Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Greatest Sportsman of All Time - The Case for Sir Donald Bradman

Test record: 6,996 runs in 80 innings at an average of 99.94 (29 centuries)

It is a rare phenomenon indeed where an individual can be undisputedly and universally acknowledged as the finest to have ever participated in a sport. It is rarer still for that individual to be recognised as the greatest there ever will be, despite seemingly no human being beyond Mystic Meg and the recently unmasked Eric Bristow possessing the gift of foresight. 

For Pele, there is Maradona. For Nicklaus, there is Woods. For ‘The Don’, there is no rival. He stands alone.

Such are the statistics of Donald George Bradman. Plying his trade throughout the 1930’s and 40’s in the famous ‘baggy green’ of Australia, Bradman compiled a record almost twice as formidable as anyone else in the history of Test cricket. In a sport harking back to 1877, that is an astonishing feat. Bradman’s final Test average of 99.94 grows all the more impressive when you consider that the widely recognised barometer for a modern batsman attaining greatness is, in comparison, a mere 50. For a sportsman to be so far afield of his predecessors, contemporaries and successors is surely unique.

Perhaps indicative of the supremacy asserted almost every time The Don walked to the crease, former Australia captain Bill Woodfull proclaimed Bradman to be “worth three batsmen to Australia.” Where a team scoring 300 in one day is classed as operating at a fairly brisk pace, Bradman once single handedly made 309 on the first day of a Test against England at Headingley. Such dominance of bat over ball was unusually rare in the age of uncovered pitches, and remains so in today’s comparatively batsman friendly era.

Despite being the holder of records that will likely never be challenged in anger, let alone broken, statistics are but one facet of what makes a great sportsman. It often takes a truly inspirational individual to transcend the sport within which they participate. Much as Muhammad Ali transcended the sport of boxing, Don Bradman transcended cricket. Bradman emerged during a period of great economic hardship in Australia, and through the sheer force of his on-field performances it is said gave happiness and hope to a populace in the midst of depression.

You can't tell youngsters today of the attraction of the fellow. I mean, business used to stop in the town when Bradman was playing and likely to go in - all the offices closed, the shops closed; everybody went up to see him play. – England bowler Bill Bowes, 1983

Bradman would go on to exhibit a further trait of any world class sportsman: success in the face of adversity. After scoring an extraordinary 974 runs at an average of 139.14 in the 1930 Ashes tour of England, Bradman was infamously targeted by hostile and aggressive ‘Bodyline’ bowling during the 1932-33 return series in Australia – a theory designed with the sole intention of taking Bradman’s wicket, whereby the English fast bowlers would deliberately target the body of the batsman with a packed leg-side cordon of fielders lying in wait – The Don was almost rendered mortal with a series average of 56.57 (still a world class average by anyone’s standards). It was his own controversial tactic of combating bodyline by backing away and hitting the ball in an unorthodox manner in to the vacant off-side that won Bradman plaudits for attempting to find a solution to Bodyline.

It should be noted that, despite the whole of Australia being in uproar over the “vicious and unsporting” tactics employed by the English captain Douglas Jardine, and despite his own misgivings, Bradman conducted himself with dignity throughout and fought the onslaught in the way he knew best – by scoring runs. ‘Bodyline’, or ‘fast leg theory’ as it was also known, would later be outlawed.

Somewhat ironically, and perhaps unfortunately, the great Don Bradman is as much remembered for his final innings than the unsurpassed genius that had carved a path of destruction through the cricketing world wielding but a plank of willow in the preceding years. Striding to the crease at The Oval in 1948, Bradman required a mere 4 runs from his final Test innings to ensure an overall perfect Test average of 100. Whether through the emotion stirred in The Don through the adulation of the English crowd and opponents as he walked out that day (as much cheers of relief that his utter dominion over England’s bowlers was nearing an end, perhaps?), or the cricketing Gods inflicting a cruel twist of fate as if to reclaim the immortality they had lent him, Bradman was bowled for a duck by Warwickshire leg-spinner Eric Hollies, thus ending his career with that infamous average of 99.94 – a now magical figure in its own right. It will never be bettered.

Next to Mr. Winston Churchill, he was the most celebrated man in England during the summer of 1948. His appearances throughout the country were like one continuous farewell matinée. A miracle has been removed from among us. So must ancient Italy have felt when she heard of the death of Hannibal – cricket writer R.C. Robertson-Glasgow upon Bradman’s retirement, 1949

Sir Donald Bradman died in February of 2001 aged 92. It would have come as a surprise to many that he failed to get out of the 90’s. There are numerous others with a rightful claim to being the greatest sportsman that ever lived, but in Bradman there has surely never been another so superior to their peers. A genius, an icon and a gentleman; The Don satisfies all of the criteria. 

Sir Donald George Bradman was, without any question, the greatest phenomenon in the history of cricket, indeed in the history of all ball games. – Wisden Almanack

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Bell selection makes sense...

Monday was bittersweet for Ian Bell. Where the wretched Birmingham weather had contrived to dash any hopes he may have harboured of scoring the additional 24 runs required to ensure he became the first Warwickshire player to score a Test century at Edgbaston, the rather more soothing news that he had been restored to England’s One Day International side as an opener offered some consolation. 

Many, perhaps even Bell himself, had felt that the Warwickshire batsman’s limited overs career was all but over after being dropped prior to the Pakistan ODI series at the beginning of the year, a series in which England seemed to make great strides as they cantered to a 4-0 victory. 
So often Bell's ODI story...
Bell has been somewhat of an enigma in ODI cricket, yet whilst the England management’s multi-lingual talents have not been called upon they are hitherto to succeed in unravelling the mystery of how such a wonderfully gifted batsman has managed to muster such decidedly mediocre returns (how modern history might have differed had Chancellor Hitler been granted access to an Ian Bell). It will have been a source of great frustration. An average of 34.04 at a strike-rate of 73.31 in ODI’s, with one century and 19 half-centuries, does little to warm the cockles. 

Perhaps such underwhelming ODI returns can be ascribed to Bell’s key scoring areas being cut off. That delicious late cut to third man, cover drives not so much dripping with class as haemorrhaging and a crisp clip through the square-leg region have brought Bell considerable success in Test cricket, yet defensive field settings oft encountered during ODI’s tend to remove those from his spectrum. For a player that attains a high percentage of his runs in boundaries it presents a sizeable problem, much as Test wicket-keeper Matt Prior has discovered in the shorter formats of the game. 

As an opener, Bell’s prowess diminishes further (he has played 28 of his 108 ODI’s as an opening batsman), where his average reduces to 33 and his strike-rate to 70.69. Far from inspirational, yet if there is a place for Ian Bell in this side then it is limited to such a role. As opener, Bell has the freedom to play classically during the initial powerplay overs when the aforementioned scoring areas remain unattended, and possesses the lofted straight shots necessary to combat spinners outside of them. 

The wisdom of a top three containing Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott has been questioned in some quarters, and admittedly on paper looks to present all the aggression of a tranquilised kitten, but in those three batsmen England possess a solidarity that provides the perfect foil for their stylistic preference. Where many sides look to score heavily whilst fielding restrictions are in place, England appear to have reverted to the old fashioned ethos of building steadily and keeping wickets in hand for an assault at the death. A scrupulously ungenerous bowling attack renders this a possibility. It isn’t spectacular, it isn’t exhilarating, but if performances in the UAE are anything to go by, it is effectual and more importantly suits England’s personnel. 

So many doubts, yet Bell finds himself in sublime form. Averaging 111 in the recently concluded Test series against the West Indies, and with 82 runs to his name in the CB40 competition for Warwickshire just last month, confidence will be sky high. In fact, confidence will be rather fearful that a chap named Ian Bell is threatening to usurp it from its throne of haughtiness, thus ending a reign last interrupted by the mindset of Moses moments after his successful parting of the Red Sea. A new ball from either end should prove an advantage for Bell, too, where his sweet timing and placement ought to bring full value for his shots. 

