Many factors dovetailed perfectly to deliver Warwickshire's success of the mid-90s with numerous batsmen and bowlers playing at pretty much the peak of their powers. And then, at the heart of it all - literally so out in the middle - was a great wicketkeeper.
Keith Piper, who was this week voted by Bears fans as the Greatest Ever Bears Wicketkeeper, took 120 catches in the County Championship title seasons of 1994 and 1995. His immaculate glovework was equally invaluable in limited-overs cricket when he often stood up to the seamers to impose maximum pressure on the batsmen.
Piper possessed an immense natural talent and his presence was such a blessing for the team – and most of all the bowlers.
Bowling, and fast-bowling in particular, is hard work. It is a physically demanding and, at times on flat pitches, gruelling and thankless business.
So when you are slogging away, it is great to know that, if you do force a nick, whether it goes high or low, fast or slow, left or right, it will be caught.
“I’ve always said that I thought he was the best wicket-keeper in the UK. His ability to stand up to the stumps to the likes of Paul Smith and Tim Munton and, at times, even Gladstone Small to keep batters quiet at the crease was amazing.”Allan Donald
Nicks off Allan Donald had the added difficulty or arriving at almost 100mph – but A.D always charged in knowing he was “very lucky” to have Piper squatting in the distance.
“I first met Keith when he came on trial at Warwickshire and we played a Second XI game at Leicester in 1988,” recalls Donald. “He took a catch off me, diving high to his right. It was an amazing catch and when we got off the field, Neal Abberley, bless him, asked me: ‘What do you think of the young glove-man?’ I said: ‘The guy is unbelievably good.’
“I’ve always said that I thought he was the best wicket-keeper in the UK. His ability to stand up to the stumps to the likes of Paul Smith and Tim Munton and, at times, even Gladstone Small to keep batters quiet at the crease was amazing.
“He was just phenomenal. I remember him taking a crucial leg-side stumping in a NatWest game against Kent, in a quarter-final when he stumped Aravinda de Silva down the leg side off Paul Smith. To stump someone off that pace – it was just sublime keeping.”
The wicketkeeper’s role, although so pivotal to any team, is for the most part quite unsung and unspectacular with hours sometimes passing without a catch to take. Just routine throws from fielders.
Piper did all the unglamorous stuff with calm efficiency. He made very few errors – but also had the ability to take catches that were truly spectacular.
“It seemed that the ball just melted away into those gloves,” said Donald. “He was so calm behind the stumps and also a great mover who anticipated really well. He was brave too, he broke a few digits along the way with the ball wobbling about as it does in England.
“I have great sympathy for wicketkeepers because it is a tough job, but I also have great admiration for their skills and what they bring – and at Warwickshire we were very, very lucky to have Keith.”