"I rocked up in tracksuit bottoms and an oversize woolly jumper and took the field for the first time," recalls Will Rhodes.
His first game as Warwickshire captain, against Northamptonshire in the Bob Willis Trophy at Edgbaston in August? No, that wouldn’t have done at all. Rhodes is talking about a match a little further back…his very first, as a seven-year-old playing for Cottingham Under 11s in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
“I vividly remember my first game,” said the Bears skipper. “My brother Dom was Under 11s captain and my dad was coach. Someone pulled out and, as often happens, the coach’s youngest son got called up at the last minute.
“I didn’t have a pair of white trousers, so I rocked up in tracksuit bottoms and an oversize woolly jumper and took the field for the first time. When you are seven and the other lads are 11 they seem like giants, but I remember hitting my first boundary. It was through square leg off my hips – some things haven’t changed!”
Rhodes has travelled far since that first flicked four. In the Yorkshire system aged ten, he graduated all the way into the first team at Headingley before joining Warwickshire ahead of the 2018 season.
Appointed Bears captain, aged only 24, last November, he took the appointment in his stride. Rhodes has shown a recurring ability to take next steps in his stride, a quality honed by a boyhood spent competing with an older bro and his mates.
“Cricket has been in my family for a long time,” he said. “My dad and brother have been massive influences on me, always pushing me to get better. That’s the beauty of growing up with an older brother who is stronger and bigger and can bowl a lot quicker than you. You get used to that next level up.
“I was very lucky to have such great support. There were a lot of late evenings taking me over to Headingley two or three times a week, and early mornings and weekends, so everything I do now as a cricketer is to hopefully make my family proud and thank them for sacrificing so much. To be able to repay that is brilliant for me.”
Rhodes was born in Nottingham but was there only a few months before the family moved to Yorkshire.
“All my memories are of Cottingham,” he said. “I grew up there, went to school there and was there until I was 18 so it holds a huge place in my heart.
“I played for Cottingham, then was in the Yorkshire system from age ten. I remember turning up for my first game in shirt, tie and blazer for Yorkshire Schoolboys. Jack Leaning, Jonny Tattersall and Josh Shaw played in that first game so four of us went on to play professional cricket.
“I played throughout the age groups but it was when I was 16 or 17 that I thought maybe it could be a career. Yorkshire are blessed with the amount of people they can pick from, so you know if you have got that far you have done well.
“I was still playing football at quite a good level and was offered a place in Hull City’s academy, so I had a little bit of a decision to make, but it was always going to be cricket. I had a really good year in Yorkshire’s academy and went on the first team tour that winter and that’s when I really believed I could become a professional.”
Rhodes’s career as a central midfielder ended with Humberside Schoolboys but his career in cricket took flight. March 2015 brought his first class debut, for Yorkshire against MCC in Abu Dhabu, and he started well with a half-century and match figures of 12-3-22-3.
It was the first of 54 first-team games for the White Rose, before moving to Edgbaston.
“It was a strange place to make a first class debut,” he recalls. “I was told on the morning of the game I was going to play and normally, if you get told on the morning, you are pretty much straight into it, but it was a day-nighter so I had six or seven hours to wait. There were a lot of emotions and nerves, but it went well.
“Being in Abu Dhabi it felt like a tour game. I had a good game but then, a couple of weeks later, came down to earth with a bump. I made my championship debut and Charlie Morris got me out second ball and I learned it can be a tough game.
“It was when I had my appraisal in 2017 that Martyn Moxon said Warwickshire had put 28 days in for me. I met Ashley Giles, Jim Troughton and Ian Bell and had a really good chat. They said they were looking for an opening batsman and, luckily, Belly had seen me play in the MCC game a few months before when I did well. A couple of days later Ash rang me up to ask what my thoughts were and I signed very swiftly.
“I had to wait a little while to play white-ball cricket but that gave me a chance to put in some hard yards on the training ground and I am delighted with the way it has gone. I never in the world thought I would be captain within three years.
“It is such a huge honour and I’d like to think, as a squad, we are going in the right direction. It will be a little bit of a journey in the next couple of years and I am really excited to be at the head of that. We have some exciting players who can challenge for trophies. I think we made some progress in finding a new game plan without Jeets who leaves such a massive hole to fill. That’s what we will be working on this winter.
“This year was such a bizarre season with all the restrictions and it was a long wait for my first game as captain, but when I got out there it was fantastic. I wanted to make sure my performances didn’t suffer and was happy with the way it went.”
As he has done all along, Rhodes rose the challenge. And who knows what further challenges await? His team-mate and close friend Dom Sibley has advanced into England’s team and a similar progression, at some point, for the boy from Cottingham is far from out of the question.
Chris Woakes and Olly Stone recently became the first pair of Bears to open the bowling for England. Can Rhodes and Sibley become the first to open the batting?
“It would be silly of me not to dream big,” Rhodes said. “I think that’s what every county cricketer should do. We’ve all seen what Dom has done with his game in the last 18 months. He has turned himself into one of the best in the country and his success is fully deserved for all the time and effort he puts in.
“We complement each other nicely and it would be amazing to open together for England. There’s a bit of pressure on me there to improve my game. but you are always looking to improve so that would be a dream come true. Hopefully we will both keep improving our games and one day it will happen.”
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