Cricket: All smiles for Reeve's merry men: Martin Johnson on the Warwickshire side seeking a unique grand slam and spreading a little cheer at Edgbaston

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The Independent Online
THESE are difficult times for the Warwickshire treasurer as he lies awake at night wondering how he is going to be able to balance the books after forking out for all that silver polish. Not so long ago, the Edgbaston trophy cabinet provided homely accommodation for an assortment of spiders and woodlice, but it is now beginning to look as though they might have to call in the carpenters to knock up an extension.

The Benson and Hedges Cup is already on the sideboard, the NatWest Trophy will be travelling down to St John's Wood on 3 September in the same way as it travelled away from Lord's 11 months ago - in the boot of the captain's car - and with five matches still to go in each, Warwickshire are perched on top of the Championship and Sunday League tables.

It is a far cry from the days, not that long ago, when the one difference between Edgbaston and the surface of the moon was that the latter had more atmosphere. They even had the most po-faced announcer on the circuit, when his sole purpose in life was to order the two or three people who had stoically turned up to turn down their transistor radios on the grounds that it might be disturbing another spectator, the nearest of whom was invariably no closer than 100 yards away.

Furthermore, one of those spectators had no other obvious goal in life but to barrack the flannels off his own team. There was a time, in the mid- Seventies, when the only sound at Edgbaston was an inebriated Brummie cry from the bowels of the otherwise deserted Rae Bank Stand, mostly directed at the team's portly off-spinner. 'Roobeesh, Hemmings]' was an observation the rotund Eddie heard once too often, and he finally packed his bags for Nottinghamshire.

Times have certainly changed, although not everyone believes that Warwickshire's progress towards a unique grand slam has necessarily changed them for the better. The England chairman, Ray Illingworth, for example, is one of many who wonders whether a team as apparently ordinary as Warwickshire cleaning up every domestic trophy would not in itself be an eloquent comment on the deap-seated mediocrity of the domestic game.

Not unnaturally, Warwickshire take less than kindly to this kind of character slur, not least their coach, Bob Woolmer. 'Let's not forget that this is a team game. Look at South Africa, the West Indies, Australia. They are all powerful teams. In any event, there is room for every type of player in the England side, and if you are looking for someone to blunt a pace attack, we've got one of the best in the business in Andy Moles. Who, for instance, would have considered David Steele as a Test player?'

Team spirit has indeed been the biggest single factor in Warwickshire's success, although not even they would pretend to have been free of the individual personality clashes that creep into every dressing-room. Witness Brian Lara and the captain, Dermot Reeve, during a match against Northamptonshire earlier in the season.

Lara apparently took verbal exception to Rob Bailey not walking for an alleged catch and landed himself in hot water with the umpire. Lara's reaction was to leave the field for a sulk, whereupon Reeve loudly informed his departing superstar that he regarded him as an 'effing prima donna'.

This was a bit rich coming from Reeve, who is not noted for his shy modesty on the county circuit, and Lara retorted that if Warwickshire's captain really wanted to know what a prima donna looked like, then he could do a lot worse than look in the mirror.

Lara eventually chose the morning of the Benson and Hedges Cup final to request a team meeting, and publically apologise for his behaviour that day, and for all the supposed grumbles about Lara's contrasting levels of fitness - 100 per cent when he is due to bat; in need of a lie down and some treatment when he is due to field - he, too, is regarded by his colleagues as an unselfish team-man.

There is little doubt that Lara, despite his comparatively poor form in one-day cricket (where he averages 80 runs less than his first-class record of 106 per innings) has provided Warwickshire with the crucial spark this summer, and his mere presence is indicative of that extra slice of luck that all successful teams need.

Warwickshire's first choice of overseas player to replace Allan Donald this summer was the Indian all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar, which was scarcely calculated to have them queuing the length of the Hagley Road for season tickets. Then, when Prabhakar withdrew through injury, Lara was only signed after Nottinghamshire declined to pay his agent's asking price.

It was perhaps inevitable that Lara would have at least one clash with Reeve, the unkind view being that Reeve did not want him in the first place on the basis that one megastar at Edgbaston was quite enough, thanks very much. Among his fellow pros, it is not felt that Reeve requires an invitation from Lara to stand in front of a mirror.

However, the general view at Edgbaston and elsewhere is that no one has had a greater influence on Warwickshire's success than the hyper-active Reeve, who gives the impression of being weaned on powdered Duracell. Dennis Amiss, the cricket committee chairman, describes his captain thus. 'We could sack the groundsman, the chef, the secretary and the physio and save a fortune on wages. Dermot does the lot.'

Currently, there is no one in the entire Warwickshire team who gets a game for England, which rather rankles with Woolmer, but is not regarded as a great handicap in the chase for domestic honours. Moles says: 'We can at least field our best side every week, which is more than some other counties are able to do.'

Moles is perhaps the epitome of a side regarded as workman-like, but short of charisma. Ample of girth, he comes in to bat looking like an ice-hockey goalminder and can field at first and second slips at the same time. However, he averages more than 40 in first-class cricket (50 this summer) and many less deserving players have been chosen for England.

'I'll never stop trying,' he says, 'but I know deep down that I'll never play for England. I'm not the same shape as most players, and that probably has a bit to do with it, but although I enjoy life, I'm certainly fit enough. Most of all, I love playing.'

And enjoyment, just possibly, is the key to Warwickshire's success. They may not see eye to eye on everything, and Moles says: 'We all practise and play the reverse sweep, but Brian (Lara) won't touch it. He says: 'Sobers never played it and neither will I. The day I do, will be the day I retire'.'

However, they do work on the all-for-one ethos. If, for example, you suddenly see Warwickshire's players wandering around with silly grins during the NatWest Cup final, it may be because they have taken a wicket, but it may equally well be because the captain has ordered it. 'Dermot often calls for a team smile break,' Moles says. 'It's to remind us that playing hard, and playing to win, doesn't mean that you can't enjoy it.'

(Photograph omitted)