CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1995

Tim Munton

Sometimes events on the cricket field unfold with just the right amount of symmetry. The gods that determine such things handled matters efficiently at the end of Warwickshire's historic summer. On a grey evening at Bristol on Sunday, September 18, the catch which sealed Warwickshire's third trophy of the summer was taken by Tim Munton. The tall, heavy-boned seam bowler dived low to take a classy catch at mid-wicket that must have threatened his cold hamstrings. Munton's team-mates simply accepted that splendid effort as further proof that the big fellow's influence on a remarkable summer was as massive as the brilliant Brian Lara's. None of them quibbled when Munton announced that the ball which had secured Warwickshire the Sunday League title that day would not be prised from his personal trophy cabinet.

Press the rewind button a further 16 days to a sunlit afternoon at Edgbaston as Warwickshire's players saluted their home crowd from the balcony after the County Championship was clinched with an innings win over Hampshire. The players were individually cheered, with the genius of Lara admiringly acclaimed. Yet the biggest cheer, one laced with affection and respect, went to Tim Munton. That was not just for an outstanding personal season, nor for his golden run as stand-in captain for the injured Dermot Reeve, but also for Munton's high standards of professionalism, his durability and his approachability. The supporters had not forgotten Munton selfless performances in many undistinguished seasons for the club, his tireless commitment to his job, his willingness to meet every autograph request and to exchange cheery banter at any time of his working day. Reeve judged the situation perfectly that day on the Edgbaston balcony, as he insisted that the Championship pennant should be handed over to his vice-captain. A record of eight Championship wins out of nine games under Munton's leadership in 1994 speaks for itself.

Munton's success with the ball last season was almost overshadowed by the side's remarkable record under his captaincy. He blossomed under the responsibilities of leadership, using his genial personality to steer a middle through a dressing-room that contained its fair share of voluble characters. Working as a sales representative for a local brewery in recent winter has given him a wider perspective on life and an insight into the different ways that individuals deal with stressful situations. Munton came to be known as "Captain Sensible" for his ability to defuse tensions and on the genuine friendship the Warwickshire players felt for each other. Reeve and the director of cricket, Bob Woolmer, were equally subtle their differing approaches to personal interactions in a long, draining season, and the corporate bonhomie they engendered was crucial as Warwickshire made history in 1994.

Munton knew before the season began that, in the absence of Allan Donald, there would be far more pressure on him to fire out top batsmen. "I worked hard on the weights during the winter, building up my stamina and strength, because I was prepared for a strike bowler's role, rather than usual supporting role as the miserly stock bowler. I was prepared to a few more runs, attack the stumps more and bowl more bouncers. I also went around the wicket on occasions - something I'd always been loath to do - and it got me a few wickets at vital times. I was definitely a quicker and could still bowl as many overs." The result was his biggest of first-class wickets in a season, 81, and widespread sympathy when he was not included in England's touring parties for the winter. Typically, simply got on with his job, kept his own counsel when he was, and rejoiced in his team's success.

TIMOTHY ALAN MUNTON was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, on July 30, 1965 and for as log as he can remember he wanted to cricket. Encouraged by his parents, Alan and Brenda, he played for the county second team while still at King Edward VII Upper School. For three seasons, Munton improved gradually in Leicestershire's Second Eleven, but as the county had a strong array of experienced seam bowlers he could not break into the first team and was never offered a contract. "Not making the grade at first-class level was a huge blow for me, because I desperately wanted to play for my home county. But it proved a blessing in disguise." Warwickshire signed him at the end of the 1984 season and, with Bob Willis just retired and the club short of seam bowling, Munton soon prospered. "I got on a steep learning curve quickly and picked up valuable experience that was denied other seamers of my age who couldn't get a look-in elsewhere." David Brown, then Warwickshire's manager, and his successor Bob Cottam were invaluable mentors to Munton, and he willingly drank in the practical knowledge of the two former England fast bowlers. It was Cottam who made the major breakthrough with Munton in the winter of 1989-90, teaching him the subtleties of swing bowling. Within two years he was playing for England.

In his two Tests against Pakistan, Munton was not quite at his best, but he was considered good enough to be in the squad for every Test that summer - yet he was not selected for England's winter tour of India and Sri Lanka. Nor did any member of the England hierarchy bother contacting him with an encouraging word. That offended Munton's sense of good manners, but he buckled further to the task of improving his bowling and tactical appreciation. "That's why I wasn't so upset at missing out on England selection in 1994. If I wasn't going to be picked for a tour in '92, I couldn't allow myself to be optimistic, even though I was now a better bowler."

Yet he has enough pride in his performance to hope for further England selection, although his main hope is that Warwickshire's annus mirabilis does not prove to be illusory. Married to Helen, with two small children, Tim Munton is a cricketer at peace with himself, quietly aware of his own worth, but the quintessential team man. It is typical that he has been Warwickshire's representative for the Cricketers' Association, the body that represents the players' interests: with his high personal integrity and playing reputation, he is a handy player to have on your side around the negotiating table.

Above all, Munton is the very antithesis of the unflattering image that some modern Test cricketers have carved out. Not for him the crass agent, the obsession with the mobile phone and the skulking in the dressing room, waiting for the supporters to melt away. His infinite capacity for taking pains has brought him deserved status and popularity. "I can't believe how lucky I have been when the summit of my ambitions was just to play county cricket. I've got England caps, a full trophy cabinet and a stack of friendships that will last." And universal respect from all sections of the cricket industry. Not that Tim Munton would ever say that.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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