When Trevor Penney reflects upon Warwickshire's stunning success of the mid-'90s, he pinpoints the "genius" of Bob Woolmer as a driving force.
And a big component of Woolmer’s genius, reckons Penney, was a very simple thing; his sheer passion for cricket.
The great Bears coach was as immersed in the cricket world as anyone could be. His love for it was lifelong. Woolmer is unique in having seen the two biggest individual innings in cricket history – Brian Lara’s 501 at Edgbaston in 1994, when he was the Bears’ director of coaching, and also Hanif Mohammad’s 499 in Karachi in 1959 as a ten-year-old spectator.
Woolmer was a innovator, a pioneer and, yes, a genius…but, above all, he loved the sport to bits.
“Bob just lived for cricket,” recalls Penney, who has gone on to become a distinguished coach himself following his long playing career with the Bears. “And when, as a player, you see a coach with that sort of passion and see that he’s not just there for a job and a salary, it makes a big difference. That passion is infectious.
“Bob was a huge influence on my cricketing life, not just as a player but later on when I became a coach. I took a lot of great things away from his coaching style, especially in terms of batting. He was way ahead of other coaches because he broke the game down and analysed it in such a interesting way.Trevor Penney
“I remember one time he had a whiteboard in the dressing-room and put six S’s on it. Everyone was saying: ‘what the hell are we going to talk about here?’ The meeting went on for two hours with everyone having a chat about this and that. We were just talking cricket – that’s what Bob loved and great ideas came out of it.
“One of the things we discussed was the way we played spinners. In those days, spinners were allowed to dictate a little bit and only went for, on average, 2.2 runs an over. Batters used to block, block, then hit a four and maybe a single. We decided we were going to take spinners on by reverse-sweeping, paddling, attacking – just doing something to break up their rhythm.
“Everyone had to go and practice it and then come back and put it into action in games. If you got out doing it, having practiced, then bad luck. Next time. If you didn’t practice then, of course, you got a bollocking!
“Cricket can be a very difficult game if you are not doing well and not being encouraged but Bob was always positive and always backing his players. It was an incredible time to be part of.
“You just turned up for a game and knew you were going to win. Bob Cottam had brought in a lot of the players so great credit to him and Bob Woolmer was lucky to inherit that team, but then his genius just took it to another level.”
Penney’s input to that incredible time was a lot of important runs – and a lot of incredible fielding. His speed over the ground and accuracy of throw sometimes stretched the bounds of credibility.
His brilliance was the product of natural talent, of course, but also, like Woolmer, a love of what he did and, essential to any excellence, sheer hard work and practice.
Penney was arguably the greatest fielder of his generation – perhaps even the equal of his idol when growing up, Colin Bland.
“My hero for fielding was Colin Bland,” he recalls. “My mum and dad bought me a book by Colin and I took a lot of the drills from it and practiced them avidly for hours.
“There were some very fine fielders around then. Derek Randall was fantastic, Viv Richards was so unorthodox but a freak as well – I used to love watching him field. Then in my era there Jonty Rhodes and Ricky Ponting when he was a bit younger. Tillakaratne Dilshan, when I worked in Sri Lanka, was one of the best fielders I ever worked with and Paul Collingwood, as a diver/catcher, I’d put him up there too.”