There have been some eye-catching debuts for Warwickshire over the years and that of Nick James was definitely one of them.
Pitched into a big derby 50-over game against Worcestershire at Edgbaston in June 2006, in front of a packed house, he bowled 10-1-23-1 against a top order including Graeme Hick and Vikram Solanki, and then scored 30 with the bat.
It was a brilliant start for the Sandwell-born all-rounder who had been in the Bears’ system since the age of 12. He had shone with bat and ball. Here, clearly, was an all-rounder of some talent.
I’d already done some work with Complete Cricket and it has been great to build my connection with them – a company that does everything the right way. It is lovely to give something back and be able to pass on some of the knowledge that those great coaches Steve Perryman and Neal Abberley passed on to me.Nick James
But as many all-rounders have discovered over the years, that versatility can be mixed blessing. James was to play just one first-class and 11 white-ball games for the Bears during four years as a pro there before spending five happy seasons at Glamorgan.
Now a coach, combining his role as cricket professional at Bablake School, Coventry, with work for Solihull-based Complete Cricket, his senior career stats are highly respectable – 23.92 with the bat and 25.66 with the ball in first-class cricket and 19.27 and 21.60 in List A.
So why did he not play more? Well, it’s that all-rounder dilemma.
“I had had a really good debut against Worcestershire and loved every moment of it and that gave me some belief,” James said. “But I don’t think Warwickshire could ever decide whether I was a batting all-rounder or a bowling all-rounder. Different coaches had different opinions.
“I guess the problem was, while I was good at all three disciplines, I wasn’t a real specialist in any. Perhaps because I was a serious fielder, at times I seemed to be the preferred 12th man which could be a little bit frustrating.
“I always felt I was perhaps I was one big performance away from cementing my place in the team. I felt I did well when I got chances in the first-team and showed my potential but opportunities were very limited. I often batted down the order where it was all about getting a quick 12 or 15.”
James’ ability had been apparent from very early on, first with Staffordshire Under 9s-11s then in the Edgbaston system from age 12. He captained the Bears’ Under 17s to the title in 2004, earning a call-up for England, with whom he toured Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and played three Under 19s Tests and, alongside Moeen Ali and Varun Chopra, in the U19s World Cup.
“I was really lucky to play the likes of Moeen, Stuart Broad and Joe Denly,” recalls James. “That had got me my first contract with the Bears.
“I was disappointed not to play more for Warwickshire because it was ‘my club’ and the one I always wanted to play for – and I was really disappointed to get released. But I went to Australia that winter and stayed in Adelaide with Peter Sleep, a leggie who played Test cricket for Australia, and played some grade cricket and that did me a lot of good. I came back determined to prove people wrong. David Hemp arranged a trial for me at Glamorgan and, after making a couple of hundreds for the 2nds, I got a contract.
“I absolutely loved my time at Glamorgan. Matt Maynard was the coach and he really wanted to bring on the young players. The highlight was when I was 12th man for the first three days of the first Ashes Test in Cardiff in 2009. I remember standing on the balcony before play when Catherine Jenkins was singing Jerusalem and everyone in the packed ground was singing. It was unbelievable.”
James was a valuable part of a strong Glamorgan squad for five years before his career ended in poignant fashion – at a Lord’s final.
“My last game in the squad was a 40-over final at Lord’s,” he said. “I had always wanted to play at Lord’s but never managed it – and I was named 12th man. I had already been told I was being released and after the game it was pretty bitter-sweet, sitting up there on my own on the players’ balcony with a beer looking out over an emptying Lord’s. I admit I had a moment. I shed a tear.”
James was soon looking forward, though, and building an impressive coaching career.
“I decided that, in terms of playing, enough was enough and went straight into coaching,” he said. “The Professional Cricketers Association was brilliant in helping me and making it a smooth transition and I found that I really love helping young players try to become the best they can be.
“I’d already done some work with Complete Cricket and it has been great to build my connection with them – a company that does everything the right way. It is lovely to give something back and be able to pass on some of the knowledge that those great coaches Steve Perryman and Neal Abberley passed on to me.
“I also love my work at Bablake. Coaching is a lovely vocation to take and I really enjoy working there. Dan Mousley has just come through and hopefully I have had a little bit of an influence on him as he is pretty much where I was at his age, having just played in an England Under 19s Word Cup.
“Hopefully he will play a lot more first-team cricket than I did. I am sure he will – he is a real prospect and a lovely lad with such an infectious smile.”
James himself still plays and has helped Berkswell to the Birmingham League and Cup double in each of the last two seasons. And, although his career did not fly quite as it appeared it might, he looks back only with pleasure.
“Would I change anything?” he said. “Not at all. I have travelled the world, played with some fantastic players and met some wonderful people and now I love what I do at Bablake and with Complete Cricket. I am very lucky.”