Many ingredients went into the intoxicating brew of Warwickshire’s sensational success of the mid-1990s.
High among them were a groundbreaking coach, a great batsman, a great fast-bowler and many other fine players who delivered those vital basics of cricket success: Runs, wickets, catches.
But Dermot Reeve insists that even all those crucial cricket skills were transcended by the most important ingredient of all: The right mindset.
Reeve, as captain, and head coach Bob Woolmer believed that cricketers produce their best when they are driven to produce it not just for themselves but for the team and for the club they represent: When they are relaxed and encouraged to express themselves without fear of failure.
Our ’94 season was perhaps the greatest season any side has ever had in any sport – and then to back it up the following year, even with a change of personnel, and win the championship again was fantastic.Dermot Reeve
Yes, of course players need the ability to succeed. But that ability is only fully unleashed by the right mindset.
And as Reeve reflects upon Warwickshire’s 1994 season as “perhaps the greatest season any side has ever had in any sport” (a big call but not without foundation) he reveals how much thought and time was spent on building that team-orientated approach – and the trust that members of that squad had in each other.
“I look back on my time with Warwickshire with great pride,” said Reeve, who now coaches the Subiaco Floreat club in Perth, Western Australia. “I was lucky enough to have a bunch of guys who were very good cricketers but also totally bought into what we were trying to do.
“Our ’94 season was perhaps the greatest season any side has ever had in any sport – and then to back it up the following year, even with a change of personnel, and win the championship again was fantastic.
“There was real belief in what we were doing. We ended up with a really happy bunch of guys who bought into the culture that what you do affects everybody, so you have to always encourage each other 100 per cent. If someone drops a catch, he doesn’t mean to drop it. There’s no point in getting angry or blaming. Go the other way and become super-encouraging and say ‘I’m going to be the guy that encourages the most.’
“If you get out, don’t sit round moaning and groaning – stay upbeat. It’s infectious. Self-esteem is not fuelled by winning cricket matches, it comes from just being able to think: ‘I’m a good bloke who does my best for myself and my team-mates.’
“Always do your best. The work that mid-off does shining the ball – that could be what makes the ball swing late for the bowler who gets the vital wickets. So put that work in.”
That team-ethic delivered spectacular success. The Bears’ 1994 treble was unprecedented and has never been matched. That they won three trophies – the County Championship, AXA Equity & Law League and Benson & Hedges Cup – was remarkable enough, an achievement to tower forever in cricket history. But then to lose a number of key men, including head coach and star overseas player, and still win two more trophies – the championship and NatWest Bank Trophy – in 1995 was, in a way, even more remarkable.
Out went Woolmer, Brian Lara and Roger Twose, three prime architects of the ’94 success, but in came Phil Neale, Nick Knight and Allan Donald to underpin perhaps the most buccaneering title-win in championship history – 14 wins from 17 games.
Some fantastic skills were displayed, but not just by the bigger names. All the squad members, many homegrown, responded to a culture of getting the maximum out of each individual and, as a consequence, the team.
“There was a culture of getting the very best out of every player,” said Reeve. “Every player has a unique skill-set and the job of coach and captain is to help each player get the best out of himself.
We all got to know each other’s games so well. When Phil Neale came in he was amazed just how well. I remember one time Roger Twose was batting against a spinner and during one over we called every ball. We knew each other’s games and knew each other strengths.Dermot Reeve
“An example was Trevor Penney who was a really good batsman but in one-day cricket helped us more batting lower down. We put all-rounders like Paul Smith and Neil Smith, who played with more freedom, ahead of him so they could play their natural game, then Trevor went in at seven and if we wanted six an over for ten overs he would bring the game home. But if you put him higher up in one-day cricket sometimes he wouldn’t play with that freedom.
“We all got to know each other’s games so well. When Phil Neale came in he was amazed just how well. I remember one time Roger Twose was batting against a spinner and during one over we called every ball. We knew each other’s games and knew each other strengths
“What was also really important was that we had a really good set of senior players who knew their games and were confident in themselves but allowed the younger players like Wasim Khan, Dougie Brown and Ashley Giles to settle.
“They made them feel so welcome and so equal that they didn’t feel intimidated or like second-class citizens within the side. We made all players feel equal.”
And that mindset, all pulling for the collective good, was why, for those two magical seasons, in county cricket Warwickshire had no equal.