2019-04-13 by W.M.
Dominic Sibley eyes fifth successive century to keep Warwickshire afloat
Warwickshire 136 for 3 (Sibley 60* trail Kent 504 for 9 dec (Robinson 143, Crawley 108, Kuhn 72 by 368 runs
If the secret of success in cricket is timing, Dominic Sibley should go a long way in the game.
Up until last September, he endured a run of form so wretched that Warwickshire were desperately close to dropping him. His first 11 innings of the 2018 first-class season had produced only one score above 20 and none of 50. After 20 innings, he had reached 30 only three times and had suffered 11 single-figure scores.
But he resumes on the third day of this match, requiring just 40 more runs to record a fifth century in a fifth successive first-class match. At a time when England are searching for a new top-order, that is a run of form that may prove hard to ignore.
That’s not to say that Sibley is ready for Test cricket at this stage. The first three centuries in that sequence – at the end of last season – were made in Division Two of the County Championship (against Leicestershire, Sussex, and Kent respectively, while the next was made against a fine attack, but on a flat track, in the match against the MCC in Dubai. This was the first innings of that run in Division One of the Championship. But the first Test of the summer – against Ireland – is not until late July. By then, Sibley and co. should have had the chance to play 10 Championship games. If the avalanche of runs continues, he must have a chance of selection.
Warwickshire were grateful for his contribution here. After Kent had set a challenging first-innings total of over 500, Warwickshire had slipped to 84 for 3 by the time Adam Hose joined Sibley in a fourth-wicket stand that is currently worth 52. Will Rhodes’ attempt to steer a wide one through point had resulted in an under-edge, Liam Banks had been drawn into driving at a wide one which left him further and Sam Hain received a fine ball, albeit one he could have left, that jagged away. “Their bowlers asked questions on off stump more often than ours,” Warwickshire captain Jeetan Patel admitted. “We have a lot of improvements to make, especially with the ball.”
Sibley is not a classically beautiful batsman. But nor was Alastair Cook and he seemed to manage pretty well, really. And while their games are not especially similar – Sibley would appear to have a wider range of stroke – they do both seem to share an ability to concentrate for long periods and an insatiable appetite for runs. So while this innings has been largely characterised by the solidity of Sibley’s forward defence and the sound judgement of which deliveries to leave outside off stump, it has also been studded with some outstanding forces off the back foot, the odd powerful drive and one rasping pull shot.
That Warwickshire find themselves so far behind in this match is due, in part, to an excellent maiden century from Kent’s Ollie Robinson. Coming into this game with a previous first-class best of 26, he produced a high-class innings to justify his selection. While he was dropped once – on 82, Sibley at slip spurning a third chance of the innings off the deserving Ryan Sidebottom – he displayed some sparkling strokeplay to underline his potential.
Kent are spoiled for choice when it comes to keepers. Not only do they have Sam Billings, who is currently at the IPL, but they have Adam Rouse and Jordan Cox, too. While Billings is pretty much certain to reclaim the gloves when he returns, both Rouse and Cox scored centuries for the seconds in recent days and Robinson is a good enough batsman to have played as a specialist in a few games at the end of last year. You don’t have to be a genius to work out that at least one of them may have to leave to pursue their career and, while it is Robinson who is out of contract at the end of the season – Warwickshire actually made an approach for him last year – it is Rouse who is currently attracting the interest. Sussex are understood to be one of the interested clubs.
“It was just relief when I got to the century, just to have proved to myself that I can do it,” Robinson said. “It was a nice occasion and to have dad here as well made it extra special. It is a lovely pitch to bat on.”
While Henry Brookes struck early on the second morning – Darren Stevens leg before leaving one – Robinson’s strokeplay ensured Kent not only full batting bonus points but an all-but-impregnable match position. While Warwickshire continued to beat the outside edge upon occasions, there were too many release deliveries that prevented the build-up of pressure.
Kent, by contrast, bowled much tighter. While their bowlers are slower, they are also more disciplined and there were times when Warwickshire had to grind out their reply. Sibley has already batted 53 overs for his 60. Matt Milnes, bowling an impeccable line and length and generating just a little movement as the game progressed under lights, was the pick of an admirably tight attack.
Warwickshire still have a lot of work ahead of them to save this game and are without the all-round depth that had bailed them out so often in recent seasons. But the pitch remains good – Patel called it a “Test quality wicket” – and in Sibley they have a man who looks determined to take advantage of it.