When Warwickshire began their John Player League campaign with a visit to Hampshire on 4 May 1980, the expectations of their supporters were pretty low.
In 1979, the Bears’ Sunday League fortunes had become a bad joke. In a nightmare campaign, they won just two of 16 games and finished well adrift at the bottom.
At least, in 1980, it could only get better.
It got a lot better. In one of the most remarkable turnarounds in county cricket history, Warwickshire followed up the wooden spoon with the title.
New captain Bob Willis pinpointed limited-overs cricket – and the Sunday League in particular – as an area where the Bears could challenge to lift their first trophy in almost a decade. He galvanised the team and the script unfolded perfectly…abetted right at the start by some timely words from a newcomer in the dressing-room.
India left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi, already a Test player, had been signed during the winter. He carried no baggage from the 1979 shambles and had no intention of being involved in a shambles in 1980 – so, moments before his debut at Southampton, he had a word with his new team-mates.
“We got down to Hampshire and there was a lot of laughing and joking in the dressing-room before the game. That’s all well and good but it seemed a bit too light-hearted so I said to the guys ‘hold on – this is the first match, let’s switch on a bit here.’Dilip Doshi
“I said the season was there in front of us, so let’s give it a go. Let’s play every game as though it was a cup final – as if our lives depended on it.
“They looked at me and smiled and thought: ‘Oh, that’s nice to see such enthusiasm’ but maybe it hit home a little bit because we went out there and won by eight wickets. After the game some of the guys came to me and said ‘you’re right’ – and that win was the springboard. We won the first eight games and never really looked back.”
Doshi took three wickets at Northlands Road and his skilful spin bowling was to prove pivotal to the triumph. His 21 wickets at 20.23 apiece was a vital cog in the bowling attack alongside Gladstone Small (25 wickets), Anton Ferreira (20) , Willis, when not on England duty and, late in the season, former England fast bowler John Snow, brought in to add experience.
“It was a great thing to be part of,” said Doshi. “It was lovely to be an integral part of the team in my first season with the club and we just got a momentum going that took us all the way to the title.
“We worked well as a bowling unit and Bob put a great emphasis on fielding so it was fantastic, as a bowler, to have guys like John Claughton and Phil Oliver diving around to support us. Then later on Snowy came in and he brought in a lot.Dilip Doshi
“I loved it. I was only at Warwickshire for two seasons but look back on my time there with a lot of fondness, mainly because of that first season. I made some lifelong friends and it was wonderful to play at Edgbaston, especially as the season wore on and the crowds got bigger and noisier. It was a great atmosphere to play in.”
Doshi’s input was huge – and not just as a bowler. After eight successive wins, in July they encountered a wobble with two successive defeats before facing Gloucestershire at Edgbaston. A third successive reverse could have been highly damaging and it was looking bleak when the visitors arrived at the last over needing just six to win with the great Mike Procter at the crease.
But Willis bowled a superb over, bowling Procter with the fourth ball, so Gloucestershire reached the last ball still needing two to win or one to tie.
The Bears came out on top, thanks to Doshi…and some sage advice he’d been given by Bears and England physio Bernard Thomas eight years earlier.
“I was fielding at long off, in front of the members’ bar,” said Doshi. “David Graveney drove the ball to me and set off and I ran him out. I think he thought there was a run there because I always bowled the ball in from the outfield to the keeper but, on this occasion, I threw it in and ran him out, so we won by one run.
“The reason I usually bowled the ball in was not because I couldn’t throw it, but because of some advice that the great Bernard Thomas had given me very early in my career, in India in 1972. He told me that, by bowling it in instead of throwing it, I would protect my shoulder from so much wear and tear it could put years on my career.
“It was wonderful advice and I took it on board. A lot of the time fielding deep you don’t need to throw it hard so I didn’t – I just reserved that energy for when it was really needed, like in that Gloucestershire game!”