Exclusive: Deep Extra Cover speaks to Warwickshire’s Neil Snowball – Part One

Exclusive: Deep Extra Cover speaks to Warwickshire’s Neil Snowball – Part One

A few days after relegation from Division One of the Specsavers County Championship - it was maybe not the ideal time to ask Warwickshire Chief Executive Neil Snowball to talk to Deep Extra Cover. Nothing daunted, Terry Wright headed to Edgbaston and found Neil in a surprisingly buoyant and welcoming mood.

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Warwickshire Chief Executive Neil Snowball

Neil Snowball is Chief Executive, not just of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, but also of the Birmingham Bears and of Stadium Edgbaston.

He brings to these roles his extensive experience in other sports.

He was Head of Sports Operations at the 2012 Olympics and Chief Operating Officer for the organising committee of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

More recently, he has become a non-executive director of the company in charge of Birmingham’s bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Deep Extra Cover’s Terry Wright sat down for a chat with him. 

The 2017 season saw Warwickshire finish bottom of their group in the Royal London One Day Cup and also bottom in Division One of the Specsavers County Championship. So Neil could hardly disagree that this had been a disappointing season on the pitch.

Failure of the team to perform: “I don’t think any of us saw this coming, not to this extent”

“Yes, it’s been very disappointing. We’ve talked a lot about the age of the squad going into this season; talked about the need for transition. The whole reason we went through the restructuring, bringing Ashley [Giles] back, was preparing for the inevitable but I don’t think any of us saw it happening quite so dramatically in terms of the disappointing form in the 50 Over and the County Championship.

“Going into this season, looking at the squad we’ve got – and I’m not just saying this with the benefit of hindsight – if we got on a good run and the players all clicked, I genuinely thought that we could win the Championship; but I also thought that we could go down.  I didn’t think we’d end up in the middle, I thought it would be one or the other and unfortunately, it’s the latter.

”We’ve got no God-given right to be in Division One just because we’re Warwickshire County Cricket Club. We need to earn that right. And with two clubs being relegated out of eight, there’s two big, strong clubs to go down.

Bouncing back to Division One: “It might take a couple of years”

Can the Bears make it straight back to the top flight in the Championship? Neil is cautious.

“There’s definitely a gap between Division One and Division Two. As to how big that gap is, we’ll find out next year. But I would say out of ten teams in Division Two, there’s probably going to be four or five challenging to get up to Division One; and we’ll all be fighting hard.

“It would be lovely to think that we could bounce straight back but it might take a couple of years.

Neil was also quick to point out that things were different for the Birmingham Bears in the NatWest T20 Blast.

“In the T20 we started off a bit slowly, but transformed it during the competition and had a fantastic run through to Finals Day.

“So there’s optimism from that point of view. I’m very excited about our white ball cricket next year but we’ve still got more re-building to do on the red ball cricket.”

Young players coming through: “Ed Pollock’s the one that most people are talking about”

One big development in the second half of the season was the emergence of a group of young players who started to deliver good performances – Aaron Thomason and Ed Pollock in T20 and Matt Lamb, Andy Umeed and Sunny Singh in the Championship.

Other youngsters such as Grant Thornton, Liam Banks, George Panayi, Alex Thomson and Henry Brookes also started to get experience of first team cricket.

“That’s the pleasing thing. I’m delighted with the youngsters that have come through from our own Academy Pathway, they’ve made their mark.  In T20, obviously Ed Pollock’s the one that most people are talking about. But look at what Sunny Singh has done, George Panayi, Liam Banks. Also I think Lamb and Thomason have matured this year.

Last year, in my first year, there was a lot of talk about potential and they’re not the finished article, but if you look at Aaron’s performances in T20 and Lamb’s in the second team and the first team I think they are starting to mature.

“There’s also a young opener, Rob Yates that you might have heard of playing in age-group cricket.

“That’s probably the most exciting thing that’s happened for me personally because there’s been a lot of talk about our Pathway and we’re not producing enough players. Well, they are there; and now’s the chance for them to come through.”

“Our under-19s won their competition this year, which is great, the second eleven have been going well, so I feel that we’ve got the balance right.

New signings:  “I think there’s genuine cause for optimism“

The other change that happened in the second half of the season was the arrival of new players from elsewhere. Dom Sibley came from Surrey and Adam Hose from Somerset. In addition, Will Rhodes was signed from Yorkshire and will arrive next season. And then there was the “other” Ryan Sidebottom who came from Australia via a local league team.

“We said last year that we mustn’t let the 50-over victory paper over the cracks of the Championship; and it’s the same this year.

“We can’t let the T20 success paper over the cracks, and that’s why under Ashley’s leadership and the rest of the cricket management team have worked really hard to make changes and bring people in.  It’s caused a bit of a stir because that sort of activity doesn’t happen in the middle of the season, but we wanted to act and we’ve done it and we’re very happy with the people we’ve brought in.

“With Sibley coming in, Hose coming in, both top quality cricketers; Will Rhodes, we haven’t seen anything of him yet because Yorkshire wouldn’t release him until the end of the season, which we understand; and then Sidebottom coming in, I think there’s genuine cause for optimism.

“Any more signings in the offing? I’d never say never, but we deliberately got our recruitment done early. We wanted to go into the winter knowing who our squad was going to be. If there’s a really good opportunity of a really good player who we think can come in and do a job, then great.

“If you think about the cycle we’ve been through, we’ve had a tremendous run of success, winning silverware every other year, the only county to have won all three formats in recent years. People forget about that.

