“Warwickshire is a big club with expectations that are high and should be high”
Dennis Amiss and Edgbaston go back a long, long way together.
As a boy, Amiss used to hand over his pocket money to get into the famous old ground to watch his heroes bat. That boy grew into a man whose batting on that field, and many others, gave pleasure to millions.
Ahead of that boyhood Warwickshire fan lay a career which would yield the little matter of 55,942 runs in senior cricket. Rather incongruously, that mighty career started with a Did Not Bat at The Oval and ended with a 0 and 4 at Scarborough, but in between came 658 first-class matches which brought 102 centuries, including 11 tons in 50 Tests for England.
Back then it was still amateurs and professionals with two gates on to the field and you had to knock on the dressing-room door. It was ‘Mr Wolton’ and ‘Mr Horner.Dennis Amiss
On that valedictory day – September 10, 1987 – at North Marine Road, Amiss was dismissed by Paul Jarvis and walked off the field and, after 28 years, out of first-class cricket. At last, it was all over.
Well, not quite.
In fact, nowhere near.
It was all over for Dennis Amiss the player, but some of his biggest and most important contributions to the Bears still lay ahead. In April 1994, he became chief executive, a position he would hold for a 12-year period which brought Warwickshire eight trophies, including three championships, and saw county cricket undergo its most radical ever changes.
“When I finished playing I had my coaching certificates but coaching didn’t really excite me,” said Amiss, now 74 but still busy as an after-dinner speaker and regularly out on the golf course or cycling around his beloved city. “I had a business background, with the family business and then on the board of a public company, so that gave me some experience and, after retiring as a player, I was leaning that way rather than coaching.
“I was thrilled to bits to be appointed chief executive of Warwickshire. I suppose I had come a long way from my first Edgbaston contract – £150 for six months! Back then it was still amateurs and professionals with two gates on to the field and you had to knock on the dressing-room door. It was ‘Mr Wolton’ and ‘Mr Horner.’
“Players were only paid during the summer but I was lucky because we had a business of tyre-distributors with some big accounts like Ansells Brewery, Mitchells & Butlers and Midlands Counties Dairies. So my uncle told me go and play cricket in the summer and then come in the family business in the winter. But he said ‘you start at the bottom’ – and I did. I remember going out on a Monday morning in winter to Birmingham Salvage Inner-tubes and we’d pick up 40 inner-tubes and have to break the ice then find out where the punctures where and blow these things back up. I was on breakdowns too and it was hard going but I enjoyed it and then went in the sales office, dealing with customers. I think that started off an interest in business which I always kept.”
Amiss was to wield his combined business and cricket expertise wisely as he became a major off-field player for both Warwickshire and, latterly as deputy chairman, the England and Wales Cricket Board. He was appointed Bears chief executive at an interesting time, at the start of the 1994 season. Five months later the club had won the treble after the most successful season for any team in county cricket history.
Many factors combined to make that happen but among them was a crucial change of mindset at a club which had, during the 1970s and 1980s, achieved only sporadic successes among sustained periods of under-achievement.
“Warwickshire is a big club with expectations that are high and should be high,” Amiss said. “But a lot of seasons went by when we didn’t achieve anything. I remember AC Smith used to say ‘we’re a big club and the smaller clubs resent the big clubs, so we have to be careful what we do.’ I said ‘well, that doesn’t stop us winning things does it?’ because for a long time we didn’t win enough.
“When I became chief executive I felt it was my job to change that mentality and bring good players to the club. I said ‘come on, let’s be a bit ruthless, without going over the top,’ and MJK Smith, the chairman, bought into that.
“We brought in Brian Lara and he was the catalyst because he scored his runs so quickly the bowlers had plenty of time to bowl the opposition out twice. It was a great set-up and a brilliant season.
“Then we brought in Nick Knight and that’s what you’ve got to do, always be looking to improve, and we had another great season in ’95.”
When I became chief executive I felt it was my job to change that mentality and bring good players to the club. I said ‘come on, let’s be a bit ruthless, without going over the top,’ and MJK Smith, the chairman, bought into that.Dennis Amiss
While the Bears began to punch their weight on the field, the broader picture of county and international had embarked upon a period of unprecedented change. Amiss was at the heart of much of it. Although armed with deep experience from the past, he was more in tune than most to the need for cricket and cricketers to adapt, from pioneering batting helmets and driving forward day/night cricket to simply recognising that cricket had to become more entertaining.
“County cricket went through a terrible time in the 1960s,” Amiss said. “People would bat all day just to reach 100 and it was horrible to watch. I remember a player-survey was done and they went to the Sussex players and asked: Do you enjoy county cricket? And all of them said no. And they were the players!
“It was slow and boring and people didn’t enjoy it so the Gillette Cup came in and that started to put a bit of life back into cricket but we had to keep it going. Suddenly people wanted everything faster and to do things quicker and county cricket had to keep pace.
“In came four-day championship cricket and two divisions to make it more competitive and more day/night cricket and T20. I was a great supporter of day/night cricket having played it in World Series and seen how good it could be. Some people were convinced it wouldn’t work in this country but Warwickshire were the first to host a floodlit game and it did work. Others soon cottoned on and then T20 helped it take off. It has brought new audiences in. I felt it could rejuvenate the game and it did – and cricket has gone through so many changes for the better.”