Neil Snowball believes the 2017 Specsavers County Championship will be “phenomenal” – and a real treat for spectators.
Warwickshire’s chief executive wants to see his own county challenge hard for the title. And with Ashley Giles back as sport director and Jim Troughton appointed first-team coach, the Bears are eyeing a serious tilt at bringing the championship to Edgbaston for the eighth time, and first since 2012.
With eight teams in Division One, there are no weak teams in there so every game will be a competitive game of cricket and I hope people take the chance to come along and see some of the best players in the world playing red-ball cricket.Neil Snowball
But Snowball knows that a hard road lies ahead for captain Ian Bell and his team in one of the most intense and demanding of sporting competitions. The standard of championship cricket in recent years is widely deemed to have been higher than ever – and the Warwickshire chief believes it will improve still further this year following the reduction of Division One to eight teams, all of which will start the season believing they can win the title.
“The County Championship this year is just going to be phenomenal,” Snowball said. “With eight teams in Division One there are no weak teams in there so every game will be a competitive game of cricket and I hope people take the chance to come along and see some of the best players in the world playing red-ball cricket.
“Here at Warwickshire we have a strong squad, but that is just like last year when a lot of people tipped us to do really well and we didn’t. I know that is something that Ash, Jim and the guys have been working very hard on during the winter.
“We want to challenge hard and, on paper, we have got an outstanding championship side. But I think it’s going to be a very tough and really interesting championship.
“Middlesex are very strong and will want to retain their title. Yorkshire will be very tough to beat as always. Somerset will be smarting from the way they lost out at the death last season, a little bit like us in 2011 when the guys came back and won it in 2012.
“Somerset will be incredibly determined to win it. Surrey have underperformed in recent years but came strong in the second half of last season and have bolstered their ranks with his some high-profile signings. There are so many contenders.
“On the flip side, with two out of eight teams being relegated, that means two good sides will go down to Division Two at the end of the season. I’m not aware of a 25% churn in any other professional sport and I just hope that it doesn’t result in defensive tactics with teams trying to avoid defeat rather than pushing hard to win matches.”
Warwickshire’s followers will be hoping for more from their team in the Specsavers County Championship than last season after a disappointing sixth-place last year. The year 2016 was by no means a failure for the Bears, who won the Royal London Cup, but their inconsistency in the other two formats led to changes at the helm.
And while the club prepares for a groundbreaking season as an international venue, during which it will host the inaugural floodlit Test match in England (against West Indies in August), Snowball shares the desire of Warwickshire’s supporters to see the county challenging for trophies on all fronts.
“We are looking ahead to the 2017 season with real optimism,” he said. “The squad has been working really hard through the winter, as you would expect of professional athletes, but they have been putting in extra hard yards and the early signs are the combination of Ashley, Jim and Ian working together is a really strong team.
“We have no God-given right to win cricket matches just because we are Warwickshire, but with the squad we have, and the excellent preparation and leadership, I think we can look forward with a lot of excitement.”