Cricket: Captain Sensible holding Warwickshire together: Paul Bolton talks to Tim Munton, whose broad shoulders have carried his side to the brink of a grand slam

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The Independent Online
WARWICKSHIRE's pursuit of cricket's first Grand Slam has been greeted with disbelieving looks around the county circuit, but the success of a team of jobbing county professionals really should not come as a surprise. After all, they do have Captain Sensible in their ranks.

He is not a comic book super hero, nor the self-parodying punk rock singer, but Tim Munton, the twice capped England seam bowler, whose considered approach to life is often the butt of his team- mates' jokes.

Warwickshire have been without their main strike bowler, Allan Donald, because of South African tour commitments for the entire season and Paul Smith, Dermot Reeve and Gladstone Small have all missed sizeable chunks of it through injury.

Yet Munton has enjoyed his most productive summer with 81 Championship wickets and a further 26 in one-day competitions. In the Championship match against Hampshire at Edgbaston which finished yesterday, he also collected the 500th first-class wicket of his career.

Munton is also an important stabilising influence in an irreverently boisterous Edgbaston dressing room. He has captained the side with aplomb and to victory in eight out of nine Championship matches in charge, and his modest, unassuming approach is the antithesis of Reeve, who will be back at the helm at Lord's today.

'Tim and Dermot are like chalk and cheese,' Warwickshire's all- rounder, Paul Smith, said. 'One is an introvert, the other an extrovert, yet they have complemented each other perfectly.

'Tim has a great sense of fun but he often takes an ultra-sensible approach to humorous situations. Everything in his life seems to be so well ordered and tidy. He really is the original Captain Sensible.

'Even his wife Helen now calls him that. He's a very normal person involved in a profession where there are very few normal people. Tim would probably be more suited to being a bank manager than a medium-quick bowler.'

Or an estate agent, the profession Munton considered entering when Leicestershire, his native county, decided not to offer him a contract after a summer of second- team cricket in 1984.

Munton, now 29, entered a national Find a Fast Bowler competition, finished well down the field in the finals at Edgbaston but Warwickshire's then coach, Alan Oakman, saw rich potential and signed the youngster.

Over the past 10 seasons - much to Leicestershire's embarrassment - Munton has developed into a miserly bowler with masterful control of line and length, swing and seam. Although his unstinting efforts on Warwickshire's behalf has not even won him a place on this winter's England A tour, he is held in high esteem by his fellow professionals.

'If Tim had been selected by England this summer Warwickshire would have needed to find two bowlers to replace him,' said another team-mate, Andy Moles.

'He's played as a strike bowler when the wicket has suited him, if not he's been a stock bowler. When you look at the number of overs he gets through in a season and the distance he runs in to bowl each delivery, you can't praise the guy enough.'

Munton is reluctant to blow his own trumpet and is just happy to be taking wickets again after missing a third of last season with a hip injury. 'I probably missed as many games last season as I had in the previous eight years, which was very frustrating' he said.

'The injury cleared up with rest over the winter, but I also worked on improving my strength as well as stamina, knowing that I would probably have to double up as a strike bowler this season with Allan away.

'With Allan, Gladstone Small and Paul Smith taking wickets at the other end, my role had been one of keeping an end going and allowing the captain to rotate the attack at the other. But things have gone well this year. I've got into a nice rhythm and when that happens you feel good and a long spell doesn't take it out of you. I've probably bowled better this year than ever before, and I've been more positive and aggressive generally.'

Self-belief and the ability to learn from their few mistakes has been the recipe for Warwickshire's success this season, and Captain Sensible is always there to prevent any complacency.

The Benson and Hedges Cup and the County Championship are already in Warwickshire's once- dusty trophy cabinet. Today at Lord's they have the chance to retain the NatWest Trophy against Worcestershire, the first time the same two counties will have contested the finals of both knock-out competitions in the same season.

'We tried not to get too carried away about the Grand Slam too early, but now it is a real possibility and you cannot stop people talking about it,' Munton said. 'We know that Worcestershire will be looking to avenge their Benson and Hedges Cup defeat, and they beat us in the Sunday League in early August when they came from nowhere. We know that they are a side we cannot under-estimate and we cannot possibly afford to be complacent.'

(Photograph omitted)

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