Warwickshire have returned to Edgbaston following their 13-day pre-season tour to Cape Town.
And it was all smiles as Gary Barwell and his groundstaff continued to prepare the first pitch of the summer, ahead of Monday’s friendly with Worcestershire (details TBC).
The Mother City proved the perfect backdrop as the Bears took their winter practice out on the South African grass.
After months of graft in the Edgbaston Cricket Centre, a travelling party of 25 players enjoyed a blend of outdoor practice with four T20 fixtures and three days of red-ball action.
Starting in Stellenbosch, the picturesque facilities of the university were used as middle net practice for the first couple of days. Known as Maties Sport, the Coetzenburg venue, played an important role in the development of a young Jonathan Trott who studied there.
Moving to Newlands, a stone’s throw from the iconic cricket stadium, the Bears used Claremont Cricket Club as a base. Western Province Premier League and Premier League T20 trophy champions this year, the ground, which has two pitches, also played host to the Over 50s Men’s World Cup, which took place at the same time.
The opening fixture against Northants Steelbacks on a double-header Sunday saw a familiar T20 tale as Sam Hain, at his destructive best, fired 70 (43 balls, 7×4, 2×6) to lead the Bears home with six wickets in hand.
Winning the toss and bowling first, Alex Davies’ side restricted their fellow North Groupers to 160 for seven with wickets coming from George Garrett (2), OHD (2), Jacob Bethell, Jake Lintott and Craig Miles.
In reply, Hain was supported by Alex Davies (17) and Michael Burgess (20), before Miles’ 18 off nine balls saw the Bears home with four balls remaining.
In the second fixture of the double-header against Yorkshire Vikings, the Bears batted first, reaching 180 for seven, thanks to a 105-run opening stand between Rob Yates (60 runs, 41 balls, 5×4, 3×6) and Davies (37 runs, 25 balls, 2×4, 2×6).
With the ball, wickets were shared with Ed Barnard (2), Manraj Johal (2), Will Rhodes (2), Bethell, Henry Brookes, Dan Mousley and Liam Norwell halting the White Rose to 154 all out.
A couple of days later at Constantia, the Bears did the double over Loughborough University to ensure four wins from four.
Reaching 113 for seven, courtesy of Rob Yates’ 61 (56 balls, 5×4, 1×6), Henry Brookes and Mousley took three wickets each in the first game to dismiss Loughborough for 69.
A few hours later it was Hain, who once again, stole the show. Scoring 79 (55 balls, 9×4, 1×6), the Bears struck 175 for four before turning the screw with the ball.
Restricting Loughborough to seven for three after just overs, the East Midlands outfit were bowled out for just 64 with wickets from Garrett (3), OHD (3), Bethell, Miles and Mousley.
That would be the end of the T20 part of the tour, with all focus turning to the red ball. But whilst the weather turned temperamental, the Bears were able to get in the overs and put in some strong performances.
Yorkshire, opting to bat first in the two-day friendly, reached 244 for nine with Yates taking three, Danny Briggs and Garrett two and Barnard and Rhodes one in cooler conditions.
The following day, Burgess showed his range, with a devastating 84 (67 balls, 10×4, 2×6), with Yates (53) and Rhodes (49) also helping to push the Bears from 25 for four to 246 for nine. Batting again late in the day, the Bears added 61 for four, before the light slowly diminished behind the mountains.
With the forecast making another two-day friendly difficult, Warwickshire and Yorkshire opted to split Monday’s play.
Heading out to Groot Drakenstein Games Club, a beautiful venue near the wine regions of Franschhoek, the two teams were met by jaw-dropping views of the mountains.
But to their credit, Warwickshire showed no signs of tourist life, getting straight into bat and scoring 275 for four off just 47.5 overs.
Led by an opening stand of 166 between Davies (94) and Yates (48), who both retired out, the Bears put the Yorkshire bowling unit to the sword with Dan Mousley adding 68.
In reply, the Headingley outfit could only muster 69 for six off 37 overs, before the light faded once again. Nevertheless, a blend of tight bowling and exceptional fielding showed the readiness of Mark Robinson’s side.
Chris Rushworth, returning from a calf issue, bowled seven overs for 12 runs, whilst OHD looked like a bowler in mid-season form with figures of 10-6-6-2.
Craig Miles (2 for 23) and Liam Norwell (2 for 15) took the other wickets as pre-season closed on a high note.
With players in form, no serious injuries and Hassan Ali arriving soon, the Bears look in a confident place.
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