Warwickshire's Will Rhodes: Have fun and reap the rewards

Skipper Will Rhodes is urging Warwickshire’s players to try and enjoy themselves as they look to complete a remarkable transformation by clinching the County Championship title.

Will Rhodes
Will Rhodes

The Bears host Somerset at Edgbaston, starting Tuesday, still very much part of a thrilling tussle at the top of Division One.

Warwickshire, who once again have England all-rounder Chris Woakes available, went into the final round of fixtures two points behind leaders Hampshire, with Lancashire and Nottinghamshire sat just behind. All four could still be crowned champions in what promises to be the most thrilling finish to a domestic season in years.

While obviously eager for his team to grasp their chance, Rhodes believes the pressure is in some ways off the Bears after a year which has already exceeded expectations.

Warwickshire went into the campaign having won just three matches in red-ball cricket since 2018 and with head coach Mark Robinson only arriving at Edgbaston in January, a transitional summer would have been understandable. Instead, it could end with the county’s eighth Championship title.

“We didn’t have a head coach employed when we started pre-season last November,” recalls Rhodes. “With the season we’d had, guys came in not really knowing what the future would hold.

“Now we are standing here four days of cricket away from potentially winning a trophy. It is remarkable.

“Whether we win or lose this week, it has been a fantastic effort. We have won five games this year, which is more than the previous two seasons combined. There are positives there. This would be the icing on top of the cake. Guys are just very, very excited now.”

Rhodes credits Robinson, who won seven trophies during a decade with Sussex and coached England’s women to World Cup glory in 2017, with helping restore a taste for victory and a “never-say-die” mentality at Edgbaston.

An early season win at Nottinghamshire, when the Bears chased down 332 to win, set the tone and was one of three final day victories. Wicketkeeper Michael Burgess and opener Rob Yates are among those to have emerged as consistent Championship performers, while the recruitment of spinner Danny Briggs has proven something of a masterstroke and helped fill the void left by Jeetan Patel’s retirement.

“It was only in March we had our first training session with Mark,” explained Rhodes. “He really only observed for the first couple of weeks, which in hindsight was brilliant.

“Once it came to the games he ramped it up and everyone knew what he was about.

“All he talks about is winning. When you drill that mentality into guys who have a lot of potential but have perhaps not got over the line in terms of winning games of cricket, they will start doing those extra yards.

“This game now is the easy part. The 13 before it were the hard work and this is the one where we can go out and enjoy it and put on a show for the members.

“It is very exciting. There is a buzz around the club and not just the players but the staff in the office, the members. It is almost like a cup final but a very long, tiring four-day one.”

With Lancashire hosting Hampshire in Liverpool, the Bears head into the match knowing fate is not entirely in their own hands and Rhodes admitted they will have “half an eye” on events elsewhere.

But the primary focus must be on beating a Somerset team who, though themselves out of the running, remain formidable.

“A team with nothing to play for are very dangerous. We have to be wary,” said Rhodes.

“There will be a lot of nerves, for sure. I don’t think there will be too many on day one but I think they may kick in a little later when there is an opportunity to win.

“We need to win this game to stay alive regardless of what happens at Liverpool. If we don’t do our job there is no point thinking about what is going to happen.”

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