New ambition stirs a sensible soul

Simon O'Hagan meets Tim Munton, Warwickshire's model of line and length; The county champions have a taste for hat-tricks, helped by a reliable servant with England on his mind
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The Independent Online
From throwing techniques and field placement to diet and fitness training, cricket is fast embracing new methods and ideas. Yet some virtues are timeless, and few players provide a more forceful reminder of that than Tim Munton, the Warwickshire seam bowler and vice-captain. At the start of a season in which places in the England bowling attack are once more up for grabs, his proven - one is tempted to say, old-fashioned - combination of heart and head has rarely looked so appealing.

A big summer is in prospect for this most solid and genial of cricketers - "Captain Sensible" as he is sometimes known. Warwickshire are going for their third successive win in the County Championship and, at 30, there are signs that Munton's Test career, which appeared to have ended after he won two caps in 1992, may yet have some life left in it.

Last week's match between England A and the Rest at Chelmsford - an early- season Test trial - had Munton at the forefront of events. Not only was his match return of seven for 95 the best of any bowler, but he was an unlikely success with the bat, hitting 54, the highest score of his career. That was nothing more than a pleasant diversion from Munton's main business, which is driving batsmen to distraction with line, length and a command of movement in the air and off the wicket that is English seam-up at its very best. Meeting him at the Parks in Oxford last week, where Warwickshire were playing British Universities in a friendly one-day match played under the new B & H rules, it was no surprise to hear that Tom Cartwright, a Munton of his day when he played for Somerset and England in the 1960s, had been an early influence.

"He was helping out with the coaching before my first England A tour to Sri Lanka in 1990," Munton said. "We did a lot work with grips. Tom got me holding the ball deeper in my hand. That way you've got more control and more accuracy, even if you lose a bit of pace."

Unfortunately for Munton, he chose to ignore this lesson when his England chance came in the Third Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford four years ago. "It was a very flat wicket and the ball didn't particularly swing for me and maybe I tried to bowl too quick. But I got the impression that was expected of me." He took one for 138 in the match, and although he did better at Headingley in the next Test (three for 62), he failed to make the XI for the Fifth Test at the Oval, and that was that. No place on the following winter's England tour to India, nor on the A trip to Australia.

"A lot of things were going through my mind, wondering what had happened and why," Munton said. "I'd sampled Test cricket, was getting used to it, and then had it taken away from me. It was very disappointing."

Forced to put England thoughts to the back of his mind, Munton devoted himself to a Warwickshire team who have to some extent, he says, been driven by resentment at what they see - or saw - as selectorial indifference to their achievements. "When we won the County Championship in 1994 I think a lot of people thought it was a fluke," Munton said.

Having captained the team to 8 of their 11 wins that year, such an attitude would have been irritating. "Keith Piper was the only one of our players who got on a tour that winter, and there was a feeling that we should have had more recognition. We felt we had a point to prove last year; so winning things again was doubly satisfying. If we work hard I don't see why we can't do it again this year."

Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald's replacement as Warwickshire's overseas player, showed on Friday what he could do with the ball with his six wickets (four in four balls) in the B & H match against Leicestershire, and he has runs to offer as well. "AD had the experience, but Shaun will make up for that with his enthusiasm," Munton said.

Munton missed the first two months of the 1995 season while he recovered from a back operation but still ended up with 48 Championship wickets at 19.83, putting him seventh in the averages. Then, last winter, he was doing his usual off-season job for a Birmingham brewery when he got a late call-up to join the England A team in Pakistan. Test possibilities suddenly opened up again, and with a perennial doubt over Angus Fraser's fitness, Mark Ilott and Peter Martin still unproven, and question marks over Devon Malcolm and Darren Gough, Munton's Chelmsford performance was timely to say the least.

The experience certainly heartened him. "There was a real buzz about all the players. David Lloyd [the new England coach] was brilliant. There would appear to be opportunities this summer, so I'm getting stuck in and will see what happens. If I do get a chance I'll certainly be better prepared this time. But I'm a realist rather than an optimist."