By Connor Steel
WARWICKSHIRE CRICKET pulled off a historic victory to avoid relegation from the County Championship’s top tier as they beat Hampshire in their final match of this 2022 season, sending Yorkshire down to Division Two in the process of securing a thrilling five run victory late on day four. Bowler Liam Norwell was the hero for the Bears as he took nine wickets in Hampshire’s second innings as they pushed for victory, which didn’t look likely on day 3 with rain / bad light affecting a majority of play that saw less than 75 overs across 2 days.
Play started in the afternoon session after rain showers as Warwickshire openers Rob Yates and Dom Sibley batted well against the new ball, Hampshire’s bowlers enjoying little success despite some brilliant deliveries from Keith Barker versus his former club. The batting pair rattled along at a brisk rate with Yates passing his fifty from 90 balls as he scored ten boundaries including a flicked drive off Ian Holland; Sibley impressing on his final appearance for the Bears as he joined in the run-scoring with his personal half century from 99 balls.
This partnership yielded 129 runs from thirty-eight overs either side of the tea intervals, Hampshire making a welcome breakthrough when Sibley (54) tickled through a leg-side catch to wicketkeeper Aneurin Donald off Holland’s out-swinging delivery. And the same bowler immediately struck again as he dismissed Alex Davies LBW for a golden duck, Sam Hain joining Yates at the crease to see out the remainder of the first day’s play; reaching 138-2 as dark light closed in the Birmingham skies with another fourteen overs lost to the weather.
Day two started with three weather-related interruptions as Warwickshire reached 157-2 at the lunch interval after forty-five minutes of play; the hosts using their frustration to full effect as Yates advanced to his century off 179 balls featuring another nine stroked boundaries. Hain looked in good nick down the other end as he added forty-four off seventy nine in a partnership of 83; a stand that ended following another rain shower as Holland bowled Yates (104) to leave the hosts on 216-3 after securing their deserved 1st batting bonus point.
James Fuller then dismissed Hain caught behind to leave home scores on 216-4 before a quick partnership of 58 runs including multiple boundaries between Will Rhodes (28*) and Dan Mousley (27) saw Warwickshire reach 272-4 off seventy overs before more rain; the hosts desperate to move this encounter forward as they declared with other scores going their way. And although Felix Organ was lucky to escape a dropped catch off Olly Hammon-Dalby, the visitors surviving a mini-spell before the fifth weather stoppage closed day two.
A sunny third morning awaited the two teams as Hampshire advanced to 23-0 before losing their first wicket, Organ edging off Norwell after Holland had been dropped at 1st slip. But Holland (17) wasn’t to get a second reprieve as he was soon dismissed by Will Rhodes, whilst Joe Weatherley (14) and Gubbins (0) quickly fell as the visitors were left struggling at 62-4. This soon became 92-5 when Norwell had Ben Brown (9) caught in the deep for Warwickshire, who suddenly had renewed hopes with their fielders now taking every chance.
But these hopes briefly faded as James Vince and Donald (36) hit a quick-fire partnership of 75 runs in just eleven overs of play, including eight boundaries before the latter was caught off Henry Brookes in the deep. Another welcome stand of sixty-three from 24 overs then followed for Hampshire between Barker and Vince; the in-form captain ultimately falling two runs short of his century as he edged behind off Danny Briggs for 98 after nearly three hours at the crease to leave the visitors behind on 230-7 after sixty-three overs of bowling.
It got worse for Warwickshire as Barker and Fuller came together with the pair adding another quick 71 runs in sixteen overs to haul their side into the lead; alongside securing two batting points in their personal battle for second place behind Surrey. They hit multiple boundaries but their fun was ended when Barker slammed one to midwicket and departed for 76, whilst Brad Wheal was dismissed for a 10 ball duck as the last batters struggled; Hampshire soon all out for 311 when Fuller was out for twenty-six from 50 with a seaming delivery.
Behind by 41 runs and facing sixteen overs until close Warwickshire chose to attack, making a solid start as they added thirty runs in their first nine overs. But they quickly lost two wickets within eleven balls as Yates was caught off Mohammed Abbas and night-watchman Brookes was caught off the low leg-spin delivery of Crane to leave the hosts on 33-2;. This is where Hampshire’s bowling momentum seemed to fade as Sibley and Davis survived the final overs of a complete day 3; adding another potentially crucial 30 unbeaten runs.
Day four began with Davies and Sibley extending this useful partnership to 66 runs before the latter perished looping a simple catch off Crane to leave Warwickshire on 97-3 after twenty-four overs. A defensive field trap enabled Rhodes (13) to be dismissed quickly to leave the hosts on 113-4 and this soon became 142-6 just 5 overs later; Dan Mousley (11) and Jacob Bethell (2) both falling whilst trying to accelerate the run scoring in order to set a potential chase for victory with the overs simply running out on their hopes of a brilliant victory.
This eagerness to score runs resulted in the seventh wicket as Hain chased a quick single to the mid-wicket and was punished by away fielder Vince, whose direct throw flattened the stumps from twenty yards. Briggs (11) then smashed a six before he was caught off Fuller, the same bowler yorking Norwell for a first ball duck to leave scores on 173-9. And after passing his half century for the second time in this match before making his way to seventy-seven; Sibley was last to fall as he was trapped LBW by Holland to finish on 177 all out.
Chasing 139 to win their final game of the campaign it didn’t start brilliantly for Hampshire as Organ (5) was caught off Hannon-Dalby and Norwell bowled Holland (3), leaving them struggling on 14-2. This became 33-3 when Weatherley became the second such victim of Nowell for 10 as Gubbins and Vince come together at the crease; the captain hitting 3 boundaries before departing for 15 caught off Norwell. And the fast bowler’s fourth wicket came after a break as he returned to trap Brown on his crease, the visitors now rocking at 73-5.
Warwickshire were daring to dream as they reduced Hampshire to 91-7 with Norwell taking his fifth and sixth wicket; Donald (12) and Barker (4) the two men to fall. But Gubbins was still not-out and was joined by Fuller with the pair adding 33 unbeaten runs to take their side within fifteen of victory as Norwell looked to be tiring, only to prove everybody one. He had Gubbins LBW for 46 and castled Fuller’s stumps as he departed for 22 off twenty-one balls; sealing a simply stunning victory as he trapped Abbas leg-before for his ninth dismissal.
Coupled with other results on Thursday afternoon Hampshire finished third behind Lancashire and Surrey in the final standings; ending the red ball season having won 9 games, drawing one and losing 4 others in their points tally of 224. For Warwickshire the points enabled them to finish three ahead of relegation just one year after winning the title in 2021, capping this memorable year at Edgbaston that has seen the ground host the Commonwealth Games, England International matches and famously the Vitality Blast won by Hampshire.
PICTURED BY WARWICKSHIRE CRICKET: Liam Norwell is mobbed as he produces a simply outstanding bowling spell to save his county from relegation, sealing a five run victory over Hampshire late on final day.