There will be no more chances, though, should this latest experiment fail. Bell is not merely visiting Last Chance Saloon, rather embarking upon a desperate struggle to cling on to the bar rail as an irritated doorman hauls him out after receiving his ticket, but where stepping in to the shoes of the now retired Kevin Pietersen may once have rendered the unassuming Bell a mere rabbit in the headlights, and though his current record suggests otherwise, there is an inkling he may just prove a revelation.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

ECB - What have you done?

I have been away for the past week sampling the delights of camping across various rain stricken sites in England and Wales, so you’ll hopefully forgive me for this rather late piece on the Kevin Pietersen retirement debacle. I must also apologise for another piece on the inventor of the switch-hit, alas it seems noteworthy occurrences and Mr Pietersen come very much as a package. I’m a huge fan of KP, and have made no bones about it in past articles, so you can only imagine my horror when after minutes twiddling thumbs as my ancient iPhone 3 strove heroically to gain a modicum of reception I was given the news by my trusty ESPNcricinfo app.

Twenty20 will miss the switch hit..
The One Day International retirement in itself wasn’t the cause of the horror. I saw that one coming, albeit perhaps twelve months or so down the line. Pietersen isn’t the first English cricketer to make noises suggesting that all is not well with the players when it comes to the deluge of 50 over cricket pencilled in to their calendars. The likes of Graeme Swann, another key performer across all three formats of the game, have mumbled their misgivings, and it is easy to sympathise given the vast amount of time spent away from their young families each year as they don the three lions in all corners of the world. It was the seemingly desperate handling of the situation by the ECB that provided the greatest cause for concern, not to mention blindingly obvious double standards.

The ECB inform us that their strategies across the two limited overs formats are closely aligned, and hence require the same personnel to be available for both. Despite being an utterly ludicrous statement, given that the difference between ODI’s and Twenty20 cricket is every bit as vast as the difference between Test cricket and ODI’s, do the ECB believe we have forgotten that, up until last year’s world cup, Andrew Strauss played ODI cricket despite having already announced his retirement from Twenty20 cricket?  Likewise, England’s ODI strategy is very much based around the solidarity of Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott at the top of their batting order, yet neither name features on England’s Twenty20 teamsheet. Players of such a style can find success in ODI cricket, but an ability to nudge the singles fetches little reward in the shortest format. Why, then, must Pietersen be available for both or none?

Have the ECB forgotten that Pietersen remains the number one ranked batsman in the world in Twenty20 cricket? Have they also, in their hour of lunacy, overlooked the fact that shorn of Pietersen (man of the tournament as England triumphed four years ago, lest we forget) England hold two hopes, slim and none, of retaining their world Twenty20 crown in Sri Lanka later this year? Oh, and in the words of boxing eccentric Don King, “slim’s outta town.” Without Pietersen, England’s side begins to look all too ordinary.

Pietersen retiring from ODI’s isn’t ideal - losing a world class player and your best batsman in each and every format never is - but the needs of the individual need to be considered. The ECB have shown appalling man management in issuing their abrupt ultimatum. The question of whether they would have acted similarly had it been another member of the side is a delicate one, but perhaps worth asking. Tensions do, after all, run high where the ECB and Kevin Pietersen are concerned. After a series of run-ins commencing with the captaincy and Peter Moores saga, through to a brace of confrontations over Pietersen’s use of the social networking site Twitter (he aimed a barb at the ECB after being dropped from the Twenty20 team to face Pakistan in 2010, and more recently was hauled over the coals for a slur against Sky commentator Nick Knight), and now a falling out over Pietersen’s participation in Twenty20 cricket after announcing his retirement from ODI cricket it would be of little surprise if the ECB were reaching the end of their tether as far as any dealings with the middle order batsman go.

