Dominic Ostler reflects upon his Warwickshire career – 18,150 runs across the formats, 360 catches, some of them quite breathtaking, and two wickets – with justifiable pride.
The Solihull-born batsman was a fixture in the great Bears sides of the mid-1990s. Although still quite a young player, his assertive batting and brilliant slip-fielding was a huge factor in the back-to-back championship wins in 1994 and 1995.
He was also a vital component of the top order which regularly won trophies in limited-overs cricket. There are plenty, including Ostler himself, who feel he was a little unlucky never to get an England call. The closest he came was an A tour to Pakistan.
In those days on the first day of championship games the younger guys had to be in early to bowl at the first team if they wanted a net. One Saturday we were in there and Andy Lloyd, who was captain, marched over to the nets and said: ‘Ostler – you’re playing. Bring your kit over.’.Dominic Ostler
But any tinge of regret within Ostler about that is nothing compared to the pleasure that he took – and gave – during a Warwickshire career which stretched from 1990 to 2004.
Now 47, Ostler he remains as embedded in West Midlands cricket as ever. He pretty much runs Berkswell CC, manning the bar and captaining the first team to whom he led to the Birmingham League title in 2016.
He is also heavily involved with Complete Cricket, the thriving coaching agency set up by former Knowle & Dorridge player David Smith in 2007.
Ostler thoroughly enjoys coaching and mentoring the next generation of cricketers. And he is well-qualified to do so, able to call upon the knowledge and experience of a long and impressive career – albeit one which almost ended before it began.
“I feel very privileged to have played for a great club,” he said. “And very lucky bearing in mind I came through the Bears youth system and then was told at 18 that I wasn’t going to be good enough.
“That was hard to hear but then I was picked for the Under 19s and had an unbelievable season. We got through to a festival final and I scored a century and Bob Cottam, then head coach, was there and said ‘sign him up’ literally on the back of that. Suddenly I had a two-year contract.”
Ostler did not have to wait long for his first-team chance. He was still only 19 when in May 1990 the call came – at very short notice.
“In those days on the first day of championship games the younger guys had to be in early to bowl at the first team if they wanted a net,” he recalls. “One Saturday we were in there and Andy Lloyd, who was captain, marched over to the nets and said: ‘Ostler – you’re playing. Bring your kit over.’ Somebody had got injured.”
“I didn’t have time to worry which was just as well as we were playing a Worcestershire team with Ian Botham and Graham Dilley in it. I went out there and loved it and got a couple of 20s. I didn’t set the world alight but I was up and running.
“The injured player came back in for the next game but a month later I was down at Moseley on a Friday night and Bob called and said ‘you need to be at Derby at 9am tomorrow.’ This time I was a bit nervous because they had Devon Malcolm and Ian Bishop. And I had a bit of time to think about it.
“It was a rain-affected game and on the last day they set us 350. Tom Moody was smashing it everywhere and I went in at number eight. Malcolm was bowling and my first ball was a bouncer and I didn’t see it – it was too quick – and hit me on the helmet and we got two leg-byes. Next ball, he pitched up and I went forward to it and after the game Geoff Humpage came to me and said: ‘That second ball you faced just made you a cricketer.’
“I ended up 42 not out, Moody got 168 and we won the game by two wickets.
That was lift-off for “Ossie”. And soon came lift-off for Warwickshire’s great era, driven by coach Bob Woolmer and captain Dermot Reeve, but from seeds sown, Ostler points out, by Reeve’s predecessor Lloyd.
The only disappointing thing about ’94 was that we were nominated for the team of the year in the Sports Personality of the Year award – and lost to Wigan! They invited the whole team down so we thought ‘right, team of the year’ we’re going to win it – and we finished second.Dominic Ostler
“Andy was the instigator in many ways,” he said. “In 1991 we played three and four-day cricket and Andy said ‘right, we’re going to play positive cricket and not let games peter out.’ He planned out the whole season and said if we try to win a game and lose it, then so be it, but we’re not going to play dull cricket. And we came second.
“It was a great season and then Dermot took over and took on that positive approach and in ’94 and ’95 we were pretty much unbeatable. We had this amazing rapport within the side. For two years, whatever situation we were in, we knew we would come out on top. If we were bowled out for 150, we felt we’d bowl them out for less. If we had to chase 300, we’d chase it and win. It was an amazing time. They say that winning becomes a habit and it did.
“I don’t think anyone else will ever win three trophies in a season. The only disappointing thing about ’94 was that we were nominated for the team of the year in the Sports Personality of the Year award – and lost to Wigan! They invited the whole team down so we thought ‘right, team of the year’ we’re going to win it – and we finished second.”
A huge factor in the ’94 and ’95 success was the seam-attack led by Tim Munton in ’94 and Allan Donald in ’95. And a big factor behind their success was that pretty much everything edged behind was caught.
Ostler was at the heart of the slip cordon. And bearing in mind that he is perhaps the best slip-fielder ever to play for Warwickshire, it is surprising that he only stood in the slips in the first place as a last resort.
On July 18, 1990, Ostler, playing his eighth first-class match, against Lancashire at Binley Road, Coventry, was watching from the deep as Munton endured a frustrating time with the ball.
“I was fielding at third man,” he recalls. “The ball was moving about and they nicked one and somebody in the slips dropped it. Then they nicked another one and again somebody dropped it. Lloydy had had enough and he barked: ‘Ostler, get up here. Third slip. So I did – and caught a couple of screamers.
“And that was it. That was my place in the slips and I never budged from it in championship cricket. Slip to the spinners and second slip to the seamers.
“Fielding there to A.D was unbelievable. He bowled at the speed of light and we were standing so far back but when the batsman nicked it you still just had a split second to react and catch it. But that was my forte.”
It is a forte which served Ostler well for Warwickshire and continues to do so for Berkswell. In Part Two, next week, he reflects further upon his Warwickshire career and how his retirement from professional cricketer in 2004 proved the end of one fulfilling chapter of his life but very much the beginning of another.