When Warwickshire played Essex in the County Championship at Edgbaston in July 1994, their 203-run victory moved them another stride towards the title and a sensational treble.
In the immediate term it was an important win, achieved thanks to Tim Munton’s match-haul of ten for 130 and runs from Roger Twose, Andy Moles, Brian Lara and Neil Smith.
But the match was to have considerable long-term significance for the Bears.
Leading Essex’s resistance was 24-year-old opening batsman Nick Knight. He made 56 in the first innings and 113, out of 211, in the second and impressed many onlookers at Edgbaston – including a chap who knew a bit about batting: B.C.Lara.
I was very encouraged to come by Dermot Reeve, Dennis Amiss and Mike Smith. Clearly it was a club with a lot going for it, not just the environment but the way the guys were playing and being led.Nick Knight
Knight takes up the story.
“That was as well as I had played at that time and, after the game, Brian came up to me,” he recalls. “He put his arm round me and said how well I’d played and how much he thought of me as a batsman – and little things like that that do a tremendous amount for your self-confidence.
“The words he said to me then are a very strong part of my memories of that time. That match was a massive moment for me because clearly it stuck in the minds of people at the club.
“Warwickshire came in for me and while it was obviously a very tough decision to leave Essex, my mentor at the time, Gordon Barker, who was a terrific player for Essex, was more than happy for me to move. I took a lot of Gordon’s advice and it made it quite an easy decision with Gordon’s backing and the fact that I was very encouraged to come by Dermot Reeve, Dennis Amiss and Mike Smith. Clearly it was a club with a lot going for it, not just the environment but the way the guys were playing and being led.”
Knight duly joined for the 1995 season and helped the team retain the championship title and follow their treble with another two trophies. It was the launch of a 12-year Bears career in which the left-hander underpinned the top order in all formats.
In 2004 he was appointed captain and, dovetailing perfectly with coach John Inverarity, led Warwickshire to another championship title.
Watford-born Knight is no West Midlander, nor did he come through the Edgbaston system, but no-one bought into the Bears more fully or with greater commitment. And, still a frequent visitors to Edgbaston in his role as SKY broadcaster and presenter, his pride in his achievements with the club still burns fiercely.
“I look back at my Warwickshire career with immense pride,” he said. “So much pride. I really do.
“I became a lot stronger mentally when I joined Warwickshire. When you leave a county where you have come through the youth system it’s always a big decision and at first you naturally question whether you have made the right decision because it is such a big move. But I came to the conclusion that I had to grow up pretty quick and make it work. When I started I was quite a soft cricketer, quite worried about how everyone else was doing and perhaps what people were saying, but in ’94/95 I became more insular in a good way. I concentrated on what I had to do and worried less about other people and that really helped me kick on and become an international cricketer.”
Knight went on to play plenty of international: 17 Tests and 100 ODIs. Impeded by injury, selectorial whim and an unsettled place in the batting order, his Test batting average of 23.96 does him no justice, but 3,637 ODI runs at 40.41 more accurately reflect his skills.
Much of Knight’s best batting arrived for his county when his international career was over. It could be argued that he falls into the sizeable category of cricketers whose talents were mishandled by England’s selectors – but there is no trace of bitterness. Instead, he reflects upon his career only with gratitude.
“I’ve been really lucky,” he said. “Some people said I retired from international cricket too soon but on both counts, international and first-class cricket, I left the game on a relative high and was ready to go.
“The decision to quit one-day-international cricket was the tougher one. A lot of people were surprised when I retired after the 2003 World Cup but I knew I’d run my race. Eventually, enough is enough. We played South Africa and Zimbabwe after the World Cup and I could have played and would have been good enough but I mentally I was done.
I would only have gone one way.
“When I retired from first-class cricket in 2006 I was lucky that I had something else to do. If you’ve nothing else to do then naturally you want to carry on playing, so I was fortunate that I could go straight into TV which is what I always wanted. It wasn’t guaranteed and I didn’t know for sure that I was going into television but I knew I had a decent chance so that helped me make that decision.
Some people said I retired from international cricket too soon but on both counts, international and first-class cricket, I left the game on a relative high and was ready to go.Nick Knight
“Also, I was ready to leave. I think mentally if you’ve run your race then you’ve got to get out because otherwise the only way is down. It’s such a mental game that you’ve got to be switched on and if you don’t get out of bed in the morning excited about the game your performance will dip. I didn’t want that to happen.
“It can be tough coming back into county cricket and that’s what Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott have been through it. It’s strange, you spend the early part of your career aspiring to become an international cricketer, then have to adjust to that, then at the other end of your career you go back the other way which takes another adjustment.
“People think because you’re Ian Bell and have played 118 Test for England, or Jonathan Trott, you’re going to just walk back into county cricket, but it’s another adjustment to be made. The pitches and the atmosphere are not the same, your whole psyche on what you are doing on a daily basis is different.
“It was the same for me and I was very lucky that the Warwickshire captaincy came at a perfect time for me in 2004. That was what I needed, a focus away from me as an individual and on the team. With John Inverarity there as coach it was the perfect dynamic and it worked really well for us.”
Nick Knight reflects upon the 2004 County Championship title triumph – and the advice he used to receive from the Bears supporters…