What must be remembered, though, is that Pietersen has often been in the right throughout the aforementioned confrontations. Pietersen saw first-hand that Moores was not the right man to lead England forward, taking a risk that ultimately cost him his position as captain in order to voice his concerns. Since that moment England have enjoyed unparalleled success in the Test arena. Likewise, use of social networking sites is a touchy subject amongst many in the England camp, depending on who you speak to, and whilst players would perhaps do well to censor some of their innermost thoughts on such public platforms it would be wrong to discourage its use, within limits. Pietersen may yet also be in the right with regard to his ODI retirement. The ODI schedule for England’s cricketers, indeed worldwide, is hugely excessive. As players age their priorities will change, and it appears that Pietersen’s have now done so as he approaches his 32nd birthday. As his team-mate Jonathan Trott says, it is of little surprise.

The worry now, of course, is how the ECB will deal with any future lulls in Pietersen’s Test form. Previously, with England’s tour of the UAE being a prime example, Pietersen was able to regain form after an abject Test series in the subsequent ODI series, where he scored back to back centuries. He will no longer have such a luxury. Could the forthcoming series against South Africa be Pietersen’s last for England? Given how the ECB have treated their premier batsman in this latest episode it would come as little surprise, should Pietersen fail to perform against the country of his birth.

England fans will hope that the differences can be reconciled between Pietersen and the ECB. After all, England needs Pietersen at both Test and Twenty20 level. It is disappointing to see one of England’s greatest middle order batsmen handed such an ultimatum but, regardless of the fallout, let us hope that it doesn’t contribute toward curtailing an already magnificent Test career. It isn’t just England that needs KP, it is the sport of cricket and the entertainment business that does, too.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Windies at a Cross-roads...

When Darren Sammy awoke from a slumber filled with English-conquering dreams earlier this month, he would have donned his maroon robe, picked up the St Lucia Express from the doormat and read that England’s green and pleasant lands were officially in the midst of severe drought. The pocket hand warmers, a perpetual companion of a West Indian on any England tour, would have been speedily removed from his suitcase to make room for a pair of reflective sunglasses the likes of which Pokemon’s Squirtle would afford a nod of approval. Sammy, a nervous flyer, may even have boarded the plane across the Atlantic with a degree of optimism.
Time for Sammy to start a rain dance?

Hours later, arriving on English soil to bear witness to biblical downpours last encountered by Noah as he hastily put the finishing touches to his ark, Sammy could perhaps have been forgiven for thinking that the English definition of drought was wildly out of touch with sanity.

The impression that modern West Indian touring sides abhor visiting England sadly endures, yet it hasn’t always been the case. Where the God-like players of yore encountered the very same chilled winds, wet early English summers and unfavourable batting conditions, they opted for a scorched earth policy. Once lush outfields were left bare as the mighty projectiles launched from the bats of King Viv and co reduced each blade of grass in their path to mere cinders, whilst keeping the precipitation at bay through fear of their wrath should it dare to make an appearance. Darren Sammy’s charges combat the elements in a very different manner, and it doesn't provide quite such impressive viewing. During a recent warm-up fixture against the England Lions at Wantage Road the only West Indian without deeply pocketed hands was wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin. How times have changed.

Haphazard mismanagement by the West Indies Cricket Board has ensured that Sammy's side will attempt to compete against Test cricket's number one team bereft of star performers Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, who are both on Indian Premier League duty, whilst young spin-wizard Sunil Narine remains with Kolkata Knight Riders in the same competition. Rather bizarrely, and even more so after a fine century for Leicestershire in the County Championship today, middle order batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan has been omitted from the squad entirely.  It may be a decision that the selectors are beginning to rue, and it doesn't bode well for the West Indies that in all possibility a West Indies team superior to the eleven that will be walking out at Lord's tomorrow could perhaps be mustered.

Despite a courageous effort against Australia recently, a series in which they were ultimately defeated 2-0, the West Indies, for all their promise, displayed a propensity for capitulating just as victory looked to be a possibility. Winning is said to be a habit, but so is losing, and like a chain smoker that had progressed on to nicotine patches before reverting to 40 a day they are finding it rather difficult to walk away from. A shaky top order, ably reinforced by the indomitable but beleaguered Shivnarine Chanderpaul, can expect little charity from an English bowling attack that is simply lethal in their own conditions. The West Indies bowling unit possesses no shortage of pace and fire in Fidel Edwards and the impressive Kemar Roach, but it remains to be seen if they are able to gain mastery over the swinging ball, a bowler's greatest asset in such conditions.

