When the Warwickshire side trooped wearily off the field in September 2012, knowing their they had come up just short in their title chase, they didn’t mope, didn’t wonder what might have been. They got back into the nets, into the gym, determined to make sure history wouldn’t repeat itself. Matt Thacker spoke to captain Jim Troughton about their triumphant season.
How did that near miss affect the team?
Looking back I think we managed to turn it into a positive. We started planning this year’s campaign as soon as we walked off the pitch at The Rose Bowl having failed to take those three wickets. After all the effort we put in of course we were gutted but there was a real determination throughout the squad to work even harder to get our reward. We knew that if we did the little things that would give us an extra per cent here and there, we stood a great chance.
Championship cricket is not an exact science but you can make detailed plans more than you can in one-day cricket, which is more volatile and relies more on out-of-the-ordinary performances on the day. We knew our Championship side was very solid, very skilful, with great strength in depth, and if we put the work in, it would pay off. After the disappointment at the end of last season, we came back early to training, we asked a lot of the lads, did all our fitness work early and after Christmas we were able to concentrate on the skills with a great foundation in place.
And your focus was the Championship?
Yes, and above all we were looking to get off to a strong start. We had a couple of important double-headers and we knew that if we got points on the board before the Twenty20 started we would be in a good position as we are an incredibly fit side and that makes a real difference at the back end of the season when fatigue come into the equation.
I guess most would say your stand-out performers early on were Keith Barker and Chris Wright. Was that a pleasant surprise?
I wouldn’t say they surprised us – they both showed what they can do at the back end of last season, but their consistency was certainly a real bonus. With Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin, the men who took so many wickets last season, out injured, we needed to make regular inroads at the top of the order and we got that and more – both of those lads were magnificent all season. And don’t forget Jeetan Patel at the start of the season – he got plenty of first innings wickets.
Kiwi spinner Jeetan Patel took 51 Championship wickets at 22.76 in 2012
And in the batting. Early on, that must have been tough for you?
Yes. I couldn’t buy a run before June and I needed the support of the team and coach around me to remind me what I was capable of. The fact that the team kept winning obviously made it easier and a large part of my role is as captain, so I never got too down and never actually felt in bad nick! Throughout the season, players had purple patches at different times – better that than them all happening at once! And for me to be able to come back and have one of the best sustained periods of form of my career at such an important time obviously makes things all the sweeter! It’s nice to be able to repay faith.
Presumably the coaching staff played a big role in your success?
Before I talk about Gilo, I’d like to pay tribute to Neal Abberley who died last year. He was a real inspiration for all of us at the club and even when he was very ill he would be down at the indoor school, setting up the bowling machine, helping out, encouraging, cajoling. His infectious enthusiasm has played a large part in many of our careers. He pretty much set up an Academy here before they even existed and instilled the disciplines in us that have been the bedrock of our success.
He and Gilo share a lot of the same principles and a lot of credit has to go to Ash this year. A few seasons ago we were relegated in both competitions and rock bottom and he’s slowly put us back together, introducing simple processes, getting the family feel back and making sure we get right behind each other. The entire coaching team, including Dougie Brown, Graeme Welch and Tony Frost, is Warwickshire through and though and it makes such a difference.
It’s also great to be able to play in an arena like Edgbaston as it is now. It puts a spring in your step, the facilities are second to none and that must have played a small part in our success. And a nod to our new groundsman as well. Gary Barwell has come from Leicestershire and worked miracles. We all know what an effect the weather can have on the Championship and what a shocking summer this has been, so to have played as much cricket as we did at Edgbaston was a real bonus.
So what of the future?
We are definitely trying to create a legacy here. Winning the Championship is one thing, it’s a different kettle of fish retaining it and challenging year after year. We are already looking at how we can improve – we have a group of young bowlers who haven’t yet reached their full potential and plenty of people knocking on the door. In my time here this is the best squad of 20 we have had. I would have no qualms about putting any single one of them into the Championship side and over a long season that is what is needed. Injuries happen and you need people to be able to step up.
If you look at the sides who have dominated in the last 10 years or so they have had a nucleus of homegrown, usually young, players and they have also made a few good acquisitions – whether it be Surrey at the turn of the century or Durham more recently. That’s the case here too – myself, Ian Bell, Chris Woakes, Ian Westwood, have all come up through the Warwickshire ranks and we’ve made some good signings too, developing players who had not fulfilled their potential elsewhere. We won’t be wanting to lose that winning feeling any time soon and the hard work for next season starts now!