Neal Abberley: Cricketer who served Warwickshire as player and coach for nearly 50 years

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The Independent Online

The term county stalwart might have been invented for Neal Abberley who, for almost 50 years, served Warwickshire County Cricket Club with unswerving devotion. As a player he enjoyed considerable success, winning the Gillette Cup in 1966 and 1968 and bringing the County Championship back to Edgbaston in 1972. Later he proved an inspirational coach, successfully nurturing generations of aspiring young cricketers.

A native of Stechford in the Midlands, Neal Abberley was educated at Saltley Grammar School, where his prodigious sporting ability came to the fore as a member of Moseley Cricket Club in the Birmingham League. Having played a number of games for Warwickshire Second XI, he made his first class debut in 1964, scoring 54 against Cambridge University.

He was a strongly built and powerful right-handed middle-order batsman who, while not an overtly attacking player, was keen to seize on any delivery just short of a length. Elegant and economical of movement, he was particularly strong off the back foot. While only an occasional bowler, he excelled as a high-class fielder, particularly close to the bat.

He soon established himself as a regular member of the side, the 1966 season proving to be his most prolific with the bat. He topped 1,000 runs for the first time, including a carefully crafted maiden first class century, and was rewarded with a County Cap. Notable among many fine performances that year was his celebrated encounter with Championship leaders Yorkshire at Hull.

In the first, resolute innings, his 54 not out in two and a half hours lifted his side to within five runs ofYorkshire's total of 197. Then, with Warwickshire bowling Yorkshire out for a lowly 101, the visitors required only 106 to win. However, at lunchon the final day, reduced to 75 for 7, they were a tantalisingly 31 runs short. Happily finding a suitable soulmatein the bowler Tom Cartwright, Abberley, with a second chanceless half-century, steered his side to a famous victory.

In January 1967, alongside hisWarwickshire team-mates David Brown and Dennis Amiss, Abberley was chosen for a six-week tour of Pakistan with MCC. He made an excellent start against Central Zone at Sahiwal, his 92 including 13 fours. However in the second innings, taking a nasty blow on the gloves, he broke his right index finger. Forced to return home, he was replaced by the Sussex batsman Mike Buss.

While never quite consolidating the rich promise of those early years,during 16 seasons in the first class game he appeared in 261 matches,scoring 10,082 runs at an average of 24.47. His highest score remains his 117 not out against Essex at Birmingham in 1966. A wholehearted and committed team player, he also had 171 catches to his name.

Attracting a then record benefitin 1979, the following year he stepped down to captain the Second XI, becoming chief coach in 1981. Here, never less than a hard taskmaster, he alwaysled by example. Nothing typified this more than his imperious 99, scored in the face of a particularly hostile Lancashire attack on a most unappealing Fleetwood wicket in August 1983. But for a somewhat harshly adjudged leg bye he would have recorded yet another masterful century.

Though his playing appearances tailed off over the years, during the 1995 season, following a late injury, he was pressed into emergency actionfor a Second XI game at Coventry. Imagine his surprise when, at theripe old age of 51 he was summoned to give a urine sample. Happily, nothing untoward was found, save for traces of Horlicks.

Of his many successful protégés, two, Trevor Penney, now India's fielding coach, and the England batsman Ian Bell, poignantly found themselves onopposing sides in the Test match recently concluded at Edgbaston. For the Warwickshire cricketer Bell, whose career Abberley so rigorously shaped, it will have been a particularly emotional occasion.

Kenneth Shenton

Robert Neal Abberley, cricketer: born Birmingham 22 April 1944; married (one son, one daughter); died Birmingham 8 August 2011.