If an aspiring cricketer in his early twenties wrote to all the first-class counties to offer his services as a batsman and didn’t get a single reply, then it would hardly be a surprise if he didn’t go on to play for England.
However, if a cricketer concluded a 12-year career as an opening batsman with a first-class average of over 40, in an era when county cricket contained many of the world’s best bowlers, then it would be a major surprise if he never represented his country.
Both of the above apply to Andy Moles.
I played a handful of second-team games for Warwickshire without doing much then got a call one day from Gordon Lord. Dennis Amiss had a benefit game against a Nottinghamshire side up in Blackpool and Andy Lloyd was injured so they were one short. I stepped in and scored 60 not out.Andy Moles
Between 1986 and 1997, Solihull-born Moles, having finally battered down the door into senior cricket, scored 15,305 first-class runs at an average of 40.70. Most of those runs came for Warwickshire, though his courageous, obdurate batting at the top of the order also succeeded in South Africa where he averaged 64.16 in three seasons with Griqualand West.
An eye-catchingly diverse coaching career followed for the former pupil of Finham Park Comprehensive School, Coventry, with Kenya, Scotland, New Zealand and most recently Afghanistan with whom he has worked for the last four years. Now Cape Town-based, Moles has literally and figuratively, travelled far since the tough days of the mid-1980s when he was a Coventry factory worker dreaming of a life in cricket.
And his fascinating career-story sends one clear message above all to young cricketers of any generation: Never, ever give up.
“I’ve had a great life in cricket and have been very lucky over the years,” Moles said. “But you could say that getting that chance in the first place was a victory for bloody-mindedness and determination.
“I was an apprentice toolmaker in Coventry for four years, playing for Dunlop in the Coventry Works League and Kenilworth Wardens. Then I moved to Birmingham and played for Moseley and we used to play against a Warwickshire XI in the Birmingham League and I’d always think: ‘I’m as good as this lot.’
“So when I was about 22 I wrote to all the counties asking for a trial. I didn’t get a single reply.
“I did get a chance to play in South Africa though, for Gill College in Somerset East. So for three years I played for them in the winters, before moving on to Griqualand West, then came back home and was unemployed during the English summer, playing as much club cricket as I could and for the Birmingham League and Midlands Club Cricket Conference.
“I played a handful of second-team games for Warwickshire without doing much then got a call one day from Gordon Lord. Dennis Amiss had a benefit game against a Nottinghamshire side up in Blackpool and Andy Lloyd was injured so they were one short. I stepped in and scored 60 not out and after the game Dennis, Norman Gifford and David Brown came up to me and said: ‘Have you thought about being a professional?’ I said I’d been trying for three years!”
Moles was awarded a six-week trial by the end of which he was in the first team. That was 1986 and he quickly became an integral part of the squad which, first galvanised by Bob Cottam and Andy Lloyd, then Bob Woolmer and Dermot Reeve, was transformed from perpetual also-rans into champions.
“When I first joined there I was alongside Dennis, Norman and David and Alvin Kallicharran and I couldn’t believe I was sitting there amongst these legends. I just listened and learned as much as I could. I regard myself as incredibly fortunate.
“Some of our cricket was a bit soft though. There was often a feeling that a draw could be a good result, but then Bob Cottam and Andy Lloyd started to turn things round. Bob and Andy challenged us. They changed our attitude and made us want to be winners. Bob used to say we were all too comfortable, wanting to sit there nice and comfy in our fur-lined jockstraps. The easy life had to stop.
“Bob and Andy put the blueprint down and then Bob Woolmer and Dermot kept the ball rolling.”
Despite being affected by injuries during the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Moles contributed plenty to the Bears’ success of those years. In ’94, he averaged 50.76 in 11 championship games, his 863 runs including an unbeaten 203 against Surrey at Guildford, reported at the time as the second-slowest double-century ever.
It was a very rare environment in which every player, from the most senior down, derived pleasure from seeing all the others do well. Everybody totally respected each other’s abilities. For example, Trevor Penney, in one-day cricket, didn’t get the big runs that others did because he went in lower down but he scored some brilliant 20s and 30s that won us games.Andy Moles
In ’95, he averaged 40.92 until an achilles injury which ruled him out after June.
For a dyed-in-the-wool Warwickshire man, those two seasons remained treasured.
“When I’m asked for my favourite cricket memory, I never name one innings or one match,” said Moles.
“It’s of being part of that family of 17 or 18 players who had all that success in those two seasons. I don’t think it will ever be repeated.
“It was a very rare environment in which every player, from the most senior down, derived pleasure from seeing all the others do well. Everybody totally respected each other’s abilities. For example, Trevor Penney, in one-day cricket, didn’t get the big runs that others did because he went in lower down but he scored some brilliant 20s and 30s that won us games. We all knew that and in the dressing-room he was as admired as the guys that got 70s or 80s. Neil Smith didn’t get many headlines but bowled so many important spells for us.
“It helped to have Allan Donald bowling at his peak, of course. A.D was just amazing in ’95. Having been away touring with South Africa while we were winning the championship, he badly wanted to win it when he came back. He was hard enough to face at the best of times but add in the extra fire which came from wanting to win because he had missed out the year before and he was terrifying.
“They were great times. I got some runs at Guildford where it was a slowish wicket so I just set my stall out and let others bat around me. I always loved playing at the festivals. Edgbaston will always be my favourite ground but the festival grounds were great because the crowd was so close and the atmosphere and hospitality so good.”
Ah, yes, the hospitality. ‘Moler’ always enjoyed that. An old-style county cricketer who loved the community of county cricket and mixing with the fans, perhaps because he was simply one of them – just one who happened to be good enough to play cricket professionally.
And perhaps, when it came to England contention, that gregariousness, and the less-than-svelte physique, counted against him. Just as his Warwickshire predecessor Jim Stewart was once dismissed by a chairman of selectors as “a slogger,” maybe Moles was just punished for being a little bit different.
England have selected many batsmen less good than Stewart and Moles, including a few during the latter’s career. But Moles looks back with not a tinge of recrimination.
“Of course I would have loved to play for England,” he said. “There was one point when I was leading run-scorer in the country and they were opening with Robin Smith, a middle-order batsman, that I thought I had a chance. But it never came along. A lot of people said at that time it was harder to get in the England side than out of it.
“But I don’t look back with any bitterness, just gratitude for having had such a long career in the fantastic world of cricket.”
* In Part Two next week, Andy Moles talks about his coaching career, the Warwickshire influences that helped shape it – and what the future might hold.