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Warwickshire will begin their 2022 County Championship title defence with two tough home games against southern opposition - Surrey and Essex - likely to challenge hard to take their title.

Their title defence of 1995 started in similar fashion, against Middlesex and Surrey at Edgbaston, and the Bears put down a real marker with two powerhouse wins. Brian Halford reports

After Warwickshire won the County Championship, for the first time in 22 years, in 1994 they faced the big challenge: ‘Follow that.’

After the magnificent treble, would it be a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’?

How would they cope without Brian Lara? Could they deal with the departure of Bob Woolmer?

Having just enjoyed the greatest season delivered by any county in English cricket, would the Bears suffer a big anti-climax?

Well, as history records, emphatically not. Remarkably, the Bears managed to raise the bar with a sensational championship campaign which saw them win 14 of 17 games – the highest percentage of victories in the history of the competition. And it all started for Dermot Reeve’s side, just as will for Will Rhodes’ men in 2022, with back-to-back home games against two of the teams likeliest to pose the biggest threat to their retention of the crown.

In ’95, the Bears started at home to Middlesex and Surrey, two big guns of the day, and showcased their determination not to relinquish the title with two superb performances. In both games they lost the toss but shrugged off the disadvantage to record results which put immediate space between them and two of their most dangerous challengers.

No-one harboured greater determination that the Bears would retain their title than Allan Donald, an onlooker on tour with South Africa the previous year while his beloved Bears rampaged to the treble. A.D’s ’95 work – more than 500 overs and 88 wickets at 15.48 apiece – is perhaps the greatest individual season ever recorded by a fast bowler in the County Championship. He started as he meant to go on as Middlesex were trounced by 215 runs.

Put in on a crisp, April opening morning of the season, the Bears batsmen were made to work hard by an attack led by England trio Angus Fraser, John Emburey and Phil Tufnell. They totalled 282 as debutant Nick Knight, newly signed from Essex, made an immediate impression with 85, supported by Roger Twose (66) and Dominic Ostler (57).

A.D then got busy. He ripped out the top five and ended with six for 56 as Middlesex replied with 224, the only prolonged resistance coming from Mark Ramprakash, so often a thorn in the Bears’ flesh, who struck 85.

Trevor Penney’s skilful 88 and Knight’s second half-century of the match took the Bears to 294 second time around, leaving Middlesex 352 to win. An imposing target, but not an impossible one, and the match was still in the balance after the visitors closed the third day on 60 for one.

Forty minutes into the final morning, it wasn’t so finely balanced – they were 68 for five.

The main danger men, overnight batsmen Mike Gatting and Ramprakash, were swiftly removed, the latter run out in the first over of the day and the former bowled by Gladstone Small. Small’s superb control earned him three for 25 and Neil Smith added three for 44 as Middlesex were bowled out for 137.

A 215-run victory was a true statement of intent by Reeves’s side. How crucial the points from that April win were to prove in September when Middlesex finished second to the Bears, 32 points behind.

A week later Surrey visited Edgbaston and the Bears were forced into a change by an injury to Knight. Home-grown youngster Wasim Khan made his debut and the juggernaut rolled on, thanks in large part to another batsman with Warwickshire stamped on his soul.

Again put in, the Bears made an uncertain start and were 75 for three but Ostler played magnificently. He powered his way to 208 (33 fours, one six), his eighth first-class century but first at Edgbaston, and added 193 with Reeve (53) to lift the Bears to 470.

Donald then got among Surrey’s reply, his six for 64 limiting them to 288 before, Reeve having chosen not to enforce the follow on, more brisk runs from Ossie, 66 not out, enabled the Bears to declare on 210 for four. Surrey needed 393 to win.

They were soon 36 for three, courtesy of Donald and Small, and then 115 for eight. Stern resistance followed from Adam Hollioake (117 not out) and there was an unexpected twist when former Bears favourite Joey Benjamin helped Hollioake add 100 for the tenth wicket. But Small returned to bowl Benjamin and complete his five-for to seal the Bears a win by 91 runs.

Two games, two big wins…that championship trophy wasn’t going anywhere.

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