When an A-level student attends only 40% of his lessons, you might expect the school to be a bit grumpy about it. What sort of commitment is that?
But when Liam Norwell’s attendance rate at Redruth School came in at that figure, it was entirely with the school’s blessing. In fact, they orchestrated it.
Education is all about fulfilment of potential, whichever way that lies. Norwell’s clearly lay in cricket, as a fast bowler. It transpired that a fine career with Gloucestershire and Warwickshire lay ahead for him and that is due in large part to the encouragement and support he received from his “amazing” school.
“I’d been in and out of the cricket system because I played a lot of other sports, so cricket wasn’t always my main focus,” Norwell said. “But at 16 I grew into body and went from playing 3rd XI club cricket to 1st XI across one winter. People started to say ‘this lad can bowl with a bit of pace.’
“Even then I never really thought about it as a career until the summer of 2009. Then I played for Cornwall Under 17s against Wiltshire at Trowbridge (Craig Miles was in Wiltshire’s team), and took five wickets. I went back to Redruth School and the head of maths and head of my year was also the West of England cricket coach. He contacted Gloucestershire, I had a trial game there and was invited on to a six-week summer training programme.
“It would be fair to say I didn’t really focus on the second year of my A-levels! I could always retake them but was never going to have another chance like this to become a professional sportsman. I only attended about 40% of the lessons but the school was very understanding and did everything they could for this boy from a small school in Cornwall to train with a professional team. They moved lessons round for me and were amazing.Liam Norwell
“Everyone just said ‘you’ve got this chance to become a professional cricketer, let’s throw everything at it.’ I am very grateful to them. I put everything into it for a year and was asked to join Gloucestershire’s academy full time and was then offered a two-year contract…and ten years later I’m still going!”
Norwell is still going strong, as Warwickshire fans will vouch from his spectacular start for the Bears in 2019 – seven for 41 on his debut at Taunton and then 64, including 50 in fours and sixes, on his home debut against Surrey. He has come a long way from the toddler who used to watch his dad purvey astute left arm spin at Queen’s Park in Bournemouth.
“My first cricketing memories are of watching dad,” he said. “He was a left-arm spinner and left-handed slogger and, as young as I can remember, I used to go every Saturday and watch him play at Queen’s Park. Then, after we moved to Plymouth when I was eight, I started to play. I kept wicket a few times for Plymouth Under 11s because I wasn’t good enough at batting or bowling to warrant a place in the team but they needed a wicketkeeper!
“After 18 months in Plymouth we moved to Cornwall and I started playing seriously. We played Kwik Cricket with the blue bats and soft balls after school and I really enjoyed it. Dad played for Redruth so I played for them from Under 11s onwards at our lovely ground with the town in the background and the Carn Brea monument up on the hill. If you couldn’t see Carn Brea for clouds in the morning, it was going to rain, so you knew you were not going to play that day.
“It’s an amazing place to play and there are some unbelievable grounds in Cornwall. If they had capacity you would get some huge crowds because people would flock to watch and take in the views and scenery.
“I loved it at Redruth. It’s a fantastic club and my dad’s still playing there, still chucking up his left arm pies and coaching the youngsters.”
Norwell junior did not serve pies. On his championship debut for Gloucestershire against Derbyshire, he took six for 46 as his team won by seven wickets. He was soon a pillar of the pace attack. In the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons combined he took 171 first class wickets, a level of consistency and quality which was noted by Bears sport director Ashley Giles.
“I signed for Gloucestershire just as several senior seamers left,” Norwell said. “I was very lucky with the timing and the following winter I went to Australia and the Darren Lehmann academy and my cricket improved dramatically. I got fitter, learned how to bowl day in and day out, and played some hard grade cricket. That winter, living by myself as well, taught me so much. Then I made my debut in the first match of 2011, scored a few runs and took wickets as we made Derbyshire follow on and we won the game.
“I then had a few niggles in 2012 and 2013 and it took me a while to learn that, as a fast bowler, you have to play through niggles because if you don’t, you’re never going to be on the pitch. From 2014 to 2017 I barely missed a game. It all clicked and that gave me the confidence to talk to a team like Warwickshire because I wanted to see if I was good enough to play at a Test match ground.
“I loved my time at Gloucestershire. They took me out of club cricket and gave me contracts early on when probably my performances didn’t warrant them. They backed me and I will always be grateful for that, but I felt I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I needed a new challenge so declined a contract extension and looked around.
“As soon as I came up to Edgbaston and had a tour round with Ashley Giles, I was sold. There’s something very special about the ground. Lauren was shopping in the Bullring and I went to see her and said, ‘do you fancy living here?’ She said ‘if this is right for your career, we’re doing it’. I am very lucky…she is so supportive. She put her teaching career on hold. I couldn’t have done what I have done without her support.Liam Norwell
“I got back to the car and said to my agent, ‘just get it done…I want to play here.'”
A deal was swiftly done and, in 2021, the 28-year-old will be looking to make up for lost time, a freak injury and the pandemic having kept him off the pitch for much of his time at the Bears so far.
“It has been frustrating,” he said. “To slip in the game at York after bowling one ball and damage my hamstring was very frustrating… I could slip 99 times and do no damage at all. But at least I know it’s not my body letting me down, it’s just been a few freak injuries.
“I am now fully fit and ready to go. I was training by myself during lockdown, of course, but am really looking forward to getting back to training with the lads again. They are a great group and I think we are all looking forward to some hard graft up to and after Christmas.”
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