The impact of some people upon Warwickshire County Cricket Club is clear from great feats unfurled, headlines made and names plastered all over the record books. In those forms does their legacy remain.
Graeme Welch’s legacy at Edgbaston is of a different kind. Much more latent – but still greater than most.
As a player, Welch made his championship debut for the Bears in 1994 and contributed plenty to the team’s spectacular success that season. But he never quite followed it up.
After a confidence-shattering Benson and Hedges Cup match early in ’95 he did not play a championship game that year. Affected by injuries, his first-team input was to remain sporadic until he left to join Derbyshire, in search of regular first-team cricket, late in 2000.
Six excellent seasons followed at Derby – but ‘Pop’ was not done with the Bears. In 2010 he returned as bowling coach and got busy turning a seam-attack of strong parts but a hitherto inconsistent whole into an armoury which powered Warwickshire to the championship title in 2012. Keith Barker, Chris Wright, Chris Woakes, Boyd Rankin and Rikki Clarke all came on a bundle under the astute north-eastener.
So, component of the ’94 title and co-architect of the ’12 title, Welch has left a major legacy at Edgbaston. Yet, he is the last man ever to think in such terms. If he has helped people along the way, then great. But now for the next challenge.
Welch’s latest challenge is at Leicestershire whom he joined as assistant coach last September after two and a half years as elite performance director at Derbyshire. His mission now is to help the Foxes continue their resurgence under former Bears team-mate Wasim Khan, chief executive at the Fischer County Ground. Welch is a fully committed Fox.
But a part of him is forever Bear.
“I’ve got loads of affection for the club,” he said. “It was the first club that took me under their wing and they treated me really well.
“A north-east contact of Bob Cottam recommended me in late ’89 and I was invited to an indoor net at Edgbaston. The net was quick and facing people like Paul Smith and Gladstone Small I was way out of my depth, but I was invited back in March for an outdoor trial. Again I didn’t think I did too well but Bob must have seen something because he offered me what was effectively a YTS for two years.
“I certainly didn’t set the world alight for the first year and a half. Away from my parents for the first time and coming to the big city I enjoyed myself a little bit too much with the older lads! But in the last six weeks I worked out this was a great life and that I wanted to keep it so got my head down. Bob later told me if I hadn’t sorted myself out that last six weeks I would have been sacked.
“I got a great grounding from Neal Abberley and made my debut at Oxford in ’92 and then my championship debut at Northampton in ’94. It was quite a game with Brian Lara hit on the helmet by Curtly Ambrose and then Brian and Dermot Reeve had a fall-out and Brian spent the best part of two days asleep under a bench in the dressing-room. As a young lad I just couldn’t believe I was on the same field as people like Lara and Allan Lamb.”
Just a matter of weeks after his championship debut, Welch was part of the celebrations of the Bears’ historic treble. Quite a leap for the 22-year-old. During the following year, however, while Warwickshire charged towards another two trophies, Welch was back in the 2nd XI, confidence shattered by an early-season analysis of 11-0-103-0 in a Benson & Hedges Cup tie against Lancashire at Edgbaston.
“It was still in the days when you broke before lunch and came back out,” he recalls. “I bowled six overs for about 60 and didn’t expect to bowl again but with about six overs left, and Neil Fairbrother, one of the best one-day players of the day, all guns blazing, Dermot waved to me to come back on. I got smashed all over and that hit me hard. Having the most expensive analysis in the tournament was difficult to get over.
“The trouble was, in ’94 I had just gone out there with the rest of the team on the crest of a wave and played. I didn’t really have a method and didn’t know my own games. I had everything to learn really so for the next two years I knuckled down. I played quite a lot in ’97 but was then dropped for a final when I had played most of three games and I just felt the writing was on the wall.
“I could have stayed for another two or three years and played in the 2nds but was ready for first-team cricket and Derbyshire were good enough to give me that opportunity.”
At Derby, Welch got the sustained first-team cricket he desired – and responded to it superbly. For the next five years he bowled around 500 overs a season, twice taking 50 championship wickets, an excellent effort in an often struggling side.
The strain took its toll, however, and in 2007 he was forced to retire by a shredded Achilles. Already in rehab from surgery, Welch was walking up Wembley Way to support Derby County in the play-offs final when he stumbled in a pothole, exacerbating the injury. And that was that. As a player, that is.
Welch soon fledged as a bowling coach, for two years at Essex and then as successor to Allan Donald alongside director of cricket Ashley Giles at Edgbaston.
“Coaching had always appealed to me,” he said. “Years earlier, Abbers had got me coaching in the indoor school at Edgbaston and from the start I always got a kick out of seeing people improve.
“I was lucky at Warwickshire to have a crop of really good bowlers – and really good lads. They all got on well, worked hard and bought into what we were doing. They were a real pleasure to work with.
“I knew Wrighty from working with him at Essex and mentioned him to Ash who looked at his stats and they were terrible because he’d been playing university cricket. But he came on loan and started off with a five-for against Yorkshire and, from that moment on, him, Barks, Woaksey, Rikki and Boyd really formed a bond. There was competition between themselves as to who could bowl best which drove everyone on.
“It was just a matter of educating them about bowling as a unit. We did a few technical things, added a few skills and what they produced as a unit was phenomenal. It was a great collective effort by the squad and, yes, to win the championship as both player and coach will always be very special for me.”
Ask any of those bowlers today and they are quick to acknowledge their debt of gratitude to Welch. The 2012 championship triumph and the subsequent achievements of those individuals are all part of Pop’s legacy.
Typically, he receives that suggestion with a shake of the head. Also typically, Welch’s focus now is, far from dwelling on old times, squarely on the challenge before him.
“At Warwickshire I just threw in bits and pieces that I had learned over the years – and that’s what I’m still doing now.
“I’m really excited to be part of what’s happening at Leicestershire. Wasim Khan is top-class. He is ambitions and know how to get things done and we have a really good senior players and talented youngsters coming through here.
The ground has come on a bundle and the whole club had undergone a massive turnaround so it’s just a question of kicking on again. I think we could be heading for something special here, I really do.”