Edgbaston and Warwickshire County Cricket Club have an illustrious history together spanning from 1886 up to the present day. Both have seen their fortunes rise and fall over the years but there has always been a strong bond found amidst the smell of linseed on willow and the feel of a leather bound cork ball that has kept the players and followers of that great game returning, ever hopeful of the spectacular play sure to be found in a game of cricket.
The Club was originally formed in 1882 in Leamington Spa and from the start the team showed promise, rising early to match the prowess of first class teams such as Surrey and Yorkshire. By 1884 Warwickshire were considered one of the best cricket clubs in England.
In 1886, the grounds of what was to become Edgbaston stadium were leased from Lord Calthorp. By 1902 the grounds were approved to host Test matches and as if to consecrate the ground, England played Australia later in the year.
After this initial success, the team saw a run of poor bowlers which dropped their status to the lower rungs of the cricketing tables. The waning success of the club was reflected in the development of the Stadium. Costs for improvements to the grounds including a 90 seat Press area and the erection of stands more than doubled the earnings of Warwickshire from its tour successes.
The (Second) Home of English Cricket
It wasn’t until 1946 that Warwickshire’s performance improved with the arrival of Tom Pritchard and the superb teamwork from both he and Eric Hollies. The combination of a strong attack from these two powerhouses of their generation coupled with more than adequate batting from Pritchard meant that Warwickshire went on to win the Championship in 1951.
At the same time, the first major improvements to Edgbaston’s grounds in the post-war period began to take place. A Scoreboard, Cricket School and the Pavilion Suite were installed giving cause, by 1961, for aficionados to cite the grounds and its facilities as second only to Lord’s Cricket Ground, a comparison that would be echoed again in the new millennium.
As fate would have it, the Warwickshire Bears, as they became known, suffered another couple of decades as outliers in the game. Despite some good finishes and winning the NatWest Trophy in 1989, the Bears true comeback did not materialise until 1993. Their record breaking score launched what was to become Warwickshire’s most dominant period in English cricket, seeing them win a further three trophies in 1994 alone.
The tremendous efforts from players such as Brian Lara who broke the world record for first class cricket whilst playing against Durham continued to set the pace for the club culminating in the 1997 win of the AXA league trophy.
Changes Along the Way
After a slight stumble over the next few years, the Bears continued their successes until a disastrous year in 2007 which saw the team relegated to the second division in two leagues. Whilst the team have failed to regain their former prowess in domestic cricket, they have seen some promising results in the Twenty20 (T20) series.
Under the tutelage of Darren Moody the Bears have managed to regain some dignified results reaching the quarter finals of the T20 competition. Sadly the 2013 season failed to see them qualify for the quarter finals, though the team did take the decision to modify their name to the Birmingham Bears for future T20 matches.
Whilst Edgbaston may have had a symbiotic relationship with its home team to begin with, it has gone from strength to strength as a venue, departing from the misfortunes of the Bears from their heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The stadium has since seen numerable and significant games from England’s ashes win over Australia in 2005 to India’s historic victory as ICC Champions in 2013.
In 2011 the England and Wales Cricketing board praised the facilities found at Edgbaston following the opening of their South and West stands. The ability of the club to continue their development of the site has led many to consider it much more spacious and modern than the true home of English Cricket, Lord’s.
As well as its formidable playing facilities, Edgbaston County Cricket Club also holds one of the UK’s largest and most important collections of cricketing memorabilia, matched only by its extensive cricketing library. In this regard, Edgbaston is widely accepted to be superior to Lord’s which by comparison seems cluttered and antique.
Visitors to the club are treated to a five minute film depicting key moments in both Edgbaston’s and the Bears’ history. Whilst for some, Lord’s will always remain the premiere venue in the UK, the history and modernity of the Edgbaston stadium firmly ensures that it remains for now, at least, a good second home to English cricket.