Warwickshire’s 1994 season featured three trophies, a rather special overseas player, a tasty accumulator bet and precisely zero England call-ups. Henry Cowen finds out all about it.
The 1993 domestic season didn’t suggest Warwickshire would go on to make history in 1994. It was Dermot Reeve’s first as county captain and although there was a trophy – thanks to a memorable chase in the NatWest Trophy final – there was also a 16th-place finish in the County Championship and underwhelming performances in the Sunday League and Benson & Hedges Cup. The odds on Warwickshire winning the County Championship in 1994 were 25-1. A few more people should have had a flutter.
Allan Donald, who had been Warwickshire’s overseas player since 1988, would be unavailable for the 1994 campaign, so a replacement was needed. First choice was the Indian allrounder Manoj Prabhakar, but an Achilles injury sustained on international duty changed the course of Warwickshire’s season…
Tim Munton: Obviously the real catalyst and buzz to it all at the start of the season was Brian Lara’s arrival. In professional sport you raise your game in those big-match moments, and our whole year started like that, because Brian had just broken Sir Garfield Sobers’ world record.
Dominic Ostler: I probably thought, from a selfish point of view, that having Brian coming in was great because I’d have the best batter in the world to learn off and to work with. He came in and just blew everyone away. He scored five centuries on the bounce and the 501, and you’d never seen anything like it. You had to be there to understand how good this guy actually was.
Prior to Lara’s arrival, off the back of a middling 1993, did any of you imagine you’d have the sort of success that you ended up having?
DO: No, probably not, but you get on a roll, don’t you? We knew we had a good team, it was just about how that side gelled together. Two or three games in, we were thinking: ‘Here we go, we’ve actually got an unbelievable side.’
TM: The reality is every county cricketer at the start of the year, when they’re pumped-up and fresh, is full of optimism. It doesn’t matter that winning two trophies in a season is very rare, you want to have success so you find a plan to go and win each of the competitions. The previous year had been Dermot Reeve’s first as captain with me as vice-captain so we’d had that handover and our success started with the final of the NatWest Trophy in 1993.
How did having an overseas batsman, as opposed to an overseas bowler, change things?
Gladstone Small: Allan was regarded as a local really. He put his heart and soul into Warwickshire, and we did miss our spearhead. We’d seen him put the fear of God into batsmen because he could bowl so fast, so we were obviously going to miss that. Munty was always going to bowl his 2,000 overs per season! And my role was to run in and try and take big wickets, to get key batsmen out, and we had good back-up.
TM: Without him, and switching to an overseas batter, our world changed. The likes of myself, Gladstone, Paul Smith and Dermot were able to take wickets, but the likelihood was that we wouldn’t be able to take them as quickly as Allan Donald so Lara coming along and scoring big runs – and scoring them at a pace – was really important.
What made you so good in 1994?
DO: It should be said that Andy Lloyd played a big role before he handed over to Dermot – he mapped out how we wanted to play cricket. Under Dermot we were very organised. We knew what we were going to do and everyone knew their role in the side. That wasn’t necessarily about batters going out to get hundreds, but it was playing to the situation, playing to each individual game. We understood that a quick-fire 30 or 40 was as good as a hundred if we won the game. And that’s what people did; we had 11 players who all did that. And we ended up having a situation where we didn’t lose. I mean that – we couldn’t lose whatever game we went into.
GS: Absolutely. And it soon dawned on us, from the first innings that BC Lara played, that not only was he going to score runs, he was going to score them quickly, which would mean we’d have time to put the opposition under pressure.
DO: In one-day cricket in particular, Dermot was so good. He worked out that if we played spin better than anyone else, we would win. And if we bowled fewer extras than anyone else, we’d win, and we did. We looked at the stats at the end of the season and we didn’t bowl as many extras as anybody else, and also we scored at something like five-and-a-half an over against spin, where everybody against our spinners scored at four-and-a-half, and that was the difference.
TM: Dermot’s innovation was on the field in particular. The real innovation behind the scenes was as much Bob Woolmer’s as anybody’s. Woolly’s approach to bringing in new innovative ways to train, practise and talk. It was a mix, of course Dermot was a very strong and powerful figure. In terms of one-day cricket his brain was as good as anybody’s and he probably should have captained the World Cup team in 1996.
DO: Bob played an unbelievable role. I was a massive fan of his, he was a mentor to me, like a father figure, and he looked after me. There weren’t many coaches I responded to, but I responded to him and he obviously got the best out of the team. He coached people in different ways, he knew how to manage people. He knew that I wasn’t overly technical, and that I just needed the confidence to be told, ‘Right, you go out and whack it’.
GS: He was the best coach I ever worked with, by a long way. We were well trained, well prepared and we felt as though if we went out on to the field and played our brand of cricket to the best of our ability then the other guys had to do something really special to beat us.
Many will point to Lara’s 2,066 Championship runs, but individually others had some real success as well.
TM: My mentality that year changed to being more aggressive, to not being the guy who held an end up and bowled into the wind but instead bowling straighter and not being too fussed if I went for three or four runs an over. Wicket-taking became more important to me than holding an end up. It was a different dynamic for me and thankfully it produced positive results. I had my best year that year.
DO: I think you’ll find that in 1993 and 1994, Neil Smith and I were the only two players to play every single game of cricket in all competitions.
So nobody was more crucial than you and Neil?
DO: That’s the point we are trying to get at! But no, we had our roles, we knew what we were going to do and it was great fun doing it. It’s always better when you’re winning.
Was it a source of some frustration that there wasn’t more England recognition for the squad?
GS: Ray Illingworth, England’s coach, came to the conclusion that what we had done was a fluke. None of the young guys got picked, like Ostler or Twose, and that didn’t go down very well. It caused a bit of consternation in the dressing room and some rude words about people from Yorkshire!
TM: I think if you’re asked specifically about it, then probably the answer would be yes but it didn’t dominate our thoughts in any way, shape or form. We were genuinely having a great time together and enjoying our successes as a team. When you look back on it, it really was bizarre that so many good cricketers got overlooked. I was actually watching some highlights of that 94/95 Ashes tour the other day – and I was thinking: why wasn’t Keith Piper in that side? Why maybe didn’t I get a tour? Why wasn’t so-and-so there?
You weren’t able to win all four competitions, losing the NatWest trophy to Worcestershire. Looking back, how much of a regret is that?
DO: It’s a massive regret, more of a regret for the committee because they had a £5 accumulator bet on us to win all four trophies, with silly odds. I think it ended up that if we had beaten Worcestershire the committee at the club were set to win hundreds of thousands. I think they won an awful lot of money anyway – 20, 30 or 40 thousand – but it would have been another 16 times that!
GS: We also lost out to Wigan Warriors in the BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year award! Maybe rugby league was the one sport the BBC had at the time! I remember us and Wigan’s Va’aiga Tuigamala playing cricket in the corridor with the baubles off the Christmas Tree. It was a lot of fun but we were all too drunk to be any good!
DO: He could hit a hard orange!
Disappointments aside, is 1994 one of the highlights of your career?
DO: Without doubt. Almost just for the camaraderie. We had an incredible squad which gelled together and performed to unbelievable heights. To play with these guys was just a privilege, and to win as well put the icing on the cake. As well as that, nobody has won three trophies in a year and come runners-up in the fourth, so in that sense we will go down in the history books.
TM: I remember it very fondly. It was a career-changing, possibly life-changing, season for most of us. We were a group of cricketers who had become great mates – we’d become a very close unit over the previous two or three years – and 1994 was just one of those years.
GS: It’s something I look back on with immense pride and satisfaction. Nothing beats winning, but it’s sweeter when you do it with a bunch of guys who you spend a lot of time with. County cricket is hard work, it’s a slog, and to achieve that level of success with people you’ve grown up with – and not just to achieve but to do it playing a wonderful brand of cricket – is truly memorable.
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