Lara's sulk, Ostler's fireworks and Graeme Welch's debut to remember
Making your county championship debut is always memorable for a cricketer.
It’s a big step. The increase in profile and pressure. The kudos. Mixing it with top-level opponents.
Everyone remembers their championship bow. But Warwickshire bowling coach Graeme Welch has more reason than most to do so.
For his just happened to come in one of the greatest matches in county cricket history. And, as a 22-year-old all-rounder, he did more than his share to help the Bears win it.
Northamptonshire v Warwickshire at Northampton. June 1994. The story of the match: Warwickshire, powered by Brian Lara’s 190, were 448 for nine at the close af the first day, Tim Munton ten not out, Welch 11. The last-wicket pair extended their stand to 65 next morning, Welch ending on 35 not out and he then chipped in with three top-order wickets as the home side replied with 267.
Following on, Northamptonshire made a much better fist of it second time round with 423. That left the Bears 230 in 38 overs to chase, with they did in thrilling style as Dominic Ostler’s blistering 87 lifted them to a four-wicket win with three balls to spare.
The bare stats tell a pretty remarkable tale. Throw in a titanic duel between Lara and Curtly Ambrose and a bust-up between Lara and Bears captain Dermot Reeve, triggering a giant sulk from the former, and it amounted to an interesting debut for young Welch.
“Lara had got hit in the head early on in his innings before going on to get 190,” Welch recalls. “Then, when we fielded there was a bit of a spat between him and umpire Allan Jones.
"I had bowled to Rob Bailey and he edged it and the ball didn’t carry to slip but Lara claimed a catch and kept going on at Allan and saying something about his eyesight. Allan turned round and said: ‘My eyesight was good enough to give you not out first ball.’ Lara had survived a huge lbw shout off Ambrose’s first ball.
“So it all kicked off and Allan and Dermot had a bit of a conflab and then basically Brian just went and lay in the changing rooms for the next three days. He said he had a headache but I think you could say there was a breakdown in communication between him and Dermot.
“It was all a bit lively but I was just happy to be there and playing. It was an honour to be in the same team as fellas like Lara, Tim Munton and Gladstone Small. I got a few runs with the bat and my first first-class wickets so I was happy.
“I went into bat for my first innings late on the first day. Me and Tim saw the night out then came back the next morning and added a few. I remember Ambrose hitting Tim on the inside of the thigh with a full-toss and he had a bruise from his groin to his knee which he was very proud of.
“I was just so excited to be out there facing Ambrose. It was a boyhood dream. I had been watching this fella bowling for the West Indies and bowling England out on the television and now all of a sudden I’m out there facing him. He looked a giant and it was just a great experience.
“I had a bit of luck with the ball too. I nicked Bailey off, bowled an absolute pie which Allan Lamb cut to Trevor Penney and then Mal Loye nicked one to Dermot so it was a bit of a dream debut.
“It was a great finish too. We chased it down on the last day and Ossie went in and smacked it and we won with a few balls to spare. What a game.”
What a game, indeed. And while that sort of climax, with four excellent days’ cricket building to a last-over crescendo, comes along once every few seasons, a lot of the components of that match – extended personal duels, individual brilliance, unexpected resistance, cricket of high intensity – are the stuff of first-class cricket alone.
The shorter formats have their place but, as the county championship has proved this season, it is the longer game that charms and grips spectators – and moulds players.
It is a point that Welch makes to the players under his charge as bowling coach at Edgbaston. And he does not subscribe to the oft-stated view that there is too much championship cricket these days.
“What I say to the lads now is four days is a long time,” he said. “You have to have patience. I like the longer, atritional games where you have to set games up and win sessions and spells within sessions. That’s what it’s all about.
“I think the championship is alright in terms of the amount of the games they play. It’s the other competitions that congest it all.
“It’s silly to have a T20, which you can’t prepare for anyway because you’ve finished a championship game, then straight back into another four-day game. Your skills have to be flipped round and for young lads just learning the game there is no time for any preparation.
“We need breaks between games or chunks of games in the various formats. Chucking championship games in among the 40-over games or Twenty20 makes it very difficult.”