David Brown, the latest Former Bears feature, talks in-depth about his transition from teenage batsman to bowling unit spearhead.
When the teenaged David Brown first attended Warwickshire nets, mainly as a batsman, he would have been aggrieved to know that his first-class cricket career would end with a batting average of 12.26.
That’s what happened – and it’s not a great stat for a batsman.
By the end of that career, however, Brown had also taken the little matter of 1,165 first-class wickets, including more than 1,000 for Warwickshire and 79 in Tests for England.
The former Queen Mary Grammar School, Walsall, pupil turned out to be a very fine fast bowler, thanks to a nifty piece of advice.
“I went along principally as a batsman,” recalls Brown. “I was coached by Alan Townsend who said one day: ‘You ought to bowl quick, you know.’ I don’t know why he said it – maybe he just saw this big, long streak of lean who didn’t do a lot when he wasn’t batting and thought he’d try to do something with it.
“But Alan got me bowling fast and taught me how to do it. I thought I’d give it a go because once I got to Edgbaston and saw the likes of Dennis Amiss batting, light years ahead of me, I knew I wasn’t going to make it as a batsman.”
The switch proved very productive. Between 1961 and 1982, Brown took 1,005 first-class wickets for Warwickshire in a career which included four Gillette Cup finals (two won, two lost) at Lord’s and a county championship win in 1972. As manager, he steered the Bears to the John Player League title in 1980.
It was a mighty career – though it did not begin too promisingly.
“I had a rough start,” Brown said. “I made my debut against Scotland and very early on Mike Denness hit me for four successive fours. They kept chucking the ball back to me after it hit the fence and I was thinking ‘what am I doing here?’ But it turned out alright in the end.”
It certainly did. Brown took his maiden five-for in the second innings and was up and running. And how much running lay ahead! He was to bowl 72,378 balls in first-class and limited-overs cricket and his combined haul of 1,386 wickets is all the more impressive considering that much of that career was spent in struggling Warwickshire sides.
For years after the 1972 championship win, the bowling unit, in particular, was very thin with a huge burden falling on its few high-quality contributors.
“In ’72 we had a terrific side with the four West Indies stars but the following years were a struggle,” he said. “We had imported all those players so there was a big gap in our production line. We had some very sketchy sides and that had an impact on the better players. Steve Perryman and Gladstone Small came through and were quality players but we had to overbowl them. I’m sure, as captain, I did. Sometimes I thought ‘blimey, I’m calling Gladstone up again from third man when he’s bowled a lot already.’
“Those guys would bowl as long as they could, they didn’t want to come off, and that was brilliant for the team, but that we were so weak in bowling was detrimental to them.
“I am proud of getting 1,000 wickets. It took a while to come but at one stage we played 32 first-class games a season so that helped.”
Brown played in an era when county cricket brimmed with world-class players. Not just during his 26 Tests did he face the world’s best, as most counties had at least one top-class overseas player. One against whom Brown had many battles-royal was Lancashire and West Indies batsman Clive Lloyd.
“Lord’s finals were great occasions but I got on the wrong end of Clive in one of them, in ’72,” he said. “Mike Smith brought me on and I beat Clive’s outside edge two or three times and we kept getting excited. Then he crashed one back past me like a rifle bullet about knee-height and I thought ‘oh no.’
“He went on to smash me all over Lord’s and outside Lord’s – I think one or two went down St John’s Wood High Street. I remember it was the one time that, in the back of my mind, I was thinking I had no plan. I didn’t know what I was trying to do. Clive just got on top of you which is what the best batsmen do.”
Lloyd scored 126 that day. On another occasion when facing Brown, he scored 114, for Rest of the World against England at Trent Bridge in 1970. This time, Brown carried the can after simply following orders.
“I’d got Clive out quite a few times with bouncers when we played them in the West Indies,” he said. “So Ray Illingworth said to me ‘when Clive comes in I want you to bowl bouncers at him.’ The first one got hit straight out of the park and at the end of the over Illy said ‘more bouncers, I want some more bouncers.’
“So I did that and Clive kept smashing it. Every time I walked back, Illy told me ‘another bouncer, another bouncer.’ In the next day’s paper Jim Swanton commented how ridiculous it was to bowl bouncers consistently to a man who was obviously enjoying them!
“I played in an era with some tremendous batsmen, many of them on our side with Geoff Boycott, Tom Graveney, John Edrich, Colin Cowdrey and Kenny Barrington. I think Gary Sobers was the best the best batsman I ever bowled to.
“I wouldn’t ever complain that I didn’t get my share of luck. I enjoyed fair success but there were better bowlers around. John Snow was much better, as his record shows. I think I had a fair crack of the whip.”
His England career over, Brown set about trying to lift Warwickshire out of the doldrums, first as player and captain and then during seven years as cricket manager.
His latter role brought one quirky entry into the history books. He is the only man ever to take a first-class wicket as a substitute – when he was manager as Warwickshire faced Lancashire at Southport in 1982.
“For some reason they changed the rules – and changed them back again pretty soon after,” Brown said. “Gladstone was called up by England so, as I was still bowling quite a lot, I joined the team and bowled until lunchtime. Then they left Gladstone out so he came back and bowled in the innings as well. It had never happened before and never happened again.
“We won the John Player League in 1980 thanks to a large degree to the pre-season fitness regime under Bob Willis which led to some outstanding fielding across the board, led by John Claughton, Phil Oliver and Andy Lloyd who were exceptional. This helped a well-disciplined bowling attack enormously as they probably saved 30 to 50 runs a game and many John Player League games were won by smaller margins than that. The bowling attack worked to set plans and Dilip Doshi and Anton Ferreira were exceptionally economical. It was useful to have John Snow’s old head on board for the last few games.
“Meanwhile the top-order batsmen all delivered at various times and Geoff Humpage played one of the best JPL innings of this era when he hit an unbeaten century against Middlesex. It was also a great help so have so many supporters following us at away games. That always gave us a great boost.
“But then the team steadily declined while I was manager. It was disappointing and it was right that I finished. We didn’t have a great squad and it was hard work. Luckily the cycle eventually turned thanks not least to Neal Abberley. Abbers was a brilliant coach and built a generation of fine players. Ian Bell always says how much he owes to Abbers but there were so many more too. Abbers had a huge hand in the the success that came Warwickshire’s way in the ’90s and beyond.”
Brown, meanwhile, immersed himself fully in his other love – the equine world. Since 1976, with wife Trish, he has run Furnace Mill Stud, set in beautiful countryside on the edge of the Wyre Forest.
“I always loved racing and Trish had horses all her life so when we got married it was an amalgamation of interests,” he said. “It is very much a family business but I am still involved in the sales side and enjoy days at the races, though not as many now.
“I am still also very much in touch with Warwickshire. I attend WOCCA events and my grandchildren like to go to games. They are at Bridgnorth CC and love going to Edgbaston so I take them when I can.”
Hopefully, someone has told them – as he is no doubt far too modest to do so – just how good a cricketer Grandad was, for Warwickshire and England.