Warwickshire return to Specsavers County Championship action when they face Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford on Monday.
The ground has been the scene of some great championship feats from the Bears, Frank Foster, Rohan Kanhai, Norman Gifford and Ian Bell among them, over the years.
Brian Halford reports.
Leicester City winning the Premier League this year was not the most amazing triumph ever recorded by a sports team. It was the second most amazing – behind Warwickshire’s County Championship success of 1911.
That triumph, as the Bears won the championship for the first time, came from nowhere as dynamic captain Frank Foster transformed a drifting, ageing rabble of a team into champions. And the transformation began at Old Trafford.
Warwickshire had started the season against Surrey at The Oval where, under the captaincy of Charlie Cowan, an amiable former naval officer but mediocre cricketer, they were all out for 62 and 87 and beaten by an innings in a day and a half. Cowan bagged a pair.
The humiliating defeat forced the club committee into action. Foster, a brilliant 22-year-old all-rounder was appointed captain with immediate effect – starting with a trip to Manchester to play Lancashire.
Foster’s first act as skipper was to win the toss and choose to bat. His second was to bag a duck as the Bears made a moderate 201. A confident, experienced Lancashire side then went into the bat and soon encountered the first sign that Foster’s captaincy was touched by genius.
The great Johnny Tyldesley, an England regular, habitually scored heavily against the Bears and again started well, moving smoothly to 13, before, to everyone’s astonishment, Foster threw the ball to young batsman Jack Parsons.
Parsons hardly ever bowled. He barely knew how to. The spectators, and no doubt Tyldesley, wondered what on earth was going on.
Parsons’ sixth ball was a dreadful, slow, leg-side long-hop and the great batsman, unsure whether to hit it for four or six, gloved it to wicketkeeper Tiger Smith.
Lancashire were bowled out for 155 after which the Bears piled up 369, thanks largely to Crowther Charlesworth’s aggressive century and Billy Quaife’s passive 90. Just days after starting the season with humiliation at the hands of one of the ‘Big Six’, the Bears were within sight of a crushing victory over another.
They closed it out as Tyldesley again went cheaply, this time bowled by big Frank Field (who as always, being a true gent, commiserated with the dismissed batsman as he departed). Foster and Sydney Santall were also among the wickets and the Bears won by 137 runs.
The amazing turnaround had begun. Four months later, on a damp afternoon in Northampton, the players having been up all the previous night drinking and playing billiards and cards to relax as rain threatened to intervene next day, Warwickshire clinched the championship. It’s an epic story that more than matches the Foxes’ ascent to the Premier League summit.
Every time the championship fixtures are published, Warwickshire fans should hope that the Bears’ second game of the season is Lancashire away. It’s a good omen.
That was the case in 1911 and the Bears ended up champions. And similarly in 1972 when victory at Old Trafford was delivered by one great innings and some collectively nifty seam-bowling.
After Lancashire chose to bat, Steve Rouse (five for 47) and Norman McVicker (three for 48) rattled them out for 181. Rohan Kanhai then exceeded that total on his own, bullying the strong home attack, led by Peter Lever and Peter Lee, for a brutal 199 with three sixes and 30 fours. McVicker added 65 valuable runs to his wickets to lift the Bears to 371 for seven, a lead of 190.
Lancashire’s top order was a high quality unit – Barry Wood, David Lloyd, Harry Pilling, Clive Lloyd – but no match for David Brown (five for 49), supported by Rouse and McVicker who chipped in with another two wickets apiece.
The win proved to be the springboard to championship glory and Lancashire were to suffer again that season at the hands of Kanhai. The brilliant West Indian helped himself to the little matter of 219 against them when the Bears completed the double with victory at Edgbaston.
Victory at Old Trafford in the second game of the season was not part of the plot when Warwickshire won the championship in 2004 – but the Bears’ game there featured some spectacular batting.
Most of all from Ian Bell who struck two centuries in the match as part of a purple patch which within weeks was to take him to his Test debut.
As was the case surprisingly often during that triumphant season, the Bears’ batsmen faltered early on and it was 92 for four when Bell was joined at the crease by Dougie Brown. The fifth-wicket pair added 254 – a ground record for that wicket – as Bell made 112 and Brown 162.
After Warwickshire totalled 410, Lancashire replied with 412 before the Bears went in again with the draw looking hot favourite. So it proved as Bell batted with even greater fluency second time around for 181, denied a double-century only when he was run out by Dominic Cork’s direct hit from mid-wicket.
Bell had arrived in Manchester from Guildford, where he underpinned the Bears’ victory over Surrey with scores of 155 and 96 not out, only failing to score two centuries there because he did not go out of his way to chase the runs he needed for his ton as victory was closed out.
Then from Manchester it was back to Edgbaston where Kent were on the receiving end of another ton, one of the finest of Bell’s career, constructed in excellent bowling conditions. The England selectors had seen enough. Next stop for Bell was The Oval and his Test debut against West Indies.
If he had shown a little less selflessness at Guildford, of course, he would have entered Test cricket on the back of five successive first-class centuries.
Spin was king when Warwickshire visited Old Trafford in 1983. The Bears won a thriller by six wickets with three balls to spare after captain Norman Gifford has trussed up the Lancashire batsmen with match-figures of 59.3-30-73-8.
Lancashire’s first innings was restricted to 216 by experienced pair Gifford (24.3-8-42-3) and Chris Old (28-9-31-4). On a wicket offering some help to all bowlers, Dennis Amiss then batted with great technical skill for 88 and, supported by Asif Din (65) and Old (62), ensured the Bears a useful lead of 112 before Gifford got to work again on a wearing wicket. His 35-22-31-5 confounded all but Frank Hayes, whose 85 ate up enough to time to ensure that Warwickshire would have to keep an eye on the clock when they set out in pursuit of their small target of 138.
With a maximum of 26 overs at their disposal they appeared to be cruising when David Smith (53) and Andy Lloyd (45) added 105 for the first wicket before a wobble stretched the equation out almost to the very end. The Bears sneaked home in the last over with fifth-wicket pair Geoff Humpage and Old together.