and David Acfield, of Essex and the MCC, is heading the working party that is apparently going to get to the bottom of all the problems in the English game in time for us to give the Aussies a good going over next summer.

Of course the Edgbaston pitch for last year's Test against the West Indies (presumably approved by the TCCB's inspector of pitches) confirmed what we had suspected all along: that Warwickshire do not have the best interests of the nation at heart. And Reeve's bat-throwing antics against Hampshire last month finally unmasked him as the devil in disguise. So tomorrow, at Wantage Road, Northamptonshire have a duty to perform for Queen and country. Heaven help "English cricket" if they lose.