Warwickshire clinch title after Chris Woakes leads charge to sink Somerset

Sport

Chants of “You Bears” rung around Edgbaston as Warwickshire produced a stirring final-day performance to be crowned County Champions for the eighth time, beating a weary Somerset side and breaking the hearts of Lancashire in the process.

A crowd of nearly 2,000 witnessed a ruthless display from a bowling attack spearheaded by the local hero Chris Woakes but with no weak link to speak of. Somerset, their season having long since disintegrated, simply had no answers, the visitors blitzed for 154 in 52 overs after being set 273 to win in 79.

“These are the days you live for,” said Warwickshire’s head coach, Mark Robinson, after the captain, Will Rhodes, had pouched the winning catch and lifted the trophy. “Four-day cricket is alive and kicking. Anyone who didn’t think that, this week has given a reminder.”

The affable Robinson was keen to praise Lancashire, pipped by 3.5 points despite their heart-stopping one-wicket victory over Hampshire at Aigburth the previous evening, as well as his fellow Yorkshireman Rhodes, for helping to conjure this memorable finale.

It was an incendiary 44-ball 62 from Rhodes and an unbeaten 132 from Rob Yates that had allowed enough time for the wicket surge that followed after lunch.

Woakes scorched three for 39, including a snorter to bowl Craig Overton, Craig Miles three for 26 and the bustling Liam Norwell picked up a deserved second when the last man, Jack Brooks, fenced to gully.

“You dream of holding the winning catch and to claim the title is the pinnacle for every domestic player,” said Rhodes. “Tim Bresnan is lucky to win an Ashes and Woakesy to win a World Cup. But this is what you play the game for.”

The butterfly effect of the cancelled fifth Test brought Woakes back for the final two matches and he was possibly the difference, yet it was fitting that the wickets were shared on the last day. All told, Warwickshire have been a collective, with no batter past 1,000 runs or averaging more than 40, no bowler north of 50 wickets and no total in excess of 400.

There have been performances befitting champions along the way too, not least in April when they chased down 333 at Trent Bridge against a Nottinghamshire attack led by Stuart Broad, and then reeled in a target of 256 in 82 overs with eight balls to spare for a seven-wicket home win over Essex; Simon Harmer, a day-four specialist, went wicketless.

Paul Farbrace, the director of cricket, recruited shrewdly, hiring a proven winner as head coach in Robinson, a supposed white-ball specialist in Danny Briggs and Bresnan, who left Yorkshire in the autumn of his career but has provided a wise head, bucket hands and telling interventions with both bat and ball.

Norwell (49 wickets at 18) and Miles (37 at 21) were leaving presents signed by Ashley Giles before he departed for England in early 2019 and, along with Ollie Hannon-Dalby, the pair have offset the regular absences of Woakes and Olly Stone.

And in Yates a home-grown opener of some promise has emerged for a batting line-up that many feared may struggle after the retirements of Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott and with a regular source of runs, Dom Sibley, often with England. It was the 22-year-old’s fourth century of the season that granted Rhodes and his bowlers full licence to attack when their time came.

Briggs and Bresnan combined for the initial incision, the latter snaffling a superb reflex catch at slip when Tom Lammonby was cramped by one that spat out of the footmarks. It felt anomalous, the pitch docile up to this point, and when Somerset reached lunch on 32 for one, an afternoon of graft still looked on the cards.

Instead Warwickshire’s seamers tore through their opponents to the tune of six for 70 in the 26 overs before tea. Bresnan got things moving immediately, Ben Green strangled down leg for 14, with the immaculate Woakes then finding the edge of a loose prod from Azhar Ali that flew to Sam Hain at second slip.

Miles and Norwell ensured no let-up when the pair needed a breather, the former removing Lewis Goldsworthy and Tom Abell in the cordon and the latter, having repeatedly beaten the outside edge in a fine spell, taking the direct route and yorking Steven Davies.

With Woakes vaporising the stumps of Overton and Jack Leach either side of tea the result was all but inevitable, Miles and Norwell then returning to deliver the last rites and spark an evening of raucous celebrations on the outfield.