A groundbreaking season. No team in our sport had ever achieved what we`d pulled out the hat. Not before, not since. It took unheard of levels of commitment. Time and again we`d have to dig deep. Runs and wickets don`t appear by themselves and transforming a team from being good on its good days, into one capable of blowing aside the rest, is a hard nut to crack. Welcome to 1994 – The season that folk still talk about.
Warwickshire chief exec Dennis Amiss said “that group of players was young, but with a lot of experience. With an exceptional coach in Bob Woolmer we thought anything was potentially achievable.” Key to what unfolded was our players were not afraid to face the fire. In fact we thrived on it.
As a team we had lifted the Nat West trophy the previous September when we`d chased down a highest total ever registered. Much confidence was gained from the victory, and an often overlooked fact was that we`d lifted the trophy at Lords without our overseas player Allan Donald. It was poignant – AD had left us for International duty in Sri Lanka immediately after we`d won our NW quarter final at Headingley. Predictably he was the first person to call our changing room – He may have been many thousands of miles away but we knew he was with us. Our team had a tightness which went way beyond the boundary rope.
The spring in our heels which we took from winning the NW lingered over the winter months. We knew we were close to what we thought the team could achieve, you could sense it. That Lords victory was the team’s turning point.
Pre season of 1994 was spent in Harare. Coach Woolmer declared that we had partied too much in Cape Town on previous tours – Like we needed leading astray! Like Harare would be any different! We played and trained hard under hot African sun before returning to the UK fighting fit. Everything was saying this could be a summer to remember – Then we signed a Trinidadian named Brian Lara. Our coach could not wait to work with him. We couldn’t wait for him to join our ranks.
Bob Woolmer – He was “Mr Innovation” and Innovation is born out of finding solutions. In terms of seeking out all advantages to take things forward then Bob never switched off. He thought everyone of us could improve and gave us every opportunity to do so. Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes so time spent in his company was gold dust. Woolmer told us in April of 1994 that he felt we could win all competitions. That sort of belief came with a lot of effort, support, a lot of encouragement, and even more planning. I also believe we wanted to pull off the unknown for Bob.
Mohammed Ali famously said “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Inner strength comes from overcoming the things you thought you couldn’t do and the Warwickshire side was backed 100% to go out and express itself without fear of criticism or ridicule. This is a lesson that can perhaps be learned from by others. Fear the unknown and you are half the performer you could be. Another bit of advice is to stay true to your own spirit.
Our team ethos was that everything we did had to have purpose. Even our off pitch team socialising had thinking behind it. All things being equal we spent a huge amount of time together – travel, hotels, changing rooms, team meetings, media, celebratory dinners, lunches. You name it, we were invited. In retrospect, we simply worked damned hard and had less days off than many of our contemporaries. Days that in the past might have allowed you to put your feet up, were now taken by quarter or semi finals. This particular summer probably equates to double the physical and mental demands of a normal season. And remember that this treble season was part of a spell where we won 6 trophies in 24 months, lost a final, and came second in the Sunday League – It gives an idea of the daily intensity we were trying to perform under. On reflection the demands were brutal.
Team harmony is vital if there is to be success and the relationship between Brian Lara and team captain Dermot Reeve is best described as one with personal and artistic differences. The pair are as different as oil and water yet stood next to each other in the slip cordon all day, most days, all summer. The team ethos was simple – that no one could take the piss on cricketing issues but most other things were seen as fair game, so long as it was fun or had humour. You can scour the earth looking for the perfect player, or players, but without unity for the common goal things will rarely work out.
We obviously found a way around personality clashes and Woolmer was good at doing that. Having a genius like Lara within our ranks was like one man playing the role of at least two players. The confidence attained through his presence was impossible to ignore. He was clearly the catalyst.
Brian kept the game simple – Some players talk about where fielders were positioned where as he wasn’t interested in that, he was only interested where the gaps in between the fielders were. When we were chasing runs he`d talk about how many boundaries he personally would have to strike. He thought differently. Anyone who claims that BC Lara didn’t buy into our team ethos and culture clearly wasn’t there.
As the months unfolded, trophies started being won, and the media began writing about a possible treble, even a quadruple. I am not convinced we felt any more pressure due to all the talk. You can destroy the now by worrying about tomorrow so we just kept on doing what was working. Only advice in these circumstances would be to keep everything simple. The game has always been played one delivery at a time.
Come September time we managed to clinch our treble at Bristol having earlier in the month lost the Nat West final to our local rivals Worcestershire. The playing surface at HQ was at best described as a green seemer which our opponents took advantage of – Coming second was not something we were used to experiencing that summer, but we`d have taken a treble if we`d have been offered it when we`d been training in Harare a few short months earlier.
Never overlook that you`re learning all the time, and learning from all those around us. The likes of Bob Willis, David Brown, and Bob Cottam all featured prominently in our earlier careers so their influence shouldn’t be overlooked. Although not with us in any of the team celebratory photos we knew what they’d done to make us the competitors we`d become.
One last thing – Just a reminder to anyone that may need this right now – Remember it is just a game which we started playing for fun so never overlook that fact. Supporting each other is fair advice in everyday life and team sport is no different.