What is it that makes Warwickshire tick? (1973)

The Warwickshire way

Rowland Ryder

Cricket: Watch Warwickshire -- say the members' car stickers. Excellent advice, although too rarely followed in the weekdays when Dennis Amiss and M. J. K. and Kanhai and Kallicharran are playing their scintillating cricket before a few hundred members, a score of spectators on the so-called popular side and the occupants of the press box.

Warwickshire has always been a side to watch since the days of H. W. Bainbridge and Ernest Hill -- who scored the first first-class century for the county. That attack is the best method of defence was always a Warwickshire maxim; aspiring county cricketers are taught at Edgbaston that cricket is a game, preferably to be won, above all, to be played entertainingly, and, if you lose, you go down with all flags flying.

To Warwickshire teams a chase of a hundred runs an hour has nearly always been on -- a reasonable target. There was the unforgettable victory against Sussex in 1925 when 392 for one was scored in three hours and a quarter. The Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe, J. H. Parsons (now the Rev. Canon J. H. Parsons), Tiger Smith, G. W. Stephens and F. R. Santall were mighty hitters of the ball between the wars: the 1972 side achieved astonishing run rates against more scientifically placed fields -- Amiss's and Kanhai's 318 in three hours against Lancashire was a case in point.

Warwickshire won their first County Championship in the blazing summer of 1911, under the leadership of the twenty-two-year-old F. R. Foster: cricket had seen nothing like it since the days of the young W. G. Grace. The achievement rated a full page feature cartoon in Punch -- the first and only time that county Champions have been thus honoured. After forty years Warwickshire won the Championship again: this time it was Tom Dollery's extraordinary team of ordinary cricketers. Dollery himself, the first and probably the greatest of the professional captains, had an amazing cricketing intuition; he had also the good fortune to lead a side that went through the season without injury.

During the years of M. J. K. Smith's captaincy (1957-1967) Warwickshire were often challenging for the championship; they won the Gillette Cup in 1966 (and won it again two years later). In 1971, with Alan Smith as captain, they were pipped on the post by Surrey: in 1972 they made no mistake. "A pity about the Gillette Cup," said Alan Smith (Warwickshire were defeated by Lancashire in the Final), "but we all know which is the big one."

What is it that makes Warwickshire tick? These are some of the answers:

  • (1)The family atmosphere at Edgbaston. Warwickshire is renowned for having one of the happiest dressing-rooms in the country. This is entirely a matter for the Captain, says Leslie Deakins, the Warwickshire secretary. Alan Smith has special qualities. He has a good sense of humour, which is all important in a dressing room, but at the same time is a dedicated, thoughtful and talented captain, who knows there are times when one needs to be firm and to express views very clearly. I think that he combines the necessary qualities, and there is no doubt that he is aided and abetted in all that he does by Mike Smith. I think between them they, therefore, cover all aspects, and for the rest they are a very nice bunch of fellows to deal with, quite apart from their talent in the game.
  • Technical proficiency, in fact, is not enough at Edgbaston: it is not simply how well you play but also how you play, that is regarded as important. Off the field the players are excellent public relations officers: social occasions in which members are invited to meet the players have proved highly successful.
  • "There are no personalities in cricket nowadays," the Jeremiahs have cried for the last century. There are plenty of personalities wearing the badge of the Bear and the Ragged Staff. There is Alan Smith himself, with his gay versatility -- not every wicket-keeper can top his country's bowling averages! -- his flair for doing the unexpected (his habit of occasionally writing a letter to himself by way of a reminder often intrigued his friends), his bland refusal to acknowledge either defeat or victory -- batting against Leicestershire (September, 1972), his concentration pulled the game out of the fire for Warwickshire. A fortnight later, when the county had finished their quota of games and Gloucestershire had yet to finish theirs, Alan Smith himself was almost literally the last person to concede that Warwickshire had won the championship: having done so he proceeded to celebrate the occasion by ordering for the team a breakfast of kippers and champagne!
  • His namesake M. J. K. Smith is the only living person to have played for England both at cricket and at rugby football. M. J. K's conversation, whether on or off the field, is liable to be enigmatic, with more than a touch of Spike Milligan to it. He plays with a casual zest and a rich sense of philosophy. "All right, we lost, so what?" he remarked on one occasion. "There's another game tomorrow." David Brown, a streamlined version of Harry Howell, is another player with a wry sense of humour. In a limited over match, Brian Davision of Leicestershire hit him for three sixes over mid-wicket. "Must have been coached well," was the bowler's comment at the end of the innings. David Brown had coached him in Rhodesia.
  • Lance Gibbs's sense of fun can be as unanswerable as his bowling. At a civic reception given to the team in Birmingham a magnificent cake was produced, on top of which were eleven fieldsmen made with icing. This evoked an impromptu speech from Lance Gibbs in which he complained that there wasn't enough chocolate on some of the players.
  • (2)This leads to the topic of overseas cricketers playing for Warwickshire. Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Alvin Kallicharran and Deryck Murray have all played Test cricket for the West Indies, and Billy Ibadulla for Pakistan. During the second half of the season the four West Indians were playing regularly for the county. The reasons for this strong West Indian element in the side were to a great extent fortuitous. Kanhai had qualified under the same law of immediate registration as Sobers, and has been a resident of the U.K. since 1964; Gibbs and Kallicharran qualified under the one-year registration law: Gibbs after his astonishing season in 1971 had had his contract renewed; Kallicharran had suddenly blazed upon the cricket scene, and Alan Smith beat the 1971 postal strike by flying to Guyana to interview him. Murray has lived in the country since 1964 and for county registration purposes is English. All this is somewhat complicated: the laws governing the registration of players have been altered no fewer than eighteen times since 1945.
  • The West Indies contingent have enriched the game with their entertaining cricket, which is in the Warwickshire tradition; and the appearance of this galaxy does not mean that the county ignores the talent on its own doorstep. Far from it.
  • (3)The splendid coaching of Warwickshire-born players. Here again there is a West Indian influence. Derief Taylor, who came from Jamaica to join Warwickshire as a player, has been coaching Warwickshire colts for the last twenty years. Derief is a pied piper who has led many a cricketer into the Warwickshire side. Leslie Deakins considers that his success as a coach is based on three qualities:

    • (a)an infinite love and dedication for the game,
    • (b)an infinite capacity to understand the boy mind -- much better than anyone else I have ever known, and
    • (c)infinite patience.

  • "As long as a boy has enthusiasm for the game," continues Deakins, "Derief wants to help him, and time is not the essence of the contract for he will go on as long as the boy will." He loves the game and all to do with it, and when one of his young Colts gets into the county side he mentally goes out to bat with him. He has impressed himself more and more on the minds of all identified with the game in this county, and it is astonishing to think that in a county where they said there were no players he has found men of the quality of Dennis Amiss, Tom Cartwright, David Brown, Alan Smith, all of whom have gone on to play for England, and a dozen or so who have played county cricket. Warwickshire, in fact, could put a competent eleven into the field all of whom were born within a bus ride of the County Ground.
  • Alan Oakman, ex- Sussex and England, the senior coach, has a great deal more to do than to stand behind the nets and comment on stroke play. Under the Warwickshire aegis he does an active public relations job, and in doing so is setting an interesting precedent. "As far as I know," says Leslie Deakins, "this is the first time that duties of this nature have been undertaken by a county club coach, although films and lectures on the game in the winter months have been undertaken by players and others in the past. Alan Oakman, however, is the first full-time, all-the-year-round coach we have employed, and he has established a liaison with the local education authorities and now does a series of lectures on the game to schools in all parts of the county. We usually use one school as a collecting centre, and then six, eight or ten schools in a surrounding area sent their boys on a selected day, and he thus gets an audience of perhaps 200, all of whom are interested in the game. He also runs the Cricket Film Library for the county on behalf of the National Cricket Association. In addition to this he pays regular visits to the Indoor Cricket School and generally keeps in touch with the game throughout the year. He is already much sought after for dinners and other functions, and in all he is a very positive member of the staff."
  • Peter Cranmer, another of Warwickshire's illustrious rugger players, who retired as first XI captain in 1947, has just completed a three-year stint as skipper of the second XI, at the age of fifty-eight. It is a Warwickshire axiom that ability rather than age is all important. At one end of the scale Warwick Tidy first played for the county at the age of seventeen, Roly Thomson and F. R. Santall at sixteen, F. R. Foster was made county captain at twenty-two; among the veterans, apart from Peter Cranmer, W. G. Quaife scored his last century for Warwickshire at the age of fifty-six, D. L. Clugston is still captaining the Club and Ground at sixty-four, and Tiger Smith (born 1886) was coaching at the age of eighty.
  • (4)The Captaincy. What has happened in this connection has been entirely fortuitous. M. J. K. Smith retired from the game when he gave up the captaincy in 1967: Alan Smith took his place. Then M. J. K. returned to full-time cricket in 1970, playing for Warwickshire under Alan Smith's captaincy. The two proved to be complementary: Alan Smith with his flair for precision and the mathematics of the game, M. J. K. with his seemingly casual approach. Alan Smith has been fitting in his cricket for Warwickshire with his duties as a Test selector. He captained the side in fourteen championship matches; on three occasions M. J. K. Smith was a ready-made substitute, and, when neither of them were available, twice David Brown filled the breach admirably and once Rohan Kanhai mesmerised Lancashire by setting them a reasonable target and by putting on Kallicharran to bowl invitingly. Kanhai afterwards made casual remarks about the Indian rope trick.

What of those who work behind the scenes?

Leslie Deakins joined Warwickshire in October 1928 as assistant to R. V. Ryder, who was Warwickshire secretary from 1895 to 1944.

"I'll tell you the first rule," said R. V. Ryder to his nineteen-year-old assistant, "and that is to suffer fools gladly. I've never learnt it."

