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Very occasionally in the game of cricket, a player emerges to defy conventional categorisation. Dermot Reeve is one such. By the accepted benchmarks of batting, bowling and fielding, he falls short of excellence and yet the sum of the parts compels attention and admiration. The same, of course, can be said of the Warwickshire side, whose unprecedented success over the past two seasons owes so much to Reeve's inspiration.
They have been good for each other. Warwickshire, a big club with resources and ambitions, gave Reeve the broad canvas he required when they made him captain in 1993; in return, he gave them the success they craved by instilling in the players a confidence, almost a joy, in free expression. The outcome is unarguable; by winning the Championship and the NatWest Trophy in 1995, they raised the trophy count to six in Reeve's three seasons of stewardship. In the Lord's final, he was Man of the Match, and not just for his perky batting. Nobody, now, is putting it all down to coincidence.
If this past season was the best of his career, it is because he was fulfilled by the esteem of his peers. Previously, it had often been grudgingly given, and then with stinging caveats. But as 1995 progressed and it became clear even to the most starstruck that there was, after all, more to Warwickshire's rise than the presence of Brian Lara, the significance of Reeve's input received due acknowledgement and genuine respect.
He had a decent enough season with bat and ball, fractionally improving his career batting average to 34 and taking 38 wickets at 17.39 to finish second, to his team-mate Allan Donald, in the first-class bowling averages. But bald statistics are not the measure of this man, whose greatest quality as a cricketer is contributing crucially when it is most urgently needed and whose gift as a captain is convincing others around him that they are capable of the same.
Donald, the South African fast bowler whose seamless takeover from Lara was critical to Reeve's strategy, sums up his captain: "Nobody should ever take Dermot for granted. He may seem to be taking the mickey and bubbling all the time but he is a very focused man and a great disciplinarian. He never lets us take our mind off the job and he has brought an arrogant, cocky attitude to the team. I wouldn't like to play against him, though, because he is such a niggling character on the field." Some say it was ever thus. Reeve's nature is to be extrovert, even confrontational, and it has not always endeared him to opponents. Many have accused him of possessing a swollen head; probably, many did so even during his schooldays.
DERMOT ALEXANDER REEVE was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong, on April 2, 1963, perhaps a day late to be truly appropriate. He was brought up in the colony by his parents, Alexander and Monica, and educated at King George V School in Kowloon. In his teens, he became something of a sporting celebrity within the local expatriate community and he represented Hong Kong in the ICC Trophy of 1982. By then, however, he was on the Lord's groundstaff and, the following season, he made his county debut for Sussex.
His five seasons at Hove were not a spectacular success, although in 1986 he did play a significant role in the winning of the NatWest Trophy, taking four for 20 in the final against Lancashire. For this, he received the first of his three Man of the Match awards in NatWest finals, an unparallelled feat. He left Sussex claiming that their conditions did not suit his swing bowling. This was only part of the truth. Reeve was intensely ambitious and wanted to play for a club that demonstrably shared his ambitions; he did not feel Sussex were proceeding in the right direction. He joined Warwickshire and played for five years under the leadership of Andy Lloyd, for whom he has an oft-repeated regard. For at least the last two of them, however, it was plain that Reeve was the captain in waiting.
His accession will not have pleased everyone. Reeve is the sort of person who never will please everyone, nor seek to. But at least by then he had ticked off a number of ambitions, having played Test cricket for England and appeared in 1992 World Cup. He fared moderately in three Tests against New Zealand, with a top score of 59 on debut, but showed himself to be an effective one-day player, especially on sluggish pitches where his stealthy swing bowling, now augmented by outrageous changes of pace, could frustrate and infuriate batsmen of all abilities.
On the second of his England tours, to India and Sri Lanka in 1992-93, his mother became the England team scorer when the official appointee, Clem Driver, fell ill. That Monica was on hand should be no surprise, for she scarcely misses a match in which her son is playing. She is Dermot's greatest fan. Those who are not presumably include Curtly Ambrose, who bowled him three beamers in swift succession during his career-best innings of 202 not out at Northampton in 1990. A certain county coach also falls into Ambrose's camp. Against himself, Reeve tells how this coach accused him, last summer, of setting out to upset his players on a regular basis. Reeve insists: "It was a misunderstanding. I don't set out to upset people but I will be aggressive on the field. I remember at Hove going in to bat against Somerset. Ian Botham was at slip and he gave me a lot of lip, but when we walked off he clapped me on the back and said 'well played'. That's the way I play too."
It is not, however, quite as simplistic as that. Reeve is a deep thinker on the game, with a formidable memory for situations and for the weaknesses of individuals. His bowling and field changes reflect this. His analysis of each game is pressed upon his team at meetings before every session. Warwickshire have also shunned recent trends and gone back to talking cricket, as a team, when out socially or in the dressing-room.
That is the strategist within Reeve. Then there is the showman, who will do the unorthodox, notably reverse-sweeping, as much for irritation as gain. And the man who will roll around in the outfield engaged in complex calisthenics for what seems an age. "I think," he says, "I am a visual cricketer." Recently, it has been unwise to take one's eyes off him, for fear of missing some new gem.