Worcestershire 198 for 4 (Libby 75, Haynes 52*) trail Warwickshire 343 (Yates 104, Burgess 101) by 145 runs
It was a day for second chances at Edgbaston.
It’s a generalisation but if, as a cricketer, you have found yourself released by Leicestershire in recent years, it’s probably a sign that it’s time to go and do something else.
That’s not meant to sound harsh. But, over the last decade or so, the club has become something of a final stop for players of a certain age – think Charlie Shreck, Michael Carberry, Mark Pettini, Neil Dexter, Mark Cosgrove, Paul Horton, Matthew Hoggard, Chris Wright et al – and, while there are a few examples of players proving there can be life beyond being released by the club (Darren Stevens and Ned Eckersley spring to mind) they are the sea turtles making it back to the beach on which they were born.
Michael Burgess is the latest to buck the trend. His century here was his first in first-class cricket for three years and suggested that he could yet enjoy a successful career at this level.
Warwickshire is actually Burgess’ fourth first-class county. After developing at Surrey – albeit without making a first-team appearance – he was signed by Leicestershire and made 98 in his first first-class innings for the club against the touring Sri Lankans in 2016.
But, when he was released a few months later without playing another innings for the club, he admits he experienced some dark times. He took a job in teaching for three months and tried to come to terms with life beyond cricket.
“I thought my career was done at that point,” he says now. “It was a tough time. But I got a job at the Royal Hospital School in Ipswich and, in between teaching a bit of PE, football and cricket, I trained and netted with [former Essex all-rounder] Graham Napier, who also teaches there.”
Then he had some fortune. Having been given a trial at Sussex, he saw Ben Brown suffer a concussion in a pre-season warm-up game and was drafted into the side. He did pretty nicely, too, but with Brown also likely to reclaim the gloves eventually, was forced to battle it out as a specialist batter. When it became apparent that Warwickshire were looking for a replacement for Tim Ambrose, he jumped at the chance to claim a role as keeper. Warwickshire promised him an extended run in the side and do not even have another keeper on the staff at present.
All of which sounds good and well. But, going into this match, he was averaging 12.66 this season and doubts were starting to mount. Dan Lincoln, a 25-year-old who has played a few games for Middlesex, has been brought into the second XI on trial. Burgess really needed this innings.
Very nicely he played, too. While his strength is square and through the covers on the off-side – an area in which he evokes memories of Mike Gatting – here he also demonstrated a sound defence, left well and was far better off his legs than he has been previously. He was one of only two men in the Warwickshire side to make more than 32 and helped his side to a third batting bonus point before being the last man out. Worcestershire were limited to two bowling bonus points.
“Yes, potentially, I really do need to make this [time at Warwickshire] work,” Burgess admitted afterwards. “I’m trying not to think like that, but of course those thoughts come into your head.
“I love cricket. I want to play cricket for a long, long time. I’ve had experience of a life outside cricket and I realise how lucky we are to come to Edgbaston and call it a workplace.
“It’s been a tough month. This is a bit of a relief. I’ve put in some hard graft to get here so today was really sweet.”
Jake Libby‘s story is slightly different. But by the time he left Nottinghamshire, at the end of 2019, he averaged 26.82 in first-class cricket for the club and looked as if he might not make it at this level.
But Worcestershire’s coach, Kevin Sharp, had long been an admirer. He had seen him make 170 for the Notts second XI in 2017 and knew this was a player who had more to offer. He jumped at the chance to sign him.
It has proved an astute move. Libby, a compact, patient opener with a back-foot punch so gorgeous it might have been played by Sachin, is now averaging 70.21 for Worcestershire in first-class cricket and requires 17 more in the second innings to record his 1,000th first-class run for the club in just his 10th match. Only five men have scored more than his 485 runs this season.
Warwickshire may be a little frustrated, though. Not only did they see Tim Bresnan, at slip, put down a relatively simple chance offered by Daryl Mitchell on one off a perfect Liam Norwell outswinger, but Libby was somewhat fortunate to see one fly just over short-leg when a short ball cramped him for room.
Later Jake Haynes, very much a young man at the start of his career, suggested he was the latest in an impressive line of home-grown Worcestershire players who could enjoy a long career. Son of former all-rounder Gavin, Haynes demonstrated a calm temperament and some elegant strokes in recording the highest score of his first-class career to date. He dealt with a fiery spell from Olly Stone as well as anyone.
Given his injury record, there was some concern when Stone left the pitch in late afternoon in conversation with the physio. The club say he was suffering from nothing more than a mild stomach ache, however, and insist he will be fine for the rest of the game. During that spell he dismissed Libby, smartly held at short-leg, after going round the wicket and cramping him for room, while Brett D’Oliveira was fortunate to see a bouncer fended off from his throat fly off the handle of the bat over the slip cordon for four. It was further evidence that Stone has the pace, hostility, control and skill for Test cricket.
After his well documented injury issues, Stone, too, may feel he is enjoying a second chance in the game. On this evidence, he, Burgess and Libby are all seizing that opportunity.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo