Simon Hughes: Natwest Trophy: Small gains from wealth of partners (5 September 1997)

Friday 5 September 1997

Natwest Trophy: Small gains from wealth of partners

By Simon Hughes

JOHN Snow, Bob Willis, David Brown, Chris Old and Allan Donald - not a bad attack, that. They have never all played together in the same team, of course, but each has shared the new ball with Gladstone Small for Warwickshire. And all have left an indelible mark on Small`s 18-year career, transmitting valuable expertise which he can expect to utilise in Sunday`s NatWest Trophy final against Essex at Lord`s.

Kept in cotton wool during four-day games to protect him, Small has ample time to reflect on his partners in pace. Snow was brought out of retirement to play one-day games for Warwickshire in 1980. "Even at the end of his career his bowling arm was ramrod straight," Small remembers. "He used to turn up on his motorbike on Sundays and do a superb job. In a way, his role then was a bit like mine is now, playing almost exclusively one-dayers."

Exhausted from his England labours in the early Eight- ies, Willis would slope reluctantly back to the Warwickshire dressing room but Small marvelled at the way certain situations suddenly galvanised him. "Bob was incredibly relaxed and often used sit in an armchair and tell someone else to go out and toss up on his behalf. But when we were in the field and a top opponent came in, he really sharpened up. It taught me to find the right balance between relaxation and adrenalin. Too laid back, you don`t focus; too hyped, you can try too hard and lose control."

Originally a batsman and useful off-spinner, Small converted to pace after an experiment bowling flat out indoors with a ball made out of a bicycle inner tube. Within three years he was, in the perpetual absence of Willis, shouldering Warwickshire`s attack. He was blighted by run-up problems that cli- maxed with an 18-ball over against Middlesex in 1982. Having overstepped 11 times in succession, he came in off two paces and bowled a wide. "Well skip, you asked me for three good overs and I gave you them all in one go," he said afterwards.

Brown came to his rescue. "He was always a great talker about the game and as manager helped me deal with my noballing." He also fielded and bowled in place of Small at Southport when he was suddenly called up as standby for England. Brown remains the only substitute who has taken a wicket in first- class cricket.

Small waited another four years for his international debut, by which time the injury-prone Old had come and gone. "The day he arrived at Edgbaston a tabloid did some pictures of him surrounded by cartons of orange juice. It was the only time in three years I ever saw him anywhere near a soft drink. He was a fantastic bowler, beautiful technique . . . when you could get him off the physio`s couch."

Old once sneezed and announced he`d gone in the neck, something Small could never claim as his head sprouts straight from his shoulders. From birth he had Klippel-Feil syndrome, described in the medical dictionary as "extensive fusion of the cervical vertebrae". In layman`s terms, no neck.

"I don`t think about it, except sometimes when I put on a new shirt - the collars come up a bit high," he said, chuckling away like an engine that won`t start.

Indeed, Small sees his unusual physique as an advantage. He admired Richard Hadlee`s bowling style and immediately set out to copy his approach. "I`d watch every ball whenever he was on and was very impressed by his efficient run-up and es- pecially the way he kept his head so upright in delivery. I worked on that and found the structure of my upper body made it quite easy."

You can still see hints of Hadlee in Small`s neat shuffle to the crease, cocked wrist and rigid head position. Smoothness and rhythm are his watchwords and he encourages Donald, Warwickshire`s current spearhead, to think the same. "When Mike Procter was coach of South Africa he tried to get `A D` to charge in and really look terrifying.

"He lost control and confidence and he phoned me for advice. I just said `Ease and grace, A D, ease and grace.` I still remind him of that sometimes."

Small has cruised more than 1,000 miles from bowling mark to crease on behalf of Warwickshire and in the course of that journey can put his finger precisely on when the Bears turned from teddies to grizzlies.

"It started in 1989 when Andy Lloyd was captain. He was a natural gambler and suddenly we started playing aggressive cricket and winning.

"Having Bob Cottam behind the scenes worked well, too, and then Bob Woolmer arrived. He was brilliant on the technical and psychological side. No one in the world can touch him as a coach. All our current players have grown up in this positive environment."

Source :: The Electronic Telegraph (