In truth, Darren Sammy may well be hoping that this English drought continues. If rainfall akin to that which has fallen since a hosepipe ban was enforced across many parts of the country continues then his side may well come away with the unlikeliest of series draws. It seems unlikely, but sadly it is in all likelihood their sole hope.

For the West Indies, this series is about progress. They will of course retain hopes of causing an astonishing upset, but only the most pessimistic of English fans would be fearing such an outcome. After competing against Australia there are signs that this cricketing giant is slowly beginning to re-awaken having lain dormant for the best part of two decades. This series is an important cross-roads in the re-emergence of West Indian cricket. If they can remain competitive against an England side that are often rampant in their own conditions it will be a considerable feather in the cap of the West Indies, and another sure step along the road to recovery. A crushing defeat would keep such a recovery firmly in Sammy's dreams.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Me, Myself and the IPL...

Until recently the Indian Premier League had been to me what protecting Gotham City has been to Batman for the past 73 years; fun on occasion, but swiftly becoming tedious and largely irrelevant. Where the Dark Knight had to contend with new, increasingly cunning and malevolent super-villains shortly after deposing his previous arch-enemy, I’ve had to deal with the excessively excitable IPL commentary team augment amplified exaggeration and hysteria in to their appraisal of the action as each season passed. It’s debatable as to who has had the tougher assignment.

When the concept of the Indian Premier League was first announced it appeared, to this sceptical purist at least, little more than a glorified domestic Twenty20 tournament utilising the vast cricketing resources of the Indian sub-continent to create the greatest money-spinner the sport has ever witnessed. The pioneers behind the competition have certainly achieved that. I was wrong to underestimate its significance.

I remain very much a traditionalist when choosing cricket à la carte. Where Twenty20 provides a tasty starter to whet the appetite, Test cricket is the main course. One Day International’s are very much for dessert; a painful addition to the meal that you don’t really need when you’ve already reached saturation, but ultimately indulge regardless. It is no surprise, then, that I have cared little for the incessant stream of cringe-worthy advertising emanating from India ahead of each and every IPL season.

MS Dhoni's forward defensive
Yet, strangely, I might just have been won over. Perhaps those annoyingly histrionic adverts reminding me that the IPL is the 21st century’s very own Roman gladiatorial games are effective at gaining viewers as well as inducing involuntary vomit in one’s mouth, after all, and like a vessel heeding the call of a particularly mischievous siren I’ve been lured in; whether in to rocky waters or new lands ripe for exploration only time will tell. Thus far, progress has been satisfyingly serene.

The turning point, it would seem, has been the rather agreeable sight of a selection of the world’s finest Test match performers wreaking havoc in the competition, proving that the cream does indeed always rise to the top. We have heard the term “Twenty20 specialist” banded about aplenty, but the fifth edition of the IPL has witnessed these ‘mercenaries’, as I tend to call them, convincingly eclipsed.

It has been a joyous sight indeed to watch cricketers of unsurpassed ability, Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn in particular, unfurl their full array of talents in an environment where innovation and daring is applauded rather than admonished. Such is the awe in which I have observed their genius that I’ve even begun to develop an immunity to those highly irritable phrases in the mould of “and there’s another DLF maximum for Kevin Pietersen”. Really, Mr Shastri? However you endeavour to accentuate the shot and lace it with frills it remains a six, but never mind, I have access to an IPL television viewer’s greatest companion – the mute button. It’s no bother.

In addition to the child in a sweetshop demeanour of the commentary team, I still cast many an aspersion at the IPL, let that be clear. Cheerleaders at a cricket match? What next, popcorn vendors and shoe shiners? Whilst those good women are undoubtedly talented in their dedicated field, and provide an arm-chair letch like myself with many an eye-opener, some might argue it pales in comparison to the majesty of a Kallis on-drive. And players being wired up to the studio enabling a mid-innings chat – shouldn’t their undivided attention be on fielding in the one format of the game where each and every run is so often critical to the outcome? The world’s finest Twenty20 cricketers have a duty to entertain the cricket loving viewers, not impress them with previously unbeknownst oratory skills. I'm also against English cricketers playing in the IPL when their county is in action back home, though money is of course king in cricket, as it is with every profession.

I digress slightly. The above are, after all, only minor gripes. I’ve followed IPL season 5 in a greater capacity than I have afforded any of the previous seasons. Consistent displays of extremely high quality cricket – admittedly more from the big name Indians and overseas stars than the younger cricketers that the tournament is supposed to benefit – have made for compelling viewing. I thought I had borne witness to every cricket shot and delivery in the book. I hadn’t. Nothing that these players do on a cricket field surprises me anymore, such is the rapid rate of innovation in Twenty20 cricket, and the infectious atmosphere and adulation given to the competitors by a rabid Indian crowd at each and every venue only adds to the enjoyment.

Despite putting up admirable resistance, I’ve finally succumbed to the IPL bug. What’s not to like about it?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Porterfield and Patel Power Warwickshire to Victory

Sunday 15th April
Warwickshire, 243 & 262/8, beat Somerset, 147 & 354, by two wickets.

William Porterfield struck an eye pleasing 84, aided by some tail-end pyrotechnics from New Zealand’s Jeetan Patel, as Warwickshire completed a two wicket victory over Somerset at Edgbaston.

Victory will be of great relief to Warwickshire, who had found themselves unexpectedly staring down a Thatcher’s Gold branded barrel after a middle order collapse of five wickets for 17 runs in 47 balls; prior to that they had required just 69 runs to win with seven wickets in hand.

Jeetan Patel spared the blushes of his captain, Jim Troughton
Nobody will be more relieved than Jim Troughton. The Warwickshire captain, renowned for being a safe pair of hands in the field, had inexplicably dropped the simplest of catches at mid-off with Jos Buttler, who proceeded to make 93, fresh to the crease on 7. Troughton did gain a measure of redemption by hitting the winning runs, but remains somewhat indebted to Patel who contributed 43 toward their 55 run partnership.

In a game that ebbed and flowed from day one both sides had found themselves in winning positions  only to relinquish with all too apparent haste. Porterfield, having played quite beautifully for his 84, was perhaps the prime example as he miscued a ghastly front-foot pull to Craig Kieswetter behind the stumps.

Somerset had earlier manoeuvred themselves in to a position of relative strength in the match courtesy of steady accumulation from second innings centurion Nick Compton (133) and the powerful stroke play of Buttler, of course with no small thanks to Jim Troughton. Warwickshire seamer Chris Wright, who was immensely impressive throughout and comfortably out-bowled South African counterpart Vernon Philander, returned to put an end to a stand of 167 and leave his side requiring 258 runs for victory.

 After losing the early wickets of makeshift opener Neil Carter and Varun Chopra, Warwickshire made serene progress through Porterfield and Ian Westwood before the latter strangely offered no stroke to a straight delivery from Philander and was adjudged lbw, thus ending a stand of 102 between the pair. Former Bears captain Darren Maddy provided much needed impetus to the chase, but after falling lbw to the impressive Peter Trego unforeseen madness swiftly ensued.

Following the ungainly dismissal of Porterfield, who fell three runs short of his highest score in a Warwickshire shirt, former England wicket-keeper Tim Ambrose offered a return catch to fall for a golden duck and leave Trego on a hat-trick. His next delivery proved to be a no-ball, though Trego’s spell of three wickets in seven balls for no runs had by now managed to suppress the earlier raucous din periodically emanating from some individuals residing in the members stand.

Rikki Clarke came and went, as did Keith Barker who was bizarrely out hit-wicket from the bowling of Trego. Barker, hopping about as if he were facing a prime, genetically modified Allan Donald, was hit on the ear piece of the helmet by a Trego bouncer and duly trod on his stumps. One suspects that won’t be the last short ball Barker will have to contend with this season.

