Warwickshire favourite Trevor Penney on a 17-year career that brought friends, lots of memories and plenty of trophies.
Whenever a young cricketer plays in a match he should do his best. He owes that to himself and the team.
But also, you never know who might be watching. And where that might lead…
When Trevor Penney played for the Associate XI in the Under 19s World Cup in February 1988, he did his best. Among those watching was Bob Cottam. And for Penney, an 18-year-old working for a tobacco-buyer, it was to lead to a cricket career which has so far spanned three decades with plenty of power to add.
I loved my time at Warwickshire, not just for the cricket but for all the other stuff going on around it. They are wonderful memories.Trevor Penney
First came a 17-year Warwickshire-career which brought numerous trophies, including the unique 1994 treble, and lifelong friends from the bond forged with team-mates and fans alike. The Harare-born player scored 13,106 runs in first-class and List A cricket, shaping and deciding many matches with his accomplished batting and exceptional fielding. Every Bears fan from that era cherishes memories of Penney’s brilliance in the field.
Then, after leaving Warwickshire in 2005, came a coaching career in which has Penney worked all over the world. The 50-year-old is one of the most respected coaches in cricket. That is one mighty oak of a career which sprang from the acorn of a well-constructed 55 against an England Under 19s side captained by Michel Atherton and including Nasser Hussain, Chris Lewis and Harvey Trump at the Mildura City Oval on February 29, 1988.
“Zimbabwe didn’t have an Under 19s side so I played for the Associate XI, ” recalls Penney. “I scored some runs and Bob Cottam, who coached England Under 19s as well as Warwickshire, spoke to me afterwards and offered me a four-year contract. I was playing hockey and cricket for Zim and working for a tobacco-buyer at the time, so didn’t really have a plan, so I spoke to Dad and he said: ‘Go for it’. The rest is history.
“I’d been in Solihull the year before, playing for Blossomfield and Camp Hill Old Edwardians, so I settled at Warwickshire quickly. I roomed with Allan Donald in a room at the top of the old pavilion for a while which was great fun. I spent the next four years qualifying in the 2nd team but I also twelfth-manned for the 1sts quite a lot. Alvin Kallicharran was getting on a bit so he used to come off and I’d go on. That got me involved but I could never have dreamed of what I was going to be part of.
“I joined a squad which had some wonderful players and I used to talk to them a lot and learn from them. These days most of it comes from the coaches but in those days the younger guys learned so much from the senior players.
“At the start we didn’t really have any big names. Gladstone Small had played quite a lot of Test cricket but the rest of us were just decent players who under Bob Cottam and Andy Lloyd had learned a lot and become a real unit. We had a great blend of senior players and young guys.
“Then Bob Woolmer and Dermot Reeve took it to a new level, though it would have been much harder for them if they had not inherited such a strong foundation from Bob and Andy.”
Penney very quickly became an integral part of that unit. He began with a debut half-century at Bristol on his way to 802 championship runs (at 47.17) in his first season, 1992. In ’93 he missed the sensational NatWest Trophy final win over Sussex due to a shoulder injury (“just as well I did because Asif Din came in and scored a century!”) but was at the heart of the successes of ’94 and ’95. His calm, intelligent middle-order batting brought many vital runs while he save countless more in the field. Few, if any, players ever had a higher percentage of direct-hits.
“It was just brilliant for five years,” Penney said. “Bob Woolmer was so innovative and Dermot was the most inspiring captain. One year, ’93 or ’94, I received a Christmas card from Dermot. In it he wrote: ‘You average 50 with the bat and save us 25 runs an innings in the field. Can’t wait to work with you again next year.’ As a young player, I was thrilled to bits and couldn’t wait for the new season to come.”
“Bob and Dermot were so positive. For example, in those days, batting against spin, teams scored at two and a half or three runs an over. We scored at four and a half or five. We were encouraged to reverse-sweep and lift the ball and hit our first ball for four if it was there to hit.
“Bob was brilliant in the dressing-room. He lived and breathed cricket and that was infectious. The squad had a lot of different individuals and not all of them got on but when we went on that field everyone was together. It was an amazing thing to be part of.”
Bob Woolmer was so innovative and Dermot was the most inspiring captain.Trevor Penney
Another amazing thing of which Penney was a part was a certain partnership with Brian Lara. On the way to his world-record 501 against Durham at Edgbaston, Lara added 314 for the third wicket with Penney. Penney’s share: 44.
It was one of several occasions in which Penney’s presence at the other end appeared to bring the best of the West Indian genius.
“Brian has stayed a really good friend,” Penney said. “I often remind him he would never have got his 501 without me blocking it at the other end! Before that match we had already had some good partnerships and it was just fantastic to bat with him. I was good at getting singles so did that and let him get on with it.
“I had the best seat in the house. It was fantastic to see him take on the likes of Devon Malcolm and Curtly Ambrose in their prime. I really enjoyed batting with Brian though what I regard as perhaps my best innings for Warwickshire came in a game in ’94 when Brian was injured. I scored 111 from 130 balls against a Lancashire attack with Wasim Akram and Glenn Chapple – that’s one I’m very proud of.”
In the second innings of that match Penney added an unbeaten 31 to his first-innings century to steer his side to an important victory. How many times over the years he did that, seeing his side over the line, especially in limited-overs cricket. He was a superb “finisher” – though it was a skill which, while benefiting the team hugely, in a way worked against him personally.
“In one-day cricket I made the number six role my own which was a bit frustrating because if you go in there you can’t really get more than 40 or 50,” he said. “I am proud of my contribution to those years but, looking back, I think I had a lot more to give.
“But I am certainly not complaining. I loved my time at Warwickshire, not just for the cricket but for all the other stuff going on around it. They are wonderful memories. I’d get to the ground and there would be Pat and J.T. in the car-park – the club’s always had such fantastic people. The groundstaff, the fans and, at the heart of it all, Keith Cook making everyone else’s life easy.
“I used to love going in the Extra Cover bar, hearing all the stories and sharing the banter. I can’t believe that I haven’t been back for four years. Hopefully, I’ll get in a visit in 2019.”
Next week: In Part Two, Trevor talks about fielding, his coaching career and why he should have left Warwickshire earlier.