Graeme Welch: Happy that Bears bowlers can defend their crown
Astute Warwickshire attack coach tells Jon Culley they can repeat last year's triumph despite Ashley Giles' departure
Tuesday 09 April 2013
As Lancashire discovered last year, even with Peter Moores at the helm, retaining the title of County Champions can be more of a challenge than winning it. Lancashire's relegation from the First Division might prompt a sobering pause for thought as Warwickshire take the field at Edgbaston to begin their defence. In their case, moreover, the man behind their success has moved on.
Taking the place of Ashley Giles, who became England's full-time one-day coach during the close season, is Dougie Brown, his assistant since 2008. Despite an accent that remains true to his roots in Scotland, 43-year-old Brown is a Warwickshire man, his pedigree stretching back to his debut as a player in 1992.
Warwickshire chose Brown out of a faith in continuity, rejecting the credentials of Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach. Brown got the nod over Graeme Welch, the county's bowling coach, who remains on the staff as Brown's assistant. Given that Welch was disappointed not to land the top job, it might be seen as a relationship liable to become strained but it is a risk Warwickshire were willing to take. For all the work Giles did, the role of the quietly-spoken Welch was key.
Welch, like Brown, has not a hint of Brummie, having been born in Durham. But he too was a player at Edgbaston in the 1990s and when he rejoined the staff in 2010, after two years as a coach at Essex, he felt he was coming home.
A fine bowler who took 477 first-class wickets in 13 seasons, he has become a coach of bowlers with a reputation in some eyes second to none. The Bears might be known around the Test circuit as the home of Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, but they won the title largely thanks to Keith Barker and Chris Wright, the new-ball pairing groomed by Welch, who took 118 wickets between them.
Barker, 26, was a decent cricketer with a West Indies cricket heritage on his father's side but who opted to join Blackburn Rovers instead of Lancashire. In the end his football career fizzled out, but Warwickshire offered him another chance and under Welch's tutelage he has become a left-arm quick with the coveted ability to bowl inswing to right-handers.
Wright was almost lost to the game, too, when Essex decided they no longer wanted him two summers ago. Welch, who worked with him at Chelmsford, knew he was better than that. A right-armer of genuine pace, Wright seized an opportunity offered by injuries to Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin to lead the Warwickshire attack, ending the title-winning year with 62 wickets at 24.06 before an England Lions tour and being handed a place in the provisional squad for this summer's ICC Champions Trophy.
"The way he bowled for us in Abu Dhabi, against the MCC, against good players –Joe Denly, Dawid Malan, Dale Benkenstein, Sam Northeast – I honestly believe he can go right to the top," Welch said.
"He bowls quick, back of a length, when it swings it swings and he doesn't get hit. He has improved bowling at left-handers and he has got fitter and stronger over the winter. He's the real deal in my eyes.
"He thinks a lot about the game. We have a non-threatening environment here where we encourage people to think and to speak out. We have added to his skills but I think the environment here has just made him more confident in his own ability."
It is in improving a player's mindset that Welch excels. "It's the man-management side that I enjoy," he said. "Not everyone is the same, everyone reacts differently. The one thing I've worked out over the last few years is that less is more. The less I talk, the more I encourage them to talk, the more I facilitate a non-threatening environment, the more players thrive."
Wright, 27, believes he owes his success to Welch. "He is one of the best I have worked with," he said. "It is hard to say exactly what it is about him but, aside from technical things, he has helped me with my thought processes when I'm bowling. He breeds confidence in people and if you feel confident you are going to play better.
"I had a couple of decent years when he was at Essex and after he had left I didn't do as well as I would have liked. I did well when I first came here and expected to be involved but I didn't know how big a part I'd have in winning the title and I was a little surprised to take so many wickets."
Welch, meanwhile, is switching his attention to another project after Warwickshire rescued the beanpole Oliver Hannon-Dalby, released by Yorkshire after slipping down the pecking order at Headingley.
"Oliver has come on really well already over the last couple of months," Welch said. "He is 6ft 8in, 23 years old with the experience of a few first-class games and a couple of five-fors. He is halfway there."
Hannon-Dalby is likely to be thrown in at the start when Warwickshire begin against Second Division champions Derbyshire, as is Tom Milnes, the 20-year-old all-rounder, with Barker injured and Woakes rested on England's recommendation. "When you lose players you need one or two squad bowlers and Ollie fits into that mould perfectly," Welch said.
"I think we are strong enough to defend the title. In the last two or thee years we have played a good brand of cricket, Test match cricket really over four days, wearing teams down.
"People realise that's what they are going to get against us so they know they are going to have to push back even harder. A lot of clubs are trying to copy how we play the game and it is going to be harder. We are going to have to be better than we were last year but we won't be far away."
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