Just before the 1994 season and Warwickshire were eyeing up Brian Lara, director of coaching Bob Woolmer took Tim Munton to one side
When Manoj Prabhakar was injured just before the 1994 season and Warwickshire were eyeing up Brian Lara as his replacement, director of coaching Bob Woolmer took Tim Munton to one side.
If the Bears could pull off the coup of capturing Lara, runs wouldn’t be a problem – but who would supply the wickets? With Allan Donald away, who would lead the bowlers?
It was pretty full on but I never thought about it because not only was I living the dream of playing cricket for a living but we were winning.Tim Munton
“When Prabhakar got injured,” recalls Munton, “Bob spoke to me one-to-one and said: ‘If we don’t bring in another bowler, can you step up? Without A.D, can you become more of a strike bowler?'”
Munton accepted the challenge. And the rest is, literally, cricket history.
Not only did Munton lead the bowling attack to the tune of 81 championship wickets at 21.54 runs apiece, he captained the team in nine games when Dermot Reeve was injured. Of those nine, Warwickshire won eight.
But Munton’s influence stretched even further. In a dressing-room full of strong personalities his composed, diplomatic presence was a huge influence in keeping the unit together. The likes of Lara and Reeve would never be on each other’s Christmas card list but, intelligently handled, they remained fully motivated on the field.
There were several ingredients without which the ’94 treble would not have happened – Woolmer’s direction, Reeve’s leadership, Lara’s runs. The influence of Munton belongs on that list.
Not bad for a chap who was rejected by Leicestershire and feared for his future after one season with the Bears.
“Leicestershire didn’t believe I was good enough,” said Munton. “I wrote to all the other counties to no avail but came to Warwickshire’s attention when I played for Market Harborough in the Central League, which included Nuneaton, where I took the scalp of John Whitehouse, then retired as a player but on the Warwickshire committee.
“I’d also taken some wickets for Leicestershire 2nds against Warwickshire the previous season. But it was taking part in the Webster’s Bitter Find-a-Fast-Bowler competition at Edgbaston that changed my life. Warwickshire coach Alan Oakman was on registration duty that day and, registering me, said he thought I’d signed for Leicestershire. I said that wasn’t the case so was invited to winter nets at Edgbaston and was offered a contract just before Christmas1 984. I was thrilled to bits.
“I did okay in my first season but was genuinely worried whether I would get a second contract at the end of it.
Luckily I did and that winter went out to play for Victoria University in Wellington. That was brilliant for me. I grew up a lot that winter, played the first game the following season and was up and running.”
Munton became a regular during the late ’80s just as Warwickshire began to emerge from long, barren period which followed the 1972 championship triumph.
“I was fortunate in that Warwickshire were giving chances to a lot of youngsters,” he said.”I don’t think at many clubs I’d have played as much first-team cricket and I made steady progress in the first few years. I was very lucky to have some great people to learn from.
“Ken Higgs, at Leicestershire, was my first coach and mentor, then at Warwickshire I learned so much from David Brown, Norman Gifford, Andy Lloyd and, whilst preparing for England A Tours, another Warwickshire great Tom Cartwright. But perhaps the most influential of all was Bob Cottam.
“Bob was fantastic and made me a much better bowler. He also toughened us all up. If you were in the first team you knew you had to keep performing. If you were in the seconds, you had to score hundreds or take five-fors. Things started to improve and the seeds were sown for all the success that was to follow.
“Andy Lloyd was an under-rated and unlauded influence on the ’90s, with a great tactical brain and positive outlook. We learned how to win under Andy. He would say to A.D, Glad and I ‘how many overs do you need to bowl them out?’ not ‘how many runs?’ Then he would set the declaration around that. He backed us. Then when Bob Woolmer came in it was like a finishing school.
“The success of the ’90s was very special and I feel more proud of it as the years go by. It’s amazing to think it’s 25 years next year. People talk about the team spirit of that era and that was true, we had a fantastic spirit, but within that there were strong characters and some clashes, but every time we went on the field, perhaps with one exception, that was all put to one side. We also had a good balance of senior and younger players with a number players taking on the role of leaders in the team. It was great for Bob, Dermot or myself to have the support in the dressing-room of the likes of Gladstone Small and Andy Moles.
“I got the Captain Sensible tag and, looking back, I guess that was when I learned that I could pull people together. It was pretty full on but I never thought about it because not only was I living the dream of playing cricket for a living but we were winning.”
Munton’s qualities – “tirelessly excellent” as Gladstone Small put it in his recent Former Bears interview – should have been rewarded by more than two Test caps. Selected for two Tests against Pakistan in 1992, his first wicket, at Old Trafford, was the illustrious scalp of Javed Miandad, and then his match-figures of three for 63 helped England to victory at Headingley. But he was dropped for the final Test and never recalled, even amid his brilliant ’94.
“If there is a part of me that looks back and thinks ‘if only’ it’s about England,” he said. “I know I was a better bowler in ’94 than ’92. Amongst all the euphoria of ’94 I was left out of the winter tour party when Peter Martin got the nod.
No disrespect to Peter, a fine bowler, but when that happened I knew I wasn’t getting back in. In those days the selectors chopped and changed and there were a lot of seamers around – Phil Newport, Phil de Freitas, Steve Watkin, Angus Fraser, Neil Mallender.”
Instead, Munton plugged away for Warwickshire and was appointed club captain for 1997 only for wretched luck to intervene at the very start, on the first morning of the first game of the season, at Glamorgan.
“At 7am on the first morning in Cardiff I tried to get up and couldn’t feel my right leg,” he recalls. “I had to have a second back operation which ruled me out for the season and, with my fitness uncertain, I understandably wasn’t able to retain the captaincy in 1998 with Brian Lara appointed skipper.”
Munton’s time with his beloved Bears was running down. In the last match of the 1999 season, against Sussex at Edgbaston, he lodged match-figures of 37-19-66-9. It was Ian Bell’s first match for Warwickshire and Munton’s last.
He joined Derbyshire before an Achilles injury forced him to retire in 2002. His final game in first-class cricket was, fittingly, at Edgbaston, for Derbyshire in July 2001. Alan Richardson, an emerging bowler labelled as “the next Tim Munton,” became his 737th and last first-class wicket.
Having retired from the game in 2002, rather than go into coaching, Munton built a career in business, starting with three years at the Professional Cricketers’ Association and including nine years as licensee of Wormsley Cricket Ground (created by Sir Paul Getty on his Buckinghamshire estate) as well as consultancy work for many clients including the League Managers Association and the Barmy Army.
He is now Director of Sport at Champions UK Plc, a brand and business development agency, based close to his birthplace of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.
Some cricketers struggle for direction when their playing career concludes. That was never going to be the case for Munton. As cricketer and person he is blessed with a positive outlook and the talents to vindicate it. He is a man who likes to look forward.
Not that he doesn’t sometimes allow himself to look back, with great pride, on his time with the Bears.
“In cricket, just as in life, you have ups and downs and I am lucky in that when something bad happens I always turn it round and think ‘what’s good about this’?” he said. “It was a shame I got injured right at the start of ’97 but even that year I was still in and around the dressing-room and helping, and that was just one of 15 great years I had at Warwickshire.
“That time is very special to me and a central part of my life. Over the years since one or two people have thought that I didn’t want to go back to the ground but I was busy, based in London a lot of the time, and it was hard to get back. Now I’m based back in the Midlands and it is great to be close enough to attend WOCCA events and I look forward to supporting the club further in the coming years.
“I’ve been very fortunate – who knows what the next 25 years will bring?”