Warwickshire: Ashley Giles keen to get Bears moving again in Championship
|Specsavers County Championship|
|Opening round: Friday, 7 April - Monday, 11 April Final round: Monday, 25 September - Friday, 28 September|
|Coverage: Ball-by-ball BBC local radio commentary of every match in Division One and Division Two, plus live text coverage and daily reports on the BBC Sport website.|
When Warwickshire last won the County Championship in 2012, they did it predominantly without their best two players, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott.
Both spent most of the summer on England duty, Bell playing in just four of the Bears' 16 Championship games, while Trott made just two appearances.
The emerging Chris Woakes, now the one current Bears player generally guaranteed an England place, played in half their matches.
That leaves 10 players who played in the vast majority of the Bears' 16 games, seven of whom are still at the club.
Add in the renewed availability of Trott and Bell - and it is little wonder why Bears boss Ashley Giles had such a feeling of familiarity when he chose to return to Edgbaston from Lancashire this winter.
When he left at the end of that 2012 season to take up a new role as England's one-day coach, Giles left behind a team led by Jim Troughton.
Now he still has the retired Troughton as his right-hand man, as first-team coach, working with skipper Bell, now in his second season as Bears captain and looking more and more like an afterthought for an England call.
"We know each other well and trust each other and all have the best interests of Warwickshire at heart," Giles told BBC Sport, ahead of Friday's County Championship opener against his native Surrey at The Oval. "They don't get much more right, do they?
"To be home, in a familiar place with familiar faces around me, I feel happy and that makes a massive difference to the way I do my job.
"I had a great relationship with Trouts as coach and captain. Now it's as coach and sports director. We can have some honest and open conversations and at times we won't agree. But I'm under no illusions that the hard work starts here.
"There's never a problem during the winter. Everyone loves each other and gets on a house like on fire. But, once you start playing competitive cricket, the pressure really ramps up."
The 2012 title-winning squad
- Warwickshire won their County Championship title for the seventh time when Ashley Giles, who had also helped win it as a Bears player in 1995 and 2004, steered them to top spot in 2012.
- Only two players who formed the spine of the 2012 side are no longer at the club - veteran all-rounder Darren Maddy, who retired the following season, and opener Varun Chopra, who was allowed to rejoin Essex at the end of last season.
- Jim Troughton, captain in 2012, is now the first-team coach, having retired with a long-standing back injury in 2015.
- Of those who remain, Warwickshire have nine players in their squad who have turned 30 - Jeetan Patel (36), Rikki Clarke (35), Jonathan Trott (35), Ian Bell (34), Tim Ambrose (34), Ian Westwood (34), William Porterfield (31) Chris Wright (31) and Keith Barker (30).
- All-rounder Barker was last season's County Championship Most Valuable Player, thanks to his 608 runs (including one century and four half-centuries) at an average of 32 and 59 wickets at 23.13 apiece.
Bears stronger than when Giles first became boss
Giles' main task, as he knows, will be judged on how results go. After all, last summer's One-Day Cup victory at Lord's was still not enough to keep previous boss Dougie Brown in a job, thanks to the Bears' poor form in the Championship and T20.
And Giles is non-committal on the Bears' chances in all three formats, other than to say "any club of our size would hope to be up there".
He is reluctant to make comparison with what he inherited when Mark Greatbatch left as coach in 2007. But he does admit that the club is stronger than the one he returned to as director of cricket, just a month after being forced to retire from playing.
"I took over a team who were bottom of everything, who'd been relegated twice (in the Championship and the one-day league), who then became the best team in the country," said Giles, who is also quick to point out how much of his job is planning for the future.
Giles' job to bring in the champions of tomorrow
"We currently have this big stock of senior players and a fair amount of 19-to-21-year-olds and very little in between," he said. "We need to be asking serious questions of the young group. We need to see improvement and we need to see it quickly. And, if we get, it, they'll get an opportunity.
"Internal development has to be our focus. That's not a new thing. It's just something traditionally that we've not done well at.
"In the team of the nineties, a lot of those guys came from outside. The balance is making sure we bring players through our system. But that system, if you compare the 150 clubs we have down here to maybe four to five hundred in both Yorkshire and Lancashire, it's difficult to compete on a like-for-like basis.
"It's why we have to be smart. The 2012 team was about bringing the right people in and making them part of our culture. If you've got the right people, if they're from here, Worcestershire or Timbuktu, then you can win things."
"I felt for Lancashire," said Giles. "We'd started something that we were two years into a five-year plan.
"We'd got some very exciting youngsters coming through, we won promotion, stayed up, won a trophy. We did all the things we wanted to do. They've got a really good launchpad.
"But last year it became clear that my personal circumstances were becoming more and more challenging. It was nothing to do with anyone up there because I really enjoyed my time with Lancashire,
"They now become competition this year. It will be interesting going back to Old Trafford and having them back here."
View from the Bears dressing room
- Ian Bell: "I desperately want to get back playing for England but also love playing for Warwickshire and I want to do that as long as I can. Hopefully into my early forties if my body's still good. I feel like I am batting well enough in all formats. Above all I want Warwickshire to be succeed. We want guys who are desperate to play for Warwickshire. The standards I set will be high, even though I might nag them and push them I will be doing it because I want to raise the bar. I will push them as hard as I possibly can."
- Rikki Clarke: "With the squad we have got, we have under-achieved a little bit in the last few years. But, within that, we have still won trophies and that says something about the quality we have here. Even though we were a little bit inconsistent in the championship last year, the stats show we are the most consistently-performing side across the formats since 2011, in terms of winning trophies and top-four finishes."
- Keith Barker: "There's a really good feeling around the place with Ash and Trouts back together as they were in 2012 when we won the Championship and played some really good consistent cricket. All the senior players know Ash and the way he operates - and I think it's been a bit of an eye-opener for the younger guys being around him."