'Once a Bear, always a Bear,' they say and there could be no more resounding example of that than former West Indies and Warwickshire spinner Lance Gibbs.
Almost half a century has elapsed since Gibbs’ final match for the Bears, his last act for the club, the dismissal of David Hughes to seal championship victory over Lancashire at Edgbaston in September 1973. And more than 4,000 miles now separate the 85-year-old’s home in Miami, on the east coast of the United States, from the Bears in Birmingham.
But his affection for Warwickshire, for whom he played between 1968 and 1973, and helped win the Gillette Cup in ’68 and county championship in ’72, still resonates mightily. He was as proud as punch to be awarded honorary life-membership of the club when he attended the West Indies Test at Edgbaston in 2017.
The older guys like Tom Cartwright and Jack Bannister who were always keen to pass on their knowledge and tell us about opposing players and their strengths and weaknesses. The coaches Derief Taylor and Tiger Smith would pass on information. That’s what happens at a special club like Warwickshire, it’s like a family really and you pass things on.Lance Gibbs
“Warwickshire is a great club with a wonderful ground and I always enjoy going back,” said Gibbs from his home in the USA. “It was a true honour to be awarded life-membership and I am really looking forward to coming to Edgbaston again for the West Indies Test in 2020.
“I loved my time at Warwickshire because everyone made me so welcome. That wasn’t the case everywhere you went, like Yorkshire for example, but at Warwickshire everybody just wanted to help you.
“We had some great players. Bob Willis was just coming into the Warwickshire team and he was my room-mate. Then we had Dennis Amiss – he was my driver! – John Jameson, Alvin Kallicharran, Rohan Kanhai, David Brown – great players. Jim Stewart, Bill Blenkiron.
“Then there were the older guys like Tom Cartwright and Jack Bannister who were always keen to pass on their knowledge and tell us about opposing players and their strengths and weaknesses. The coaches Derief Taylor and Tiger Smith would pass on information. That’s what happens at a special club like Warwickshire, it’s like a family really and you pass things on. There was a terrific team spirit.”
I loved it – the cricket and the camaraderie at Warwickshire. And that camaraderie is still there. When I came to the Test match in 2017 who was there to pick me up from my hotel every morning? MJK.Lance Gibbs
A tall, talented off-spinner, Gibbs was signed by Warwickshire when he was already an established Test cricketer. He was widely considered to be the best offy in the world – but still had to wait for his Bears bow.
“I had to spend two years qualifying for Warwickshire so during that time could only play non-first class games,” he recalls. “I was 12th man a lot in the championship so a group of Warwickshire supporters got together and wrote to the MCC to say it was ridiculous that a world-class off-spinner was 12th man.
“Next year the MCC changed the rules and it was open house. Gary Sobers and a lot of top guys came in and I think it really helped the English players that all these overseas players came in with their skills and knowledge. And I was the guinea pig!”
Guyana-born Gibbs was soon getting to grips with English conditions that were not always particularly conducive to spin. He loved being part of the unique learning school that is county cricket – and translated his skills into it most effectively in 1971 when he took 123 championship wickets, including ten in a match on three occasions, at 18.84 apiece.
“In England you learned to bowl in all conditions,” he said. “I remember one match at Sussex we turned up and you could not tell where the pitch was. The square was all green and Tony Buss and Don Bates bowled us out for nothing.
“The ball would fly sometimes and sometimes I thought somebody would get killed – there were no helmets in those days.
“County cricket was a great education. It helped that I could turn a ball on any pitch and also that I had a high action that enabled me to get bounce off the wicket. That was a big help because if a batsman tried to sweep often it would come off high on the bat and he would give a catch.
“I had to bowl well for Warwickshire, though, because the fielders were in such dangerous positions. MJK almost stood on the batsman’s toes!”
Uncovered pitched were not the only difference between championship cricket in Gibbs’ era and that of today.
“We played a championship match against Essex at Leyton on the Saturday and then had to go up to Yorkshire for a Sunday League game and back down to Essex for the Monday,” he said. “It wouldn’t happen today – but back then players just did what they were told.
“I loved it – the cricket and the camaraderie at Warwickshire. And that camaraderie is still there. When I came to the Test match in 2017 who was there to pick me up from my hotel every morning? MJK!”