Lara and Bell opening the batting? Woakes and Donald sharing the new ball? C Humpage b Clarke?
Alluring images triggered by former Warwickshire all-rounder Paul Smith accepting our invitation to blend Edgbaston eras and name his all-star Bears Twenty20 team. Brian Halford reports.
On the way to winning six trophies in three years, Warwickshire’s all conquering team of the mid-1990s blazed a trail in all formats – County Championship, 60 overs, 55 overs, 40 overs.
"Some of the guys from the ’90s team had retired before T20 came in but I would back them to outsmart most teams today,” he said. “I don’t see a lot in T20 today that we weren’t doing."
The Twenty20 format was not around in senior cricket then – it did not arrive in the county game until 2003.
Then in it came with its big-hitting, high tempo and improvisation and pretty soon was cranking up the pace in limited-overs cricket across the board. But not all that improvisation was new.
That Warwickshire team of the mid-1990s, freed up by coach Bob Woolmer’s encouragement to go out and play without fear, was way ahead of that particular game. And what a T20 unit they would have made.
And when we asked former Bears all-rounder Paul Smith, a major contributor to the unique 1994 treble-winning season, to select a T20 squad from the players he played with and those who have followed at Edgbaston, he found himself leaning heavily towards that great group of the ’90s.
“Some of the guys from the ’90s team had retired before T20 came in but I would back them to outsmart most teams today,” he said. “I don’t see a lot in T20 today that we weren’t doing.
“Bob Woolmer had come in as coach and suddenly we were being encouraged to be fearless. We were told to just go out there and back ourselves. If you got out in the first over, caught at mid-off when, nine times out of ten it would have been a one-bounce four, then nobody would criticise you because it was the right shot to have played.
“Everyone takes that approach in T20 today but we were doing it 20 years ago in the other formats when a lot of the counties were still very conservative in their one-day cricket.
“For me personally, it was brilliant, because I had always loved playing that way. In 1986, aged just 22, I opened the batting in the championship and scored 1,500 runs in a very aggressive manner – and was told I couldn’t go in first and bat like that. I never was told why not. And the following year I was dropped back down to six.”
A fearless approach is all very well, of course, but it needs to be backed up by some serious talent. It helps to have players of the calibre of Brian Lara to underpin that strategy and, unsurprisingly, Lara is one of the first names down in Smith’s Bears T20 squad.
He selects a 13, also including two other overseas players; Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock. A couple of rather impressive death-bowlers those – though as a team can contain only two overseas players, for them to be deployed together would mean omitting Lara – a big call.
“A.D, with his desire to compete and dominate, coming off his full run, would have been tough to handle,” said Smith. “Lara could take a game away from anyone and Pollock was just class in every respect.”
"My team would pretty much captain itself but I think you would have to look at Reeve or Bell."
Around the brilliance of Lara and Donald, the bulk of Smith’s squad would be provided by all-rounders from successive eras. Alongside Pollock in the squad are Paul Smith, Neil Smith and Dermot Reeve, all pivotal to the ’90s one-day success, their successors Dougie Brown, Ashley Giles and Neil Carter, and, from the current group, Chris Woakes and Rikki Clarke.
“To me, an all-rounder is not just someone who can bat and bowl,” said Smith. “It is someone who can win a game with both bat and ball – and all those guys can do that.
“Most of those played for their countries but, while Neil Carter didn’t, I would definitely want him in the squad. I really liked the way Neil played. We used to chat sometimes and people were saying the same things to him as they had said to me 15 years earlier. But for us it was a case of ‘don’t let the bowlers settle.’ If the fielders are up, try to find the spaces.
“It’s always a good strategy to do what the opposition least wants you to go. Well, the opposition certainly does not want to be bowling at Neil Carter in full flow.”
Smith’s squad includes just one player to pre-date the mid-90s. Behind the stumps he plumps for Geoff Humpage whose buccaneering batting appears tailor-made for T20.
The squad in full, therefore:
Sorting out the batting order would be a bit of a challenge!
And finally, who would be captain?
“That team would pretty much captain itself but I think you would have to look at Reeve or Bell,” Smith said. “There are some great cricketers in there – and some strong characters. If we did ever lose a game there would be some very strong discussions about how to put things right!”
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