If Warwickshire’s 1994 treble year was the most momentous season ever recorded by any county – and clearly it was – then that surely makes Graeme Welch’s entry into county cricket the most momentous ever.
Welch began the ’94 season as a 22-year-old seam-bowling all-rounder still to play a first-class match and hoping to perhaps force his way in for a first-team game or two in the months ahead. He ended it having made a major contribution to a team achievement that will tower forever in the history books.
"The thing about that year in the championship was that, whenever we were in trouble in games, and there were a few times that we were, somebody always stepped upt."
His own good form in the 2nd XI, allied to injuries to the senior bowlers, meant that Welch’s debut arrived on June 23-27 at Northampton. The Bears won a magnificent match by four wickets with the debutant contributing crucially with bat (an unbeaten 35 from number ten as 98 were added for the last two wickets) and ball (taking out the cream of Northants batting Rob Bailey, Allan Lamb and Mal Loye in the first innings).
Welch was up and running – and so, after starting the championship season steadily rather than spectacularly, with three wins and three draws, were the Bears.
“I was called up because I had taken three or four five-fors for the Second XI and it turned out to be quite a game to start with,” he said. “Northants had a strong team and it was a lively game and I got a few runs with the bat and my first first-class wickets so I was happy.
“I was just so excited to be out there facing Curtly Ambrose. It was a boyhood dream. I had watched this fella bowling England out on the television for West Indies and suddenly I was out there facing him. I managed to score a few runs and had a bit of luck with the ball too. I nicked Bailey off, bowled an absolute pie which Allan Lamb cut to Trevor Penney and then Mal Loye nicked one into the slips so it was a bit of a dream debut. It was a great finish too. We chased it down on the last day when Dominic Ostler went in and smacked it and we won with a few balls to spare.
What a game!
“So I started well and then just got taken along by the roll the team was on. I think I improved my career-best nearly every game in the last few games. I came in as a bowler but ended up scoring 446 runs at 37 – and took a few important wickets as well.”
That roll the team was on…it was some roll. The win at Northampton was followed by others at home to Lancashire, away to Surrey (the leaders turned over at Guildford where again Welch scored vital runs), at home to Essex and away to Derbyshire.
Then, after a draw against Worcestershire at New Road and the only defeat of the season, at home to Nottinghamshire, came the killer thrusts. Back-to-back wins at Scarborough and Hove took the Bears to the threshold of the title and an innings win at home to Hampshire saw them over it.
It was a mesmeric charge, driven by the team but, recalls Welch, powered by a collective passion which involved everybody associated with Warwickshire CCC.
“It was a fantastic team to be part of but what was really special was that it wasn’t just about the team – it was the whole club,” he said. “After every day at home we would go in the Extra Cover bar and talk to the supporters. We were really accessible home and away, and that made it great fun. After we beat Surrey at Guildford one of the Surrey committee wrote to thank us for coming in and mingling with the spectators after play each day. We really enjoyed it.
“Our supporters travelled to away games in force and that really lifted us and it was great to get some big away wins, especially at Scarborough in front of the Yorkshire fans.
“That was a pleasing one for us because Brian Lara didn’t score any runs so it proved that we were more than a one-man team. I remember in that game Lara was Alex Wharf’s first first-class wicket which was fun because I knew Alex from being out in New Zealand with him the previous winter.”
For Welch, his formative weeks in county cricket had turned into a truly magical mystery tour.
“Pretty much every game was on TV because of Brian and every game was an event,” he said. “The thing about that year in the championship was that, whenever we were in trouble in games, and there were a few times that we were, somebody always stepped up.
“At Guildford, for example. A lot of people thought that win was the turning point for us but we were up against it early in the game. But Dougie Brown and I kept us in it with late-order runs, then Roger Twose took six wickets, Andy Moles scored 200 and Tim Munton and Neil Smith bowled them out. That year, somebody always chipped in with what was needed.
“We just enjoyed each other’s company on and off the field. It was fun, but when we went out on the field we gave everything – and the wins just kept coming!”
Become a 2019 Warwickshire Member!
Membership guarantees the best value way to watch cricket at Edgbaston this summer, giving access to all domestic cricket in 2019 – including the group stages of the Vitality Blast.Click to purchase your Warwickshire Membership