Leslie Deakins had his predecessor's dedication to cricket; above all to Warwickshire cricket. Throughout the war Deakins served in the Navy. On board ship his thoughts often turned to such matters as rebuilding the Edgbaston pavilion on modern lines.

When R. V. Ryder retired at the end of the war Leslie Deakins not surprisingly took over the reins. He is now the doyen of county secretaries. It is difficult to realise that he is in his sixties, especially when in his company at Edgbaston as, outside his office, he walks at a steady six knots and is liable to vault over such obstacles as stray benches or the boundary fence, while in the middle of recounting some story about Warwick Armstrong's 1921 Australians, or the legendary race round the boundary between Lord Hawke and H. W. Bainbridge. Apart from cricket, Deakins' interests are more cricket, architecture (his father was a stonemason), and the English countryside. He has a reputation for being the best administrator in the game.

How does he summarise his job?

"I think by its very nature cricket attracts all that is best, and, in consequence, one is regularly dealing with helpful people who are seen at their best in the atmosphere of the game." As to a literal interpretation of the appointment, it represents a continuous effort to keep in being the well-appointed, very great and traditional cricket ground -- to people it with a side that is attractive on and off the field, and that has a proper competitive edge to its cricket, but at the same time the ability to lose (when they must) graciously -- and through the ground and the team to give pleasure to a large membership, and such public side support as may attend. Success for the administrative side of the game is reflected in the odd comment, the special letter -- and the message perhaps from the other side of the world recalling pleasant days in the sun and happy memories of the Edgbaston ground.

Leslie Deakins is helped by men like Sydney Harkness (Assistant Secretary and Treasurer), Tony Haycock (Membership and Cricket Secretary) and R. L. Walker, responsible for general maintenance of the premises--and for 200 sets of keys, whilst, as Head Groundman, Bernard Flack is undoubtedly in the top flight.

Norah Deakins is as fond of cricket as her husband -- which is just as well. Her jobs at Edgbaston are legion, various and gaily self-imposed. As a motorist she knows Birmingham like the back of her hand. She has ferried at least one Prime Minister from Edgbaston to New Street station in less than no time; sometimes she will pick up Tiger Smith from Northfield because the boys want to see him; answering the telephone, producing cups of coffee at all hours, making visitors at home, visiting members in hospital -- it can all be summarised in the words "Norah will see to it."

Warwickshire enthusiasts ringing up for the score, sometimes to the tune of two thousand inquiries a day, will often be told the details by Mrs. Con Holden, who, as Con Edge, was a famous England woman leg break bowler in the 1930's. Later, as an administator, she was Manager of the England women's team to the West Indies, 1971, and has been a prominent figure at the Colwall Festival since its earliest days. Mrs. Peacock, members' dining-room manageress, is another popular figure. However many members turn up to lunch at the same time she is always equal to the situation, and if they are not back in their seats for the first ball of the afternoon's play, it won't be Mrs. Peacock's fault.

Less than twenty years ago Warwickshire was always struggling financially: it is now the wealthiest county in England, and possesses one of the finest cricket stadia in the world. All this has come about through the development of the Warwickshire County Cricket Supporters' Association -- a development without parallel in the history of cricket.

In 1953 Leslie Deakins and five club members studied a pools scheme operated by Worcestershire -- the latter county affording them every help. As a result the Supporters' Association was formed. Supporters paid a shilling weekly, tenpence of which was stake money, and twopence a voluntary contribution to the objects of the Association. [The figures are now 8½ new pence and 1½ new pence, respectively.] The results were phenomenal.

First things first: a bituturf cricket net was provided in 1954, and two years later the first major project was paid for -- the Edgbaston Indoor Cricket School. The organiser from 1953 to 1956 was Ray Hitchcock, the former Warwickshire player. He raised the membership to 50,000.

In 1956 Winnie Crook, a young Birmingham schoolmistress, became organiser, a position she has occupied ever since. In 1959 she married David Blakemore, the Association's secretary, and the Association's achievements are due in great part to the efforts of these two enthusiasts. "In any assessment of the Association's development," says a Warwickshire pamphlet, "the part played by Winnie Crook, especially in the years immediately following her appointment in 1956, cannot be over-emphasised. She alone created the impetus which enabled the pool to go forward and in regularly working for eighty or more hours each week led the initiative for all out growth in the members and agents."

The Supporters' Club now has well over 300,000 members and over 7,000 active agents. It has given help to local cricket clubs, to other county cricket clubs -- over £70,000 to Worcestershire, who helped Warwickshire so much over the formation of the Association -- to the M.C.C., the Cricket Council, the Test and County Cricket Board. It has spent £750,000 on the redevelopment of the Edgbaston ground as a Test match arena: it has raised two million pounds for the benefit of cricket. The Association also sponsors the National Under-25 competition.

David and Winnie Blakemore have done extraordinary service to the game of cricket.

© John Wisden & Co