While Warwickshire were blazing their way towards a sensational treble in 1994, home-grown young batsman Wasim Khan was nursing a growing concern.
Nobody was more thrilled by the Bears’ staggering success than 23-year-old Wasim. Born in Small Heath, a Brummie through and through, he had come through the youth system at Edgbaston, on his way to becoming the first British player of Pakistan origin to play professional cricket in England.
That concern, however, was understandable: How on earth do you, as a rookie, force your way into a team which is as close to all-conquering as any side in county cricket has ever been?
Ash and I were walking back to the hotel in the early hours of the morning thinking ‘can we really believe what’s happened to us this year?’ We had pretty much travelled the same journey together, much of it in my Peugeot 309.Wasim Khan
Wasim was still to make his first-team debut for the Bears and though 1,068 runs for the 2nd XI in ’94 underlined his potential, he could take nothing for granted. One top-order place would be vacated by Brian Lara in ’95, but there were many other factors in play.
“They were making a decision on whether to sign Tom Moody or Allan Donald with various people on either side of the debate,” Wasim recalls. “We played a second-team game at Stratford and I remember sitting there thinking actually this is a really important decision for me because if Moody comes back another top-order spot is taken.
“Then I remember A.D turning up at Stratford and shaking hands with Neal Abberley and saying: ‘I’m staying’ – and I thought ‘crikey.’
“I’d done well in the 2nds in ’94 and thought I could be part of it in ’95 but another worry followed in October when the club signed Nick Knight. I remember feeling totally deflated and thinking: ‘I’ve been here for years now and want to be part of this incredible thing that’s going on at the club.'”
Wasim was to be part of it – a big part as the Bears lifted two more trophies in 1995. Despite the intense competition, he earned his first-team chance and seized it emphatically, scoring 740 championship runs, including a maiden century (a match-shaping 181 against Hampshire at Southampton) at an average of 46.25.
“Quite early in the season Knighty missed a game through injury so I made my debut at home to Surrey – how proud I was to pull on that Bears first-team shirt!” he said. “I scored 19 and 25 then played in the next game at Old Trafford and scored a few runs and I was on board the juggernaut! I scored 89 against Somerset at home and then, even though I was dropped for the next game, it didn’t matter to me because now I was part of this incredible team. I was looking around the dressing-room and seeing Gladstone Small, Allan Donald and Knighty, all these great players, and I was feeling a proper part of it.
“The senior guys were hugely welcoming. They played hard, on and off the field, all season long but were model professionals in that every time they went on the field they were ready – as the results showed.”
Those results included 14 wins from 17 championship games, the highest win-percentage in the history of the championship. And that 14th victory, the title-clincher over Kent at Canterbury, left Khan feeling totally euphoric – and slightly incredulous.
During that away trip, as for much of the season, Khan roomed with fellow emerging player Ashley Giles. Fast forward 24 years and, in 2019, the pair hold two of the biggest jobs in cricket – chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board and managing director of the England and Wales Cricket. On September 16, 1995, having contributed important runs and wickets respectively to the crucial win over Kent, they were just two young cricketers trying to take it all in.
I remember lying in bed that night and thinking; ‘I can’t believe I have won a championship medal.’ Ian Botham, Viv Richards – these guys never did that.Wasim Khan
“It was an incredible night,” Wasim recalls. “Ash and I were walking back to the hotel in the early hours of the morning thinking ‘can we really believe what’s happened to us this year?’ We had pretty much travelled the same journey together, much of it in my Peugeot 309!
“I remember lying in bed that night and thinking; ‘I can’t believe I have won a championship medal.’ Ian Botham, Viv Richards – these guys never did that. It was an incredible thrill and back in Birmingham the next day we all met up at the White Swan in Harborne to continue the celebration. It was absolutely the best five months of my life.
“Ash and I were the young guys, the lackeys, often the 12th and 13th men but we just loved being there and part of it. It was an amazing environment to be part of and you just couldn’t help but learn loads. It gives me a lot of pride now to look round and see what so many of the guys went on to do; Ash, of course, and Dougie Brown became directors of cricket with the Bears, Pop Welch has a great reputation and Jason Ratcliffe did such brilliant work for the PCA for so long.
“It’s great that so many of us stayed in cricket and did well in all sorts of places but I think, for those who were part of that mid-90s side, Warwickshire is where your heart is always going to be.”
Warwickshire was not, however, where the rest of Wasim Khan was always going to be. Ahead of him lay a career of extraordinary achievements which is very much ongoing but has already brought, among other accolades, an MBE for services to cricket and the community.
That remarkable career was to unfold off the cricket field though. Just five and a half years on from the champagne night in Canterbury, Wasim, still not 30 years old, hung up his boots.
“I had a very good season in ’95 but in ’96 I scored three first-class hundreds and not a lot else,” he said. “Then I spent most of ’97 in the Second XI and decided it was time to try my luck elsewhere. It was a big wrench for a boy from Small Heath who had been at the club since I was 13 but I felt it was the right decision.
“Six counties came in for me and I chose Sussex. I started there pretty well but then had a fall out with the captain Chris Adams and ended up in the 2nd XI. At the time I felt quite bitter and aggrieved about it but, when you look back, you see things differently and the fact is I didn’t score the runs to nail down a first-team place. I just wasn’t quite good enough.
“I left Sussex having hardly played first-team cricket for two years and it was a long winter in 2000/01 trying to find another club. Eventually I joined Derbyshire but it didn’t work out. In August 2001 I left with nowhere to go and seriously wondering what I was going to do for the next 20 years.”
What Wasim Khan went on to do in those subsequent 20 years almost beggars belief. The boy from Small Heath became the man who transformed the lives of countless young people by creating and delivering a £50million project to get cricket back into state schools – and, last year, became chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board.
* Next week, in Part Two of his exclusive interview for the Former Bear series, Wasim reflects on his post-playing career – and his current role in Pakistan: “I think I’ve got the most interesting job in the world!”