It sounds like a scene from a spy thriller. In 1978, with tensions simmering between east and west, a man is told to go to a nondescript hotel in middle England and look for a tall guy with white hair who will give him instructions.
A pretty sinister set-up, eh?
Well, in this instance, not so much – because the tall guy with white hair was Alan Oakman and the chap instructed to seek him out was Anton Ferreira.
"I met so many fantastic people at Warwickshire but if I had one mentor above all it was Browny – what a great man."
And their meeting in a sleepy Hertfordshire town in June 1978 was the launchpad of the Warwickshire career of one of the most popular all-rounders ever to represent the club
Ferreira, aged 23, had impressed in domestic cricket for the last two seasons and just been named one of South Africa’s Cricketers of the Year but had no chance of playing international cricket because his country was in isolation due to its apartheid policy. He was in England as part of a multi-racial squad on a tour organised by Dr Ali Bacher – and Dr Bacher contacted the counties so see if any 2nd XI opportunities were available for the young tourists.
“I’d had a pretty good season in South Africa the winter before so Alan must have spotted my name,” recalls Ferreira. “I was up in Manchester when Warwickshire got in touch, so I took a train from Manchester to Euston then got the tube and another train out to Hemel Hempstead where I was told to go to the Post House Hotel and look for a tall guy with white hair. Oaky!
“The 2nd XI were playing Middlesex at Ealing. They had quite a strong side out – Wilf Slack, Norman Cowans, Clive Radley – but I had a decent game. I bowled economically and scored 30-odd and was asked to the play in an Under 25s 40-over game at Edgbaston the following week. I bowled eight overs quite cheaply and after the game was told to go up to the committee room where the chairman Cyril Goodway and secretary Alan Smith were waiting. And I got my first contract.
“I spent the first couple of nights on Oaky’s lounge floor until the groundsman’s old flat at Edgbaston was ready. Oaky was an amazing gentleman.”
“Yogi” Ferreira was to become a linchpin of Warwickshire’s team with aggressive, entertaining batting and accurate, testing seam-bowling often deployed at the death in limited-overs cricket. Between 1979 and 1986, he scored 4,088 runs and took 335 wickets in first-class cricket for the Bears while contributing 1,789 runs and 199 wickets in the shorter formats.
He peaked in 1984 when his input included 744 runs and 75 wickets in the championship. Wisden correspondent Jack Bannister wrote that “Ferreira’s batting and bowling have developed so considerably that he now ranks among the leading all-rounders in first-class cricket. In a less powerful batting line-up than Warwickshire’s, he would bat higher than No.7 and to obtain 79 wickets, especially having to bowl so often on the docile Edgbaston pitches as a support seamer, was a notable effort.”
Ferreira, who went on to spend his post-playing career almost entirely in coaching education with Cricket South Africa, reflects upon his time with Warwickshire with enormous pride and affection.
“Soon after I joined the club, David Brown and Bob Willis were appointed as manager and captain respectively,” he said. “I met so many fantastic people at Warwickshire but if I had one mentor above all it was Browny – what a great man.
“Bob also taught me so much – and gave me a few rollickings along the way! There were so many great people to learn from. Dennis Amiss was always saying: ‘Keep working. Always keep working. Just when you think you have got the game sussed, it will kick you up the backside.'”
The Bears had received a few kicks during the 1970s with the 1972 championship triumph followed by some pretty barren
years. In 1980, that barren spell was broken as Brown and Willis were men on a mission.
It was ‘Mission John Player League’ – and it was Mission Accomplished. Crowds flocked to Edgbaston as the Bears, having finished bottom in 1979, came top in 1980. Ferreira’s impact was significant. He chipped in with invaluable runs and was, along with Gladstone Small and Dilip Doshi, one of the three key pillars of the bowling attack.
“Ahead of the 1980 season Dave and Bob said they were targeting a one-day trophy as Warwickshire hadn’t won anything since 1972 and they wanted to bring some silverware to the club,” said Ferreira. “They picked out the John Player League and plotted out the whole season.
“They decided we had to field like ferrets and we worked really hard on our fitness. It was the year of the Moscow Olympics and many times we were yomping round Cannon Hill Park and someone would say: ‘Are we training for Moscow?’
“But it paid off. We did excel in the field with Phil Oliver, Andy Lloyd and John Claughton saving runs galore and we did win that trophy.”
Four years later, in 1984, the Bears reached the Benson & Hedges Cup final but were beaten by Lancashire at Lord’s despite Ferreira’s typically accurate work – 11-2-26-2. Bob Willis was captain and it transpired to be quite a momentous day. It was Willis’s last match for Warwickshire or anyone else.
As the county’s bowling attack entered a period of transition, for Ferreira too, although at the height of his powers as a player, the end of his time at Edgbaston was drawing near.
“When Bob retired after the 1984 final it came right out of the blue,” he said. “We had no idea he had been in such pain from his injuries. He never said anything.
“Gladstone was starting to play for England so Warwickshire were looking to get more pace into the attack. Around that time the club had an exchange arrangement with Transvaal and the likes of Paul Smith and Tim Munton went to Transvaal. One who came over in return was Brian McMillan who had a bit of pace.
“The registration rules had just changed so if Brian played, neither Alvin Kallicharran or I could. Alvin wasn’t too keen on 2nd XI cricket but I didn’t mind and in a way that experience pointed me in another new direction. I started to take more of an interest in coaching and coach education. I got to know people like Robin Dyer, Gordon Lord and Andy Moles and made a whole new bunch of lifelong friendships.
“I was offered another contract but, though I absolutely loved my time at Warwickshire, I turned it down. I had turned 31 and had said I would rather focus on building a career in South Africa.
“I think it ended up as the best bit of business the Bears ever did – they got rid of me and within a season had signed Allan Donald…”
* In Part Two next week, Ferreira reveals why Edgbaston is “a very special place and always be part of me” and reflects on his career after Warwickshire…and playing cricket at The Hawthorns!