Who is the best spin bowler that Warwickshire have ever had? There are five great names in the frame and Brian Halford considers the candidates.
Sam Hargreave 1899-1909
First-class: 851 wickets at 21.73
Sam Hargreave was Warwickshire’s first top-drawer spinner and will feature on a future Greatest short-list when we consider the best Bears players never to have played Test cricket.
A lanky left-armer, he wasn’t a huge spinner of the ball but he extracted bounce and, with clever variation, turned it just enough to find plenty of edges.
At his peak, he was unplayable. Early in the 1903 season, in four matches he took 38 wickets at 6.21 apiece. These include 15 in the match against Surrey at The Oval, even though when the game was due to start he was on a boat in the English Channel on the way back from Australia. The first day was washed out and he reached The Oval in time to wreak havoc.
The Lancastrian would have harvested many more wickets for the Bears had his career not been truncated by a shoulder injury.
Eric Hollies 1932-1957
First-class: 2,201 wickets at 20.45
As a young leg-spinner with Old Hill, Hollies was offered a contract by Worcestershire – £250 per year and a job chopping wood on the estate of club president Lord Doverdale.
He turned it down in favour of a two-year deal with the Bears and that deal grew into a 26-year stay in which he took 173 five-fors and ten-in-a-match on 40 occasions.
Hollies had it all: turn, flight, change-of-pace, googly, all delivered during marathon spells of metronomic control. He was at his best after the Second World War, taking an all-ten (seven bowled, three lbw, against Nottinghamshire at Edgbaston in 1946) and contributing 145 wickets to the championship triumph in 1951.
The most famous of the 130,625 balls Hollies bowled in first-class cricket was the one which ended Don Bradman’s Test career. That he played only 13 Tests is a mystery which only England’s selectors of the day could explain.
Lance Gibbs 1968-1973
First-class: 338 wickets at 24.50
List A: 60 wickets at 24.46
Lance Gibbs’ Bears career was not long but the skills he brought to Birmingham – and his charm as a man – still resonate with those who watched and dealt with him.
Tall and able to extract devastating bounce as well as turn, Guyana-born off-spinner Gibbs was already widely viewed as the best slow-bowler in the world when he joined Warwickshire. Bizarrely, he at first found himself in the 2nd XI due to qualification regulations, a situation he accepted with customary grace.
In 1971, his skills lit up the county circuit with 131 wickets at 18.89 apiece, including three ten-in-a-match hauls. The following season, along with countrymen Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran and Deryck Murray, he helped power Warwickshire to the championship title.
Now living in retirement in Miami, Gibbs is a very proud former Bear and was presented with honorary life-membership when he visited Edgbaston for the West Indies Test in 2017.
Ashley Giles 1993-2005
First-class: 232 wickets at 26.10
List A: 195 wickets at 22.45
T20: 2 wickets at 17.00
Originally a left-arm seamer, Ashley Giles switched to spin as a teenager and embarked on a career which was to deliver a catalogue of success for county and country.
He made an immediate impact during his first sustained first-team cricket for the Bears, in 1995, when he took vital wickets to help them to retain the championship title in sensational fashion, winning 14 of their 17 matches. That was the first of a string of trophies to which Giles made a major contribution both as player and later on as head coach.
As time went on, his input to the Bears was restricted by England duties and injuries but his List A stats for his country are up there with the best. Giles is – and will remain! – the only bowler to dismiss the great Sachin Tendulkar stumped in Test cricket.
Jeetan Patel 2009-current
First-class: 473 wickets at 26.11
List A: 128 wickets at 24.97
T20: 135 wickets at 23.78
Jeetan Patel’s first bowl for Warwickshire, against Yorkshire at Edgbaston in 2009, brought him 1-150. Not much to write home about.But he hasn’t done too badly since!
For a decade, New Zealand off-spinner ‘Jeets’ has been the backbone of the Bears’ bowling attack in all formats. Armed with a fast-bowler’s mentality, he builds pressure on batsmen with accuracy and control in a way which has made him the stand-out bowler in county cricket season after season.
He has excelled equally with white ball and red, driving the Bears to every domestic honour. No bowler will ever match the mighty Eric Hollies in terms of simple wicket-taking stats, the cricket world is so different now, but a case could be made that Patel’s influence on the Bears – with relentless, competitive, highly-skilled excellence across three formats – has been just as great.
Cast your vote
To vote for Warwickshire’s Greatest Spinner, simply complete the below form. Everyone who submits their vote will be entered into a prize draw to win a signed Warwickshire shirt.
Voting closes at 5pm on Tuesday 14 April and the winner will be announced on Wednesday.