Warwickshire began 1994 as 25/1 outsiders to win the Benson & Hedges Cup.
Fair enough. It was only three years since Jack Bannister, in his Wisden review of the 1990 season, commented that: “Warwickshire’s performances in the three one-day competitions were an unmitigated disaster.”
But under director of coaching Bob Woolmer and captain Dermot Reeve the Bears were improving. And when, in April ’94, they signed Brian Lara, those odds were slashed to 14/1. Plenty of West Midlands-based punters invested in that offer. On July 9 they collected.
No-one knew it at the time, though a few had started to suspect that something special was happening, but the first instalment of the treble was banked – and Gladstone Small reckons that securing that first trophy was the “springboard” for all that was to follow.
Warwickshire v Worcestershire at Lord’s. A 29,000 full house. The stage was perfectly set. And for the Bears, the day turned out perfectly. They won a crucial toss, restricted their old rivals to 170 for nine, then reached the target with six wickets and 64 balls to spare. It was a crushing win which fuelled the growing tide of belief that this could be quite a year.
“The Benson & Hedges Cup final win was the springboard for it all really,” recalls Small. “It was a great atmosphere with a full house at Lord’s and the Bears fans in full voice. There was certainly a lot of ‘I’d rather be a Bear than a Pear’ that day.
“It was a good toss to win – of course later in the season they won the toss in the NatWest Trophy or we could have won all four. They were good bowling conditions and we kept them under pressure throughout. We got Graeme Hick cheaply and then Tom Moody, who was a quality player, took on Trevor Penney and paid the price.
“We knocked them off quite comfortably and had a trophy in the bank and it all took off from there. Every match became an event. The supporters got behind the team and travelled to away games in force and that buoyed us further. We were on the way.”
Warwickshire’s 1994 Benson & Hedges Cup triumph was a curious affair. It consisted of a bye, a bowlout and three wins in London. After a preliminary round bye, they beat county champions Middlesex by three wickets at Lord’s then defeated Kent in a controversial bowlout at Edgbaston.
After two wet days in Birmingham, the teams each nominated five players to bowl twice at the stumps. Tim Munton, Gladstone Small, Paul Smith, Dermot Reeve and Richard Davis all hit one once for the Bears, as did the first four Kent players. Then up stepped the tenth candidate, Nigel Llong, who missed both to the delight of a Warwickshire contingent including Allan Donald who had dropped in from South Africa’s tour to offer his support.
“We were a bit of a bogey team for Kent,” said Small. “I remember, when the draw was made, Matthew Fleming saying: ‘Oh no, not Warwickshire again.’ The game was washed out so it came down to a bowlout and I had taken part in a bowlout before, in the Tilcon Trophy at Harrogate but had to leave the hospitality marquee to take part!
“We went in the indoor school which meant you had to adjust your bowling because the ball swung quite a lot in there and also bounced. I just bowled off two or three paces. It was Nigel Llong, who bowled not very good off-spin, who missed both.”
The bowlout win earned the Bears another tough draw, against a powerful Surrey side at The Oval. The semi-final, scheduled for the day after the home championship match with Durham, always looked tasty. Then the final day of the Durham game delivered the little matter of Brian Lara’s 501.
Given the tumult surrounding Lara’s world record, perhaps the Bears’ four-wicket win over Surrey the following day was their most impressive performance of the season. And given that he had batted the entire previous day, then travelled to London and been up at the crack to meet the tumultuous media interest next morning, perhaps Lara’s match-winning 70 was his most impressive innings. Better than his 501, in a way, as it crafted victory under intense pressure instead of filling up the final day of a stalemate.
It all amounted to a remarkable 48 hours for Warwickshire and for Lara, recalls Small, who played at The Oval having been 12th man against Durham.
“I always had lunch with Brian, Keith Piper and Paul Smith and at lunch on the last day against Durham, Brian was on 285 and said: ‘Shall I go for the record?'” Small said. “We assumed he meant his record and said: ‘375? No trouble,’ and he said: ‘No, the big one.’ Paul said: ‘Hanif’s 499 – you’re not gonna give that a go?’ Brian said: ‘Watch me!’
“The crowd was swelling all the time and the Test match had finished at Trent Bridge so, by the time he was getting close, the press box was full. Then in the very last over, thanks to Pipes going down the wicket and telling him it was the last over, he hit the last ball through the covers for four to get to 500.
“There was no time to celebrate because we had to drive straight down to London – though we might have had a glass or two when we got to the hotel. Next morning, while we started thinking about the Surrey game, Brian did both Breakfast TVs and his agent whipped him all over London to make the most of it.
“Then we fielded first and he started off in the slips and, after a few overs, said: ‘I can’t see the ball.’ So he went into the outfield and again, after a few overs, said he couldn’t see it, so off he went for a sleep. Brian slept a lot during the day (I don’t think he slept that much at night) and always took a duvet and pillow round with him.
“When Surrey’s innings ended and we got back to the dressing room, Brian was fast asleep. Bob Woolmer said: ‘Just leave him.’ Dermot Reeve was getting a bit fractious and saying: ‘Look, we’re chasing 280’ but Bob said: ‘Leave him.’
“Eventually he woke up, went in at number six and scored 70 to win us a tight game. Actually, that was one of the few contributions that Brian made in one-day cricket. He was brilliant in the championship but didn’t have a particularly good season in the one-dayers.”
His innings at The Oval, however, was an extraordinary feat of skill performed in a state of exhaustion.
“Brian went out there virtually with matchsticks under his eyelids and did the job,” recalls another team-mate Neil Smith. “His personal desire to be the very best he could be carried him through that season and we all fed off that. As we rode the crest of a wave as a team, his personal self-belief was a huge factor.”
Warwickshire had booked their place in the final where they utterly outplayed their arch-rivals, thanks to many important contributions. Small’s 11-4-26-1. Tim Munton’s 11-3-29-1. Paul Smith’s 11-1-34-3 and 42 not out. Reeve’s 9-1-38-1. Penney’s brilliant direct hit from square leg to run out danger man Moody. Piper’s two catches in a display of customary wicketkeeping excellence. Dominic Ostler’s 55 and Roger Twose’s 37 (to add to his earlier 8-1-25-1) in an opening stand of 91 which pretty much settled the game. Neil Smith’s 5-0-16-1, including the wicket of Gavin Haynes to break the biggest partnership of the innings. Asif Din’s small but significant 14 in a stand of 44 with Paul Smith which snuffed out Worcestershire’s last hope and saw the Bears to the threshold of victory.
Ten important contributions. Lara, meanwhile, scored just eight. He had bestrode the County Championship but, the Surrey spectacular aside, offered relatively little to the Benson & Hedges Cup triumph. Warwickshire were far from a one man side.