First impressions count, they say, and when Charles Dagnall joined Warwickshire in 1999 he made an immediate impression on club chairman MJK Smith.
Dagnall signed for the Bears in chief executive Dennis Amiss’s office in the Edgbaston pavilion watched by Amiss and coach Neal Abberley. A swing bowler, he was 22 years old, like plenty of new Bears signings before him. Unlike most of his predecessors, however, he had a mop of long, rather unruly hair with extravagant blond highlights.
MJK came into the room and said: ‘Ah, you’re Dagnall are you?’ He looked me up and down and shook his head and said: ‘The game’s gone.Charles Dagnall
“Abbers and Dennis signed me,” he recalls, “and MJK came into the room and said: ‘Ah, you’re Dagnall are you?’ He looked me up and down and shook his head and said: ‘The game’s gone!’
“That set the tone for me at Warwickshire. I absolutely adored it. There were, and are, some great people at the club.”
Dagnall’s Bears career was quite brief. He arrived in 1999 and left in the winter of 2001/02 to join Leicestershire having taken nine wickets in his last match for the club, a promotion-clincher at Derby.
The Bury-born player went on to figure in the Foxes team which won the T20 Cup on the first Finals Day at Edgbaston in 2004 before injury ended his playing career prematurely. By then he was already working in radio, a second career which has blossomed with “Daggers” now a popular broadcaster and member of the Test Match Special team.
Dagnall’s time with Warwickshire is a relatively small chapter of his colourful life in cricket – but one on which he reflects with great warmth.
“I look back on it with enormous fondness,” he said. “Not least because Warwickshire gave me a chance after I had trialled and played 2nd XI cricket for 13 counties. The Bears took a punt on me and, though I didn’t play too many games, I made some great friends there and everything that has happened in my later career has flowed from that time. I signed on the same day as my best mate Alan Richardson and found another lifelong friend in the brilliant Keith Cook and they were very, very good times.
“I spent the first year in the 2nd XI learning so much under Neal Abberley and Steve Perryman. Then the next year I made my one-day debut and it was the first season we had names and numbers on our shirts. They were horrible, blue, pin-stripe things but I remember looking at mine – Dagnall, 2 – and seeing a legend like Trevor Penney having number 15 and thinking: ‘Blimey – I’m not doing too badly here.’ Of course, in those days the numbers were done an alphabetical order.”
Dagnall forced his way into the one-day side but never played a championship game at Edgbaston. Curiously, his four championship appearances for the Bears were all away from home – at Lord’s and Chelmsford in the last two matches of 2000 and Lord’s and Derby in the last two of 2001. In the last of those, at Derby, his match-figures of nine for 128, including a first-innings six for 50, underpinned a promotion-clinching win in what was to prove his final match for Warwickshire.
“No, I didn’t pay a home championship game,” he said. “I don’t think they wanted to expose the members to me over four days! I always seemed to get thrown in at Lord’s and remember one of them was on a real shirt-front. I got a couple of early wickets but then numbers four, five, six and seven got centuries. Owais Shah was one of them and he eventually fell c Piper b Dagnall and to this day I’m thankful for that umpire’s alertness and good eyesight. It was a horrible strangle down the leg-side just as it seemed we’d be bowling forever.
I’d only known A.D a year or two but it was clear how his presence resonated with the other players and the members. Whenever we meet we still chuckle about me outbowling him on his last day as a Bears player.Charles Dagnall
“I played in some one-dayers too including Allan Donald’s last game when I took a four-for. I’d only known A.D a year or two but it was clear how his presence resonated with the other players and the members. What a legend. Whenever we meet we still chuckle about me outbowling him on his last day as a Bears player!
“Then in that last championship game at Derby the ball swung for me and Dougie Brown and we got the win that took us up. I remember the headline in the paper: “Dagnall cuts Perryman a slice of thanks.” I had no idea it would be my last game for the Bears.”
So it proved, though, as a lack of first-team opportunities at Edgbaston persuaded Dagnall to join Leicestershire with whom he tasted T20 glory in that first Finals Day at Edgbaston.
“I just wanted to play cricket and wasn’t getting picked so I went to see Dennis Amiss,” he said. “He wanted me to stay and fight for my place but Bob Woolmer was happy for me to go. I agreed to sign for Leicestershire and was ten minutes from Grace Road, on the Fosse Road island, when Dennis phoned. He wanted me to get back to Edgbaston and talk, but I’d given my word to Leicestershire. What would have happened if I’d turned back? Who knows? But I have no complaints.
“My first season at Leicester was pretty much lost to injury but in 2004 we won the T20 and it was a fantastic day at Edgbaston. In the final everybody except for the thousand or so Surrey fans wanted us to win so we had nearly 25,000 people cheering us on.
“I bowled four overs for 36 in the final and twelve of those runs came from two of the biggest sixes I’ve ever seen, from Ally Brown. One was an off-drive which went miles into the members and the other was a free-hit, which I was a bit narked about because I never overstepped, but Ally swept it into the Hollies Stand. Luckily it had a roof on or the ball would have landed in the Colts Ground.
“It was just a brilliant day. Edgbaston is like no other for noise and atmosphere and Finals Day there is a special, special occasion. The format has its critics but no-one can deny that atmosphere – it’s just brilliant.”
Injury was to close Dagnall’s playing career at 28 but by then he had embarked on a broadcasting career with BBC Radio Leicester. And that second career has gone from strength to strength.
“I’ve absolutely no regrets,” he said. “I’ve been really lucky.
“It got to the stage where my shins were just wrecked so although Leicestershire were great and wanted me to carry on I knew the game was up. I was doing more and more work for Radio Leicester and knew that was a direction I wanted to go in. And I can hardly believe where it is led.
“I’ve done ten Tests for Test Match Special team and to be part of that team when you think who has been there – Arlott, Mosey, Johnson, Agnew – is a huge privilege. I love all broadcasting but, most of all, commentating on Tests. Just like Test cricket is the pinnacle for a player, it is for a broadcaster as you see a match unfold over five days. It is like no other – the greatest game.
“I never played Test cricket – and didn’t get awfully close. But when I am commentating on it I feel as privileged as if I was playing.”