Cricket is a sport played, more than any other, in the mind.
So much depends upon those mysterious, intangible elements of form and confidence which can make or break a career.
They come and they go, sometimes inexplicably. As in the case of Jamie Spires.
I was in the first team set-up at the club I love and really felt part of it. I had an email from the England camp to say I was in the reckoning for a winter A tour. It was between me and Monty Panesar and in the end they went with Panesar because he’d played a year’s more cricket that me.Jamie Spires
Warwickshire left-arm spinner Spires ended the 2002 season in excellent shape. In the closing games of the season he looked comfortable in the first team as his beloved Bears finished second in the championship.
In the system at Edgbaston since Under 10s, Solihull-born Spires had made his first-class debut against Middlesex at Lord’s late in 2001 and bagged an illustrious first victim when he turned one through Andrew Strauss’s gate.
A year on, in the penultimate championship game, against Yorkshire at Edgbaston, Spires took his maiden five-for. Then in the last game, against Sussex at Hove, he shared a match-turning last-wicket stand of 119 with Neil Carter. Warwickshire won after chasing down 401 on the final day – Bob Woolmer’s last as director of coaching.
For 21-year-old Spires, things were going brilliantly as he headed off for a winter in South Africa in good nick and evidently with a fine career ahead.
But somewhere, somehow during that winter his bowling rhythm deserted him. That precious form and confidence was lost, never to been fully regained.
Spires take up the story.
“I was in the form of my life,” he said. “I took some wickets away to Kent and then a five-for and a four-for against Yorkshire. Then at Hove we were in the mire when I went out to bat and Carts was smashing it so I started throwing the bat as well and we ended up winning the game and finishing second.
“It was great for me. I was in the first team set-up at the club I love and really felt part of it. I had an email from the England camp to say I was in the reckoning for a winter A tour. It was between me and Monty Panesar and in the end they went with Panesar because he’d played a year’s more cricket that me.
“But I went away for the winter and when I came back something was different. To this day I can’t tell you what it was. It just wasn’t the same. Something had changed. People said try this and try that but nothing worked.
“Whether it was a mental thing or lack of confidence or too many voices trying to advise, I don’t know. To be honest I never really understood my action – it was totally natural. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that bowling is the only thing in the world I do left-handed. I am right-handed. Even after all these years, I honestly don’t know.
“I had a few injuries too. I was hit in the jaw fielding for Knowle & Dorridge when Dominic Ostler smashed one out to long on and I collided with another fielder and that put me out for six weeks. I broke my finger, had shin splints and it all became a grind. I struggled and it never really came back.
“I’ve searched and searched for reasons why, but have never explained it. After I left Warwickshire, I still played for K&D and took my four-fors and five-fors but it was always fleeting.”
I get a real buzz when to see a young player improve. It’s a similar pride to when you have played well yourself. You’ve coached that person and can see they are enjoying it and developing and that’s brilliant to see.Jamie Spires
It is a classic case of how precarious the job of county cricketer can be. In Warwickshire’s system for 14 years, Spires suddenly found himself needing to find a way of earning a living. Five years working in sales followed but then came a happy return to the world of cricket.
It transpired that there was a silver lining to what he had been through as a young cricketer. That experience had left him well-equipped to coach – to help youngsters improve and prepare them as they strive to enter a professional cricket world which can be as cruel as it can be wonderful.
“It was a tough time,” Spires recalls. “I was hurting but just couldn’t fathom what happened. Warwickshire released me and I trialled for Leicestershire but was nowhere near the level I’d been at. To be honest, my heart wasn’t really in it – I’m a Bear. So that was it.
“It was quite a painful process because no-one really talked to me at the time. The Professional Cricketers Association do fantastic work now, preparing young players for every eventuality, but this was just before that time. I just drifted out of cricket really and suddenly needed to earn a living. I sold office space for five years but then the crash happened and I was made redundant, so I spoke to David Smith at Complete Cricket and suddenly another door opened up.
“I bought into the business and it’s worked out really well. I am still in the sport I love and really love coaching. I get a real buzz when to see a young player improve. It’s a similar pride to when you have played well yourself. You’ve coached that person and can see they are enjoying it and developing and that’s brilliant to see.
” I was lucky to come through at Edgbaston under Neal Abberley and Steve Perryman who were great coaches and I took such a lot from them. One of Abbers’ great sayings was ‘control the controllables’ which I use all the time. I think it’s so relevant for any aspiring sportsman, let alone cricketer.
Spires may have only played seven first-class matches but in 14 years at Edgbaston he learned much which is now being passed on to the next generation. Last winter he did some work with the Bears’ Under 15s girls. A long playing career in cricket eluded him, but he still has much to contribute to the great game.
“I love seeing young players develop and improve hopefully enough to become professionals because it is a great life,” he said.
“What happened to me still plays on my mind. I still don’t know, so there’s really no full stop to it. But even with that I look back on my 14 years at Warwickshire very fondly because I had some great times there and made some great friends.”