It is perhaps the least vaunted and most teased County Championship triumph of them all.
After Warwickshire confounded expectations by winning the title in 2004, even director of coaching John Inverarity admitted: “We stole it.”
The Bears won just five of 16 games, fewer than any previous championship-winning side, and drew the rest. It was a success built very much on resilience rather than buccaneering spirit, yet nevertheless featured no little skill – ten successive first-innings totals in excess of 400 are not built without plenty of skill.
I’m the first to admit that Kent or Surrey should have won it, but they weren’t good enough to win it. So we won it.Nick Knight
And Nick Knight, who emulated the great Frank Foster’s feat of 93 years before in leading the team to the title in his first season as captain, reflects upon the achievement with great pride.
Yes, it lacked the heights of brilliance which accompanied the title wins in 1994 and 1995 – but it was a triumph forged from a fighting spirit which, quite simply, no opponent vanquished.
“It was a strange championship win,” said Knight. “I never thought we would win it because I don’t think we were the best side, and people laugh that we only won five games and drew the rest. But there was nothing negative about our approach.
“The reality is there were the only five games we got into a position to win. What I was most proud of was that every time we got into a winning position, we won. And every time we didn’t build a winning position, which was often, we didn’t lose.
“It wasn’t that we were going out there to just not lose and not trying to win – that’s absolute rubbish. It was nothing like that. We started every game trying to win it but when we got behind in a game and couldn’t win, didn’t give it up as we had too often before. We always fought – and that steel won us the trophy.
“I’m the first to admit that Kent or Surrey should have won it, but they weren’t good enough to win it. So we won it.”
Knight played a huge role, not only as captain but with the bat, scoring 1,256 runs at 57.09. Those runs included an unbeaten 303 against Middlesex at Lord’s, one of the five wins – an innings-and-eight-run victory which also featuring a starring role by Ian Bell. Six weeks before making his Test debut for England, Bell scored a century then dismantled Middlesex’s first innings with 4-1-4-4, figures which remains his career-best.
Knight recalls: “To get a triple-hundred was great but the conditions in that game really fell in our favour. When we bowled it was under heavy, overcast skies and it was decking around and the day we batted it was sunny. But we were good enough to take advantage.
“Belly was my ace in the bowling pack that season. When things weren’t going my way I’d give him the ball and he’d say ‘I’m ready skip’ and would come on with those little floaty things with Frosty standing up and he’d often get us a breakthrough.
“That season saw the emergence of Bell as a world-class player, and Jonathan Trott too. Dougie Brown and Brad Hogg were fantastic and Neil Carter at times bowled as well as he ever bowled. We weren’t a special side but we found a way of getting the best from everyone.”
And key to that process was a man who has spent his entire working life trying to get the best from everyone, whether in the worlds of cricket or education: former Australia all-rounder Inverarity.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better coach to work with than Invers,” said Knight. “I was an experienced cricketer and had played international cricket but captaincy is a new challenge and you don’t know how it’s going to go. You think you know what you’re going to do but, until you are in that position, you can’t know and Invers was just a great guiding light.
“At times I got a bit carried away with my thoughts on the game and you can have too many ideas, but he was a great calming influence. I had complete faith and trust in his judgment.
“Naturally, as with any coach and captain, at times we disagreed on selection or approach. But not once, when he got it right, as he often did, did he ever say ‘I told you so.’
“He is just a really top man and a coach who you just wanted to spend time with and listen to. He had such great knowledge of the game but his real passion in life was education, so cricket was a bit of a hobby for him and because of that he was slightly more relaxed about it. And that relaxed, fun attitude was very much part of his persona.
Led by Inverarity and Knight, Warwickshire moved to the top of the table at the start of June and remained there, to the delight of the many supporters who followed them, home and away, with customary passion.
The Warwickshire fans are great. There were times, on more than one occasion, when you’d hear Knight this and Knight that and ‘what are you doing?’ It’s out of the passion they have for the club.Nick Knight
Knight recalls with a chuckle how he was less than half an hour into his captaincy, in the opening game against Middlesex at Edgbaston, when the first cry of: “Sort it out, Knight,” rose from the stands.
“The Warwickshire fans are great,” he said. “They are very loyal and when I see them now walking into the ground always say hello.
“They were terrific but, like all loyal fans, had a high degree of expectation and you felt that as a player. There were times, on more than one occasion, when you’d hear Knight this and Knight that and ‘what are you doing?’ It’s out of the passion they have for the club and I’ll be honest, at times, I would be thinking ‘shut up and let me get on with this, it’s what I’m supposed to be doing’ – but they care and that’s great and it was fantastic that we delivered them some success.”