As a development coach at Warwickshire, Mo Sheikh’s role is all about making sure talented young cricketers do not elude the club’s youth system – the way he did.
In October 2015, having moved into coaching after a ten-year playing career at Warwickshire and Derbyshire, Sheikh joined the Bears’ mission to ensure that local talent is assiduously spotted and nurtured.
He brought to the role plenty of experience and also lots of local knowledge. Either side of his professional career, Aston-born Sheikh played for Sutton Coldfield, Smethwick, West Bromwich Dartmouth, Smethwick, Walsall and Walmley.
When I was 18 I had a trial at the main ground and, after it, each player had five minutes with the coach Neal Abberley and academy director Richard Cox. They asked me which club I played for and when I said ‘none’ their jaws dropped.Mo Sheikh
But although he started with the Bears very early, at Under 11s, his development as a cricketer did not advance as quickly as it should have done.
“Between the ages of 13 and 18 I didn’t play any club cricket,” he explains. “In the early days, I’d get from Aston to Edgbaston on the bus and that was no problem but then other interests took over and I spent a lot of time with my mates. We played cricket in the park and the street, but I didn’t play for any club. The only organised games I played was for the Warwickshire age-groups which, in those days, was only about six games a year.
“When I was 18 I had a trial at the main ground and, after it, each player had five minutes with the coach Neal Abberley and academy director Richard Cox. They asked me which club I played for and when I said ‘none’ their jaws dropped.
“I played no club cricket for four years and there were many like me. It cost me several years development which is why I was late getting into county cricket and I do regret it a little bit because it slowed me getting into the county system.
“That’s no criticism at all of Abbers. He did a fantastic job but the club just didn’t have the resources to track players. There wasn’t really any structure in place for Warwickshire to keep an eye on all the local clubs and I guess I was one of a few who slipped through the net.
“Fortunately, the creation of Warwickshire Cricket Board started to change everything and the situation had developed a long way and is very different now. We track players and have really good communication with clubs.”
Sheikh, along with fellow development coach Kadeer Ali, plays a big part in that process under elite cricket development manager Paul Greetham. And the 44-year-old is well-qualified for the role after a professional career which would have brought more than 47 first-class appearances were it not for some mercurial selection decisions in his early days with Warwickshire.
Sheikh made his championship debut, at home to Middlesex, in 1997 and did well, scoring 24 and taking three cheap wickets. But that was his only championship game that season – and he went on to play just one more in each of 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Dad used to take me down to see Warwickshire play and Rohan Kanhai and Lance Gibbs,” Sheikh said. “He put it in me to be a Warwickshire fan and told me: If you’re good enough, they’ll take you.Mo Sheikh
In ’99 again he again scored useful runs and took three cheap wicket and in 2000, in the match at Northampton in which Ashley Giles harvested his career-best match-haul of 12 for 135, he scored a half-century. Yet not until his move to Derbyshire in 2004 did Sheikh play regular first-class cricket.
“My chance with Warwickshire came in 1995 when Phil Neale, then director of cricket, came to a rain-affected 2nd XI friendly v Shropshire at Wellington,” he said. “I took three for 20-odd and scored 48 and Phil said ‘when we get back to Edgbaston, I’ll sign you up. A couple of years later I got my championship debut and can still remember my three wickets: Tufnell, Moffat, Kallis!
“I performed okay and played a fair amount of one-day cricket but it is quite hard to establish yourself when you play that intermittently. I felt if anyone was going to get called up from the 2nd team it would be me. I was just happy to play for Warwickshire.
“When I was released in 2003 I was already doing some coaching and thought that was what I’d be doing next. But then one day I walked out of Solihull School after a coaching session and in the car-park my phone rang – it was Dave Houghton, who I knew from West Bromwich Dartmouth, asking me to go up to Derbyshire.
“I played there on a match-by-match basis at first and then signed a two-year contract. I loved it. Pop Welch was there bowling a million overs a season and I worked with Dave Houghton and Mike Hendrick, the best batting and bowling coaches I have ever worked with. I started to play regularly at Derby which was great. At Warwickshire I felt I was always playing within my limits.”
Released by Derbyshire in 2006, Sheikh played for Staffordshire for two seasons and helped Walsall to the Birmingham League title before going on to play for Smethwick and Walmley. In 2015 he was asked by Greetham to get involved with coaching the Bears’ emerging players and in October that year it became a full-tine role. Things had turned full circle as the boyhood Bears fan got to grips with the objective of nurturing the current crop of young Bears.
Plenty of those are, like Sheikh, of Asian origin. And that does not surprise him at all as, based upon his experiences at Edgbaston, he has never regarded race as a factor in a youngster’s cricket ambition.
“Dad used to take me down to see Warwickshire play and Rohan Kanhai and Lance Gibbs,” Sheikh said. “He put it in me to be a Warwickshire fan and told me: If you’re good enough, they’ll take you. Historically, plenty of guys from Asian backgrounds and other overseas backgrounds have been in the system. There were certainly always plenty around me when I was coming through.
“I think sometimes that can be used as an excuse why a player doesn’t make it. Dad always said to me ‘work hard and if you’re good enough you’ll be signed up.’ And he was right.”