Warwickshire 13 for 1 trail Derbyshire 189 (Critchley 64, Reece 63, Norwell 5-32) by 176 runs
When people suggest there are too many first-class counties, Derbyshire tend to be one of those they highlight.
And, much as some of us might want to refute that, you can see why. They’ve only had two seasons in the top division of the County Championship – 2000 and 2013 – and the last time one of their players was selected to play for England was in 2002. Yes, Gary Ballance and Ian Blackwell played for Derbyshire and England. But the last serving Derbyshire player to win England selection was Dominic Cork. And if you’re not challenging for trophies or producing many quality players, well, what’s the point?
They don’t have a great record against Warwickshire, either. They haven’t beaten them in a first-class game since 1993 and have only played them three times in the last decade.
So, this is a big year for Derbyshire. They are, in some senses, exactly the sort of team this new Championship structure was designed to encourage. After years of slipping dangerously close to irrelevance, they have a chance to show that, with a bit of extra incentive, they can mix it with the best. And, in sharing a group with Essex, they really are in with the best.
It didn’t start well. After little more than half an hour, they were 7 for 3 with three of their top four having been dismissed for ducks. You would expect any surface at this time of year to provide some assistance to seamers, but there was nothing outlandish on show here. Indeed, this seems to be a better pitch than anyone had any right to expect after the relentlessly cold weather in recent days. After the immaculate Oliver Hannon-Dalby – whose first seven-over spell cost just three runs – returned to surprise Wayne Madsen with a bit of extra bounce, Derbyshire were 40 for 5.
Luis Reece and Matt Critchley provided some resistance in adding 93 for the fifth-wicket. While Reece’s innings was, for the most part, a dogged affair – not that there’s anything wrong with that – Critchley batted with a fluency and elegance that nobody could match on the day. At one stage, he took Craig Miles for four successive boundaries – three of them gorgeous drives – and reached his fifty in just 58 balls.
Although neither could strictly be said to have come through the Derbyshire system – Lancashire played a more significant role in the development of both players – they are the sort of players around whom the club could mount a decent campaign this summer.
But neither of them progressed much beyond 60. And with nobody else in the team reaching 15, it left Derbyshire without a batting bonus point and as much as 100 runs short of a par score. It was, in short, an underwhelming start to their challenge.
To be fair to Derbyshire, they were unfortunate to run into Liam Norwell in top form. Some of Warwickshire’s coaches believe he is the second quickest bowler on their staff, after Olly Stone, and here he generated surprisingly sharp pace while maintaining a probing line and length. He claimed two wickets in his first over – Billy Godleman forced into playing at one and Anuj Dal missing a straight one – and returned later returned to break the Reece-Critchley stand.
Going round the wicket, he brought an edge from the left-handed Reece with another that forced a stroke and bounced a little, before Critchley pushed at one outside off. In between times, Harvey Hosein appeared to be hurried by one that bounced more than anticipated and was also caught in the cordon. It was the 12th five-wicket haul of Norwell’s first-class career and his second in six games since joining Warwickshire in 2019. Warwickshire’s catching was excellent despite the chilly conditions.
Norwell admitted he had been nervous before play. While there’s little doubting his ability, he had struggled with injury in recent years – this is just his seventh first-class game since the start of 2018 – and he knows that, aged 29, he is running out of opportunities to show what he can do. This game came exactly 10 years since his first-class debut; a game in which he claimed 6 for 46 against Derbyshire.
But he was preferred to Henry Brookes in this match and is rated by Warwickshire’s director of cricket, Paul Farbrace, as a key reason the club avoided relegation in 2019.
“I just want to repay the faith Warwickshire have shown in me,” Norwell said. “I’ve had a pretty right time of things over the last few years; this is the first time I’ve been fit for the start of the season since 2017.
“The coach [Mark Robinson] has given me confidence and told me to relax. He’s told us to enjoy it and tried to instil some belief. I’m not looking too far ahead: I just want to stay fit and put in some good performances to repay that faith.”
While Will Rhodes, leaving a straight one, fell early in reply, there was good news for Warwickshire off the pitch, too. Their replacement overseas player, Hanuma Vihari, arrived in the country around lunchtime and will now quarantine in Birmingham in the hope of being available for next week’s game against Nottinghamshire. Warwickshire also expect Stone, who missed this game as part of his planned workload management ahead of the Test series against New Zealand, to play next week. They hope he will play four Championship matches before that Test series. Ryan Sidebottom is currently coming back from injury but is expected to play club cricket this weekend.
While Vihari is, for now, planning on playing no more than three games, he is expected to be available for more. Indeed, with little sign of progress in Pieter Malan’s attempts to obtain a visa, there has to be a chance that Vihari will play until he is required by India.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo