In most careers, leading a team to a County Championship title, as John Inverarity did at Warwickshire in 2004, would be a crowning achievement.
In Inverarity’s case – not so.
He is proud of his success with the Bears and reflects upon it with great affection. But his crowning achievement? No.
But then neither is anything else in the Western Australian’s success-littered cricket career; not captaining his state to four Sheffield Shield titles in five years or playing Test cricket for Australia or even steering his country to world number one in Test and ODI cricket as chairman of selectors.
For Inverarity’s working life always ran along dual lines – cricket and teaching . And it was always classroom rather than cricket ground where his first vocation lay.
“Which comes first?” he said. “No question – education. That’s far and away the most rewarding. I am an educator who has also been involved in cricket.”
I’d spent 14 years as Headmaster of Hale School in Perth. It was a wonderful job but a very demanding role in a highly competitive environment. I wanted a temporary change of direction and Rod Marsh, who was a friend of Dennis Amiss, alerted me to an opportunity at Warwickshire.John Inverarity
Education is a high-pressure world, however, and it was when Inverarity wanted a temporary break from those pressures that he joined Warwickshire.
“I’d spent 14 years as Headmaster of Hale School in Perth. It was a wonderful job but a very demanding role in a highly competitive environment,” he recalls. “I wanted a temporary change of direction and Rod Marsh, who was a friend of Dennis Amiss, alerted me to an opportunity at Warwickshire.”
Although Inverarity never played county cricket he was far from a stranger to England or English cricket. In 1976 and 1977 he taught at Tonbridge School, alma mater of Sir Colin Cowdrey, and, in late May 1988, when teaching at Kings School, Wimbledon, he accepted a request from Chris Cowdrey to do some coaching with Kent that season. Bottom of the championship when Inverarity took over, they finished second.
He oversaw similar improvement at Edgbaston. In his second season, the Bears won the championship for only the sixth time after going through the season unbeaten – winning five and drawing 11. It was a triumph which surprised many, including those who perpetrated it.
“It did surprise me,” he said. “We had a decent squad but nobody expected us to win the championship and we didn’t expect to win it either.
“We were described as the most ordinary team ever to win it but I took that as a compliment. It reflected a sustained wonderful effort by a team with no stars but a lot of really good young players coming through who had a fantastic spirit. It was a testament to their character. There was never an ounce of energy left out on the field.
“The players deserved loads of credit. It takes some doing to remain unbeaten through a championship season and, while we did not win a lot of games, we did win some really tough ones, likes the ones at Lord’s and Guildford.”
A big factor in the success was Nick Knight, both in terms of runs and the captaincy which he took over from Michael Powell.
“I really liked Michael,” said Inverarity. “He is a good man and was a good captain, but it was difficult because he could not always justify his place in the team as a batsman. So we talked Nick into accepting the captaincy, which he did slightly reluctantly, and he led the team really well.
“Brad Hogg was another big influence – a great signing. He was a superb influence in the dressing room and scored a lot of runs very quickly. And Ian Bell had a really big season ending with his Test debut. He scored a lot of runs and benefited from having been out to Perth the previous winter.
“I had arranged for Ian to play with the University of Western Australia’s first team and insisted on him making all the necessary arrangements and looking after himself whilst there. He had to do it all himself because that was what he needed. It did him the world of good. And Ian did everything right at the club where he is held in very high regard for his all-round contribution and continuing interest.”
Guys, let’s try something different after tea. Three points. Bowl a line and length. Bowl a line and length. Bowl a ******* line and length.” The message was clear.John Inverarity
Underpinning it all was Inverarity’s intelligent and measured leadership and he is spoken of with enormous affection by those who played under him. His kindly presence is recalled by Jimmy Anyon as “like having your grandfather in the dressing-room” but ‘Invers,’ as befits a headmaster, could make his dissatisfaction crystal clear.
During one tea interval, after a poor session, the bowlers were told to assemble and did so, expecting some subtle strategic advice on what they needed to do to get back in the game.
Inverarity said: “Guys, let’s try something different after tea. Three points. Bowl a line and length. Bowl a line and length. Bowl a ******* line and length.” The message was clear.
The championship triumph seduced Inverarity to stay at Edgbaston for a third season in 2005 before he headed back to Australia full-time. He became Warden of St George’s College at the University of Western Australia until becoming chairman of selectors for Cricket Australia. That job done, he stepped down in 2014 but, at 73, remains as passionately committed to education as ever. He is involved in Teach for Australia and their vision of “an Australia where all children, regardless of background, attain an excellent education.”
Inverarity’s desire to see people maximise their potential far transcends cricket, so he is happy to hear that so many former Bears players have gone on to carve out rewarding careers beyond sport.
“I’m delighted by that,” he said. “I have reservations about seeing so many cricketers get to the ages of 36 or 38 and then just go into the media. There should be different challenges ahead. It’s great, for example, that Michael Powell is at Rugby School. I always felt that he would be a great coach and mentor to young people.
“I will always reflect very fondly on my time at Warwickshire and the people I worked with there. I have seen a few of them since. Nick Knight on several occasions at Lords, Ian Bell came out to Perth, Jim Troughton spent a season out here and so did Ian Westwood.
“More recently, in 2015, I saw Alan Richardson and Moeen Ali at Worcester. Both terrific guys. I recall encouraging Moeen to work hard on his spin-bowling and we got Ashley Mallett to spend some time with him. I suggested that if England has a list of batters in contention it could be the one who also offers something with the ball who gets the nod. And look at him now.”
A nice guy making the most of his abilities – for John Inverarity, that’s just about the perfect case study.
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