The second part of our former Bears feature with Trevor Penney analyses his late career with the Bears, coaching around the world and his love for fielding.
Trevor Penney is universally regarded as one of best fielders in the history of cricket.
He didn’t become that by accident or by chance.
The former Warwickshire player was blessed with high levels of speed, hand-eye co-ordination and anticipation, all of which are integral to brilliant fielding. In that respect, he was lucky.
I was lucky enough to have a long playing career with Warwickshire and, as a coach, I have taken a lot from the lessons I learned, or didn’t learn quickly enough, as a player.Trevor Penney
But natural abilities will only take you so far. They are just ingredients of success which have to be allied to the hard yards. The hours of practice, day after day. The unseen, unsexy graft. In short, the dedication, which is essential to excellence.
That is a point which has underpinned Penney’s work in a string of high-profile coaching assignments around the world since he retired as a Warwickshire player in 2005.
Penney has served as assistant coach of India and coach and assistant coach of Sri Lanka as well as working with England, the USA, Netherlands and Hong Kong plus numerous teams in the Indian Premier League, Big Bash and Caribbean Premier League.
Now based in Montreal, the 50-year-old remains in high demand – and is loving passing on to younger men the knowledge and experience gathered during a lifetime in the fascinating, complex and singularly challenging sporting environment that is cricket.
“Cricket is a unique game,” Penney said. “It is so much about practice and processes and the mental requirements. Most of my work as a coach surrounds that side of it rather than the on-field stuff. If you get those things right, the on-field stuff will follow.
“I was lucky enough to have a long playing career with Warwickshire and, as a coach, I have taken a lot from the lessons I learned, or didn’t learn quickly enough, as a player. Looking back, I know that I should have worked harder on my batting. I worked on my fielding every day and loved it, but with my batting I just relied on my talent. My form came and went and I just accepted that instead of thinking ‘right, how can I affect this?’ That’s something that I am very big on now as a coach. Those hard yards are essential.
“When I was a boy my dad gave me a book about Colin Bland, the greatest fielder of all time, and I read it cover to cover and did all the drills in it. I practiced fielding every single day, so that when it came to throwing at one stump, I didn’t hope to hit it, I expected to hit it. You have to put the hours in.
“You need a bit of luck too, of course. When you’re in a good patch, things go your way and, as a batsman, you miss the ball rather than nick it or a catch goes down. When you’re not, you find yourself going in to bat five overs from the close to face Devon Malcolm in fading light.
“But, as they say, the harder you practice, the luckier you get. Cricket is a game with all sorts of elements, some of which you can’t control, but some you can so it’s all about giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed.”
As player and coach, Penney has tasted more than his share of success. He was an integral member of the all-conquering Bears side of the mid-90s before the years immediately following that era set him off in the direction of coaching.
“For five years, from 1992-97 it was brilliant with the Bears but in 1998 everything just disintegrated,” he said. “I remember playing in the 2nd XI with Dom Ostler, Tim Munton and half the players who had helped deliver all those trophies.
“It made me consider my future. I saw other players moving to other counties and felt I may need a change of club. Somerset offered me a five-year contract and I was torn. Warwickshire was my county but I seemed to be on the way out.
“In the end I stayed but I was only ever offered one-day cricket contracts after that. Looking back, perhaps I should have gone, but the positive side to staying was that I did a lot of coaching with the 2nd XI, as well as with Zimbabwe A in the winters. That was the springboard for my coaching career and it really started to take off in 2005.
“That summer I went to the first day of the Ashes Test at Edgbaston for a few beers with a mate and before play I got a call from Phil Neale. He asked me what I was doing and I said I was at the ground. He said Duncan Fletcher wanted to talk to me so I went down to see Duncan and he said ‘Pietersen and Panesar can’t catch, can you come and do some work with them?’ I had my kit in the car so got involved straight away. I went along to watch but ended up coaching!
“Then in September that year I played for Warwickshire in the C&G Final against Hampshire at Lord’s and on the morning of the game Tom Moody called to offered me a two-year contract as assistant coach at Sri Lanka.”
Penney accepted the offer and helped the Sri Lankans reach a World Cup final and complete a 5-0 ODI whitewash over England. After Moody’s departure he took over the coach’s role fully for six months before rejecting a four-year contract in favour of going to assist Moody in Western Australia.
The positive side to staying was that I did a lot of coaching with the 2nd XI, as well as with Zimbabwe A in the winters. That was the springboard for my coaching career and it really started to take off in 2005.Trevor Penney
Penney went on to assist Fletcher with India – “that was a fantastic time, working with a special crop of young players like Kohli and Rahane” – and his expertise remains in high demand.
Countless cricketers in many countries have benefited from that expertise. For Bears fans, however, the abiding memories of Penney will always be of predatory, quicksilver brilliance in the infield.
High among those memories, the NatWest Bank Trophy semi-final against Glamorgan at Cardiff in 1995. During a lengthy, early-morning team-meeting, Glamorgan’s players were forcefully reminded: “Don’t run to Penney, Don’t run to Penney…”
The message didn’t sink in. David Hemp and Matthew Maynard were both run out by dazzling direct-hits as Glamorgan were skittled for just 86 and beaten by eight wickets by half-past three.
“It was days like that that all the practice is for,” said Penney. “That and the Lord’s final against Worcestershire the previous year when I got Moody just as he was getting going. So many great memories from being a Bear!”