Warwickshire 284 (Briggs 66, Harmer 4-89) and 256 for 3 (Yates 120*, Hain 60, Vihari 52) beat Essex 295 (Browne 68, Walter 66, ten Doeschate 56, Stone 4-89, Hannon-Dalby 4-73) and 244 (Harmer 82*, Lawrence 55, Miles 4-70) by 7 wickets
An outstanding century from Rob Yates helped Warwickshire inflict a first defeat on Essex in two years in a slow-burning classic that was decided at 6.10pm on the final evening, with just eight scheduled deliveries of the match remaining.
To put the result in perspective, it was Essex’s first defeat in first-class cricket since 2019 – they had gone 21 games without a loss – and the first time since Simon Harmer arrived in 2017 they had conceded more than two – yes two – to lose a game in the fourth innings. Warwickshire, by contrast, went into this game having won only one Division One Championship match (or Bob Willis Trophy match) at home since September 2016. Harmer has not conceded more runs in an innings when he has not taken a wicket in his period at the club.
This feels like a significant moment for Warwickshire. Their new coach, Mark Robinson, has only been with the club a few months but already there is an added resilience to their cricket. They have now pulled off two challenging run-chases on successive Sundays, demonstrating not just ability but character. The victory at Trent Bridge gave them confidence, no doubt, but Essex present the toughest test in Championship cricket at present. To go toe-to-toe with them for four days and prevail represents an impressive performance.
It will be especially pleasing to them that Yates and Hain should have played such a prominent role in the victory. Both are, to a greater or lesser extent, products of the club’s system – Hain was scouted as a 14-year-old; Yates has played for the county at every level from U10s – and are seen as foundation stones in building for the team’s future. As Robinson put it afterwards, “It feels like we’re heading in the right direction. We’re not perfect, but I hope we’ve made the club proud today.”
He described Yates’ innings – his second first-class century – as “a coming-of-age moment” and it was hard to disagree. A 21-year-old with a year left of his English Language degree at Birmingham University, he should have been studying over the weekend. He has an overdue essay to write on the significance of Gorilla chest beating – yes, really – but instead spent it defying the best team in England over the last few years in front of Alastair Cook, his boyhood hero. Nobody could have measured their innings better.
He had made an impression on Cook previously. Indeed, Cook had named him several months ago as one to watch when discussing players with the temperament and well-organised method to go on and play Test cricket. The calm way he judged this run-chase belied his youth and inexperience and suggested Warwickshire may have uncovered a gem. It would be a surprise if he is not still serving them in a decade.
He gave his only chance – a sharp edge that flew to slip – when the scores were level. Alastair Cook, of all people, was unable to hold on and Warwickshire scrambled the winning run. Essex, changing at the opposite end of the ground due to Covid protocols, made a point of escorting Yates to the pavilion to ensure he was afforded the ovation he deserved. It was a nice touch at the end of a match which has been played with terrific intensity.
“Cook was my idol growing up,” Yates said afterwards. “So to do it in front of him is very special.
“It wasn’t until we had about 30 more to get that I thought we had it won. Before then, I thought we had taken defeat out of the equation. But I felt focussed and the guys I batted with helped me through things.”
In Hain he had an ideal partner. No one in history (who has played a minimum of 50 innings) has a higher List A average and, with this match resembling a 50-over chase, there were moments when it was Hain who kept things on track. So while Yates, with his conventional approach, might have become bogged down against this fine attack, Hain was able to reverse-sweep Harmer for four or flick Porter over mid-wicket for six whenever it seemed the run-rate was starting to feel uncomfortable. He has now recorded three half-centuries in his four most recent innings and appears to have matured into the senior player this side in transition requires.
That is not to say Yates lacked strokes. Like many of the best, he plays within himself for much of the time and likes to build a foundation before unveiling his range. But here he demonstrated a welcome ability to change gear, at one stage skipping down the pitch to loft Harmer for six, at another going deep in his crease to late-cut him for four. In terms of temperament and talent this was a deeply impressive display.
It was something of a triumph for the coaching staff, too. Robinson noted, after Yates’ disappointing first innings, that his trigger movements had changed from the pre-season period when he so impressed the coaching staff. So deciding it was best to make an intervention mid-match, he suggested Yates and the club’s batting coach, Tony Frost, arrive early for sessions in the indoor school so he could recover his rhythm and confidence. The results speak for themselves.
Hanuma Vihari deserves credit, too. He looked in fine touch in recording his first half-century for the club and did much in establishing the tone of this run-chase. He looked aghast to be adjudged caught behind and may well face some censure for his reluctance to leave the crease. As things stand, he is expected to play one more match for Warwickshire – the game at Durham later this week – before Pieter Malan replaces him as overseas player.
Harmer could not have done more to win this game for Essex. After top-scoring for them in their second innings, he bowled an unbroken 26-over spell in Warwickshire’s in which he delivered perhaps one loose ball. And while there was some turn – particularly from the footmarks quite wide of off stump – it was relatively slow and negated by some quality batting.
His latter spell was not quite as impressive. Maybe he was tired, or maybe he felt forced to try a few variations as the match slipped from Essex’s grasp. But this was not a case of Harmer bowling poorly so much as it was a case of Yates and co batting exceedingly well. There was little assistance from the conditions or the surface for seamers.
Essex will, instead, reflect that they should have scored more runs in their first innings when the pitch was at its best and that they should have held more chances when Warwickshire made their reply. Some of their ground fielding on the final day was also below the high standards they have set over recent years. Both Dan Lawrence and Paul Walter conceded boundaries from mis-fields. Given the final margin of victory, it may have been significant.
“It is our first defeat in 22 matches so we shouldn’t get too downbeat about it,” Essex head coach, Anthony McGrath said afterwards. “But it is upsetting. We are not used to losing and the boys are hurting in there but, having said that, all credit to Warwickshire, they paced that innings really well. Nothing should deflect from the quality of their victory.”
He’s probably right. The only shame was that Yates did not have the opportunity to walk back to the pavilion cheered on by his club’s supporters. But he has given notice of a significant talent here. You suspect those supporters will have other opportunities to make their appreciation apparent.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo