WARWICKSHIRE, OR so some stories this season have suggested, are a county in disarray, a divided team under the charge of a superstar captain merely filling in his time between international commitments. More chance, they say, of there being no more rain all summer than of the silverware cabinet at Edgbaston needing to be opened again.
This is not, however, the way their 26-year-old swing bowler, Graeme Welch, sees the season panning out.
"We've been reading these things all summer and wondering how they can possibly be talking about us," he said. "If anything, our dressing-room is as happy and relaxed as it has been for years.
"And as for Brian Lara, there has never been any doubt in our minds that he is serious about the job. He is an easy-going guy, but he is in the nets all the time, helping people with their game. And on the field he is thinking all the time.
"We had four captains over the course of last season and he is different from them all. Sometimes you might wonder why he has done something but quite often we'll get a wicket and it will show the decision was right."
And the wins over Sussex at Hove in both the Britannic Assurance championship and the AXA League were proof, Welch reckons, that Warwickshire's below- par start to the season is behind them.
"We moved up from third bottom to ninth in the Championship as a result of the win at Hove," he said. "The players who started the season slowly are running into form and we don't doubt that we can keep moving upwards.
"There have been high expectations of Brian and the team but a new captain needs time to get to know his players and although Brian was here in 1994 there have been quite a few changes in personnel since then."
After taking 56 Championship wickets last season, the Durham-born Welch is himself finding success harder to achieve this year, which has made him appreciate still more the qualities of his former team-mate, Allan Donald.
"Allan made it easier for the likes of myself and Dougie Brown because opposition batsmen put so much intense concentration into facing him that they would tend to relax when we came on, which allowed us to cash in.
"We are both having to work a bit harder for wickets now."
Keith Fletcher and Nasser Hussain
Essentially, Hussain is the finest middle-order batsmen to emerge from a cricketing background in Essex since Fletcher. More than that, they are master and pupil, their paths crossing first when the most stylish of England's current batsmen was only 10. There is every chance too that Hussain will follow Fletcher into the captaincy of Essex and lead his (adopted) country.
So what part did Fletcher play in the grooming of Hussain?
Although Nasser's first memories of cricket are of watching his father play for Madras, he was largely brought up in east London and never had ambitions other than to play for England. Fletcher first encountered him in the indoor nets at Ilford and as he grew physically, Fletcher and Graham Gooch became more interested in his batting, encouraging him to express his ability to play exotic, wristy strokes. Hussain lists Gooch as one of the two batsmen he most admires (Mark Waugh is the other) but admits he owes much of his success to Fletcher.
In what way?
In the way that Fletcher, whose faith in his talent never wavered, spent countless hours helping him rebuild his confidence after the traumas of his debut England tour of the West Indies in 1990. With the help of videos and Hussain's own determination, Fletcher helped correct the flaws in his defensive technique that threatened to leave his talent unfulfilled, culminating in the enormous satisfaction for both men of last summer's double-hundred against Australia at Edgbaston.
How do their Test careers compare?
Like Fletcher, Hussain had to wait for his first Test hundred but has made up for lost time. His century against South Africa at Lord's was his seventh for England, equalling Fletcher's tally in 28 fewer matches. Fletcher's first came against India in Bombay when he was winning his 20th cap. Hussain's first, also against India, came in 1996.
FLETCHER: Tests: 59. Debut: 1968 v Australia (Headingley, aged 24). Batting: 3,272 runs avg 39.90. Highest score: 216 v New Zealand (Auckland, 1974- 75).
HUSSAIN: Tests: 31. Debut: 1990 v West Indies (Kingston, aged 21). Batting: 1,841 runs avg 36.82. Highest score: 207 v Australia (Edgbaston, 1997).Reuse content