Profile: The self-made captain: Dermot Reeve: Derek Pringle analyses the determined approach and extrovert nature of a cricket escapologist

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The Independent Online
FEW cricket people will be surprised if Warwickshire beat Worcestershire on Saturday to win the Benson and Hedges Cup for the first time. They have been in fine form all season and, on top of a disciplined and functional bowling attack, they have the awesome talents of Brian Lara, hungry to claim another record and with it a man of the match award at Lord's.

This is the script according to the Hollywood blockbuster. But Lord's finals often do not follow the script, and bit-part players can outshine even the most dazzling stars. In his three previous finals here (all in the NatWest Cup), Dermot Reeve, the Warwickshire captain, has done just that, turning the match with well-timed cameos with both bat and ball, and upstaging the big names in the process.

First, there was his four for 20 that rocked Lancashire and allowed Sussex, Reeve's first county, a comfortable victory in 1986. Then came the thrilling win against Middlesex in 1989, when Reeve's contribution with the bat for Warwickshire turned the game, setting up Neil Smith's coup de grace in the final over. But even more thrilling, was last year's 'impossible' win against his old county Sussex, when Reeve scored an unbeaten 81 as his team overhauled the 321 needed - the highest score in a NatWest Cup final - off the last ball of the game. On all but the last occasion - where the centurion Asif Din took the laurels - Reeve's skill and verve won him the gold award.

Reeve's cricketing gifts are not immediately apparent and, as one correspondent acerbically commented about his selection for England: 'You can't fool all of the people all of the time. Unless they happen to be England selectors.' Certainly, his slow-medium bowling - with variations of gentle swing and a looped slower ball that are rarely testing outside limited- overs cricket - reveals little of his quality. Neither does his predominantly stodgy front-footed batting, with its 10 Derek Randall-like FWBs (fiddle with box) per minute and an almost total reliance towards the leg side, ooze grace or class.

Reeve's talent, as such, is that of the conjurer or the escape artist, most effective when cornered, with few options and large stakes to play for. Nobody is quite sure how he does it, but give the man a demanding and pressurised situation and he usually pulls something out of the bag.

Such sleight of hand requires a cool nerve and unfailing self-belief and Reeve has both, in plentiful supply. Unsurprisingly, in a game full of feisty old pros, his non-stop ebullience has not made him the most popular man on the county circuit and Curtly Ambrose, in an unprecedented fit of pique, once directed three beamers at his head when Reeve, having pulled a four, goaded the fast bowler with a cocky grin. His extrovert nature, perfectly suited to, say, a game- show host, can bring its own problems, particularly now he is captain.

At Sussex, whom he joined in 1983 straight from the MCC Young Professionals, he was a bowler who batted at nine or ten. In those days he had the ability to swing the ball both ways at above medium pace, but an injury to his shoulder has meant a steady decline in speed, and he is now only really effective in one-day cricket. Luckily his batting has progressed from those early days, where his position in the batting order meant he could do little except collect asterisks. This is a habit that has been hard to break, and Reeve remains undefeated in almost a third of all his first-class innings, giving him a manicured batting average a good bit higher than his skills warrant.

This inevitably leads to friction in the dressing-room. Tony Pigott, a colleague from his Sussex days and now with Surrey, recalls how Reeve's pre-match predictions made his on-field efforts seem particularly self-centred. 'With Dermot, it was how he had done that really mattered. The team came second. But even then, his confidence was enormous and he constantly reckoned he would play for England. This made him a bit of a laughing-stock among the old pros. But you have to give him credit. He simply made himself good.'

The main reason Reeve is obsessed with his performance stems from his apprenticeship at Lord's. Although great players, such as Ian Botham, have come through the system, the MCC Young Pros comprise mainly young cricketers who have had trials but have been overlooked by counties in their bid to become professionals. As such, they know they must stand out if they are to have another chance of making the grade. There is a lot of competition, for only a handful a year will be offered a county contract.

Gladstone Small, himself a relative newcomer at Edgbaston in 1982, remembers seeing Reeve at a Warwickshire trial. 'There was this skinny kid who was all arms and legs, trying to bowl too quick, and who couldn't hit it off the square when he batted,' he recalls. 'At the time I can remember thinking, 'There's no way he'll ever play county cricket.' That he's here now, as my skipper, having also played for England, just shows you what tremendous strength of character and determination he has.'

Nevertheless, Reeve has never quite been good enough to hold a regular place in the England side, although he was once fleetingly seen as an answer to England's batting dilemma at No 6. Having scored 50 on his debut against New Zealand, he has only played three Tests to go with his 25 one-day internationals.

Reeve was born in Hong Kong in 1963. Having led an outdoor life full of sporting opportunity, it was not until he was 12, attending the King George V School in Kowloon, that he began to play cricket. In those days, there were few cricketing schools to pit your skills against, so King George's were allowed to compete in the local senior league.

With two masters allowed to bolster the team - one of whom, the headmaster, also happened to be Reeve's father - it was a deep- end experience for all those 13- to 14-year-olds. 'I really enjoyed playing there,' said Reeve, 'it provided me with good, tough opportunities at an early age. It definitely helped me mature and I reckon I was ahead of my time by the time mum took me over to England during the summer holidays to try and find a further outlet for my cricket.'

Coming to England exposed his big fish status in Hong Kong to the vast pool of talent available in this country and he was swallowed up. Undeterred by his sudden lack of pre-eminence, he played for Brondesbury Colts, while his mother Monica paid for him to attend courses at Lord's. The perseverance paid off, and forsaking his A levels back in Hong Kong, he eventually joined the MCC Young Cricketers in 1980.

It was at Lord's that a chance meeting with Ian Gould, the Sussex wicketkeeper, in the indoor nets, eventually led to a contract with Gould's county in July 1983. Having played only a few games in the second team, Reeve got his chance in the first team almost straight away, after injuries to key bowlers. He did not disappoint, taking five wickets on his debut against Somerset.

Apart from an early century against Surrey as nightwatchman, it was clear that nobody at Sussex thought he could bat. Even Imran Khan, who liked Reeve for his spirit and cockiness, was surprised when he was told of the 202 Reeve had scored for Warwickshire against Northants in 1991. 'You mean 200 in one innings, and not for the whole season?' inquired Imran incredulously.

Away from cricket, Reeve takes an interest in sports science and nutrition and once boldly announced to the England dressing- room in Australia that eating broccoli would prevent everything, including dropped catches. As well as spending time in the gym, he likes swimming and music; during the 1992-93 tour of India, Reeve bought himself a cheap acoustic guitar with song book and by Madras he had mastered several Rolling Stones songs and could give a near faultless rendition of 'Ob-La- Di Ob-La-Da'.

In his defence, Reeve claims he has a zest for life and cricket that some people find hard to take. 'When I'm out on the field, particularly on a big occasion like a Lord's final, I realise just how lucky I am to be there,' he said. 'I can still remember when I used to work the scoreboard and sell programmes at Lord's, dreaming of what it must be like to play in the middle. Now I know, but I still go out there determined to enjoy myself.'

It would be unwise to bet against him pulling off a Warwickshire victory on Saturday with another unlikely feat. As Franklin D Roosevelt once said when describing the irrepressible General Douglas MacArthur: 'Never underestimate a man who overestimates himself.'