Enter Jeetan Patel. Warwickshire’s overseas signing, with the club for a third consecutive season, had bagged a duck in the first innings and offered little hope to the hardy souls dotted around a chilly Edgbaston. Yet, with 52 still required for victory, the New Zealander launched an astonishing counter-attack that stunned Somerset. Swatting sixes over long –on and third man, off the bowling of Trego and Philander respectively, Patel set about rapidly reducing the requirement. Somerset captain Marcus Trescothick introduced spinner Dockrell to the attack in an attempt to lure Patel in to a false stroke, only to be met with another six and two fours before Patel took a single allowing captain Troughton to spare his own blushes with a back-foot drive to the boundary to secure victory.

A thrilling County Championship match, yet one that was witnessed by disappointingly few. Warwickshire, without key bowlers Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin, and with England batsmen Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott returning imminently, may just be ones to watch in this year’s title race.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Warwickshire v Somerset - Edgbaston: Day Three

Saturday 14th April
Warwickshire, 243 and 123-2, require another 136 runs to beat Somerset, 147 and 354.

One Warwickshire member proclaimed during the lunch interval today that Jim Troughton dropped catches were “collector’s items.” Jos Buttler soon revealed himself to be an avid hoarder. Troughton, having inexplicably shelled a chance that would have been snapped up by Kevin Pietersen circa Ashes 2005 in a straitjacket at mid-off with Buttler fresh to the crease, could only watch on in horror as the Somerset youngster combined with unbeaten overnight stalwart Nick Compton to build a partnership worth 167 runs.

It would perhaps be unfair to brand the Compton Buttler axis a case of beauty and the beast, but the contrast in both timing and power was evident between the two as Compton, resuming on 61, re-assumed the familiar barnacle-like existence so familiar to Warwickshire supporters that sat (or slept) through his six-hour vigil six years ago, bringing up his century from 189 balls. Interestingly, his first 50 runs had taken just 61 of those.
Compton - Watchful century

At the other end Buttler drove and swept with aplomb, duly reaching his own half century from 68 balls; each boundary only serving to deepen the shade of puce marking Troughton’s face. The impressive Chris Wright returned to trap Buttler lbw, playing across a straight one on 93 to leave the pair just nine runs short of equalling the record Somerset sixth wicket partnership against the Bears and sparking a flurry of three wickets for five runs in less than two overs.

The match remained very much in the balance with Warwickshire requiring 259 to win in their second innings and both sides confident of victory; Somerset wicket-keeper Craig Kieswetter had suggested that a lead of 180 was defendable during a visit to the Edgbaston press box earlier in the day.

After failing to impress the watching Geoff Miller yesterday, Warwickshire opener and England hopeful Varun Chopra did little to enhance his claims, top-edging a ghastly pull shot off the front-foot to be caught by Kieswetter for 10 shortly after surprise makeshift opener Neil Carter had perished attempting to drive left-arm spinner George Dockrell through extra cover, Jos Buttler completing a smart catch.

The decision to promote Carter to open the innings proved a shrewd one as the all-rounder set about removing the lacquer from the new ball in typically robust fashion, his 26 coming from just 17 balls. The left-hander has never been the most competent player of spin, though, and the trend continued as it took Dockrell just three balls to get his man.

Ian Westwood and William Porterfield are two players likely to be looking over their shoulders with the return of England batsman Ian Bell to the Warwickshire fold next week, but the duo saw out the remaining overs of the day to leave Warwickshire well set at 123-2, requiring a further 136 for a victory that had looked unlikely in the aftermath of Troughton’s fielding horror show.

Porterfield, ending the day with an unbeaten 57, was particularly impressive as he produced an array of scorching straight drives to blunt an eager Somerset attack and deny a baying slip cordon.

It was an irony that will be lost on few of the Warwickshire faithful that Troughton later took a marvellous catch diving backwards at mid-off to remove first innings top scorer Philander, though it did little to atone for his unwilling contribution to what could yet prove to be a match winning partnership. Of all the Warwickshire captain’s collector’s items, this one might just fetch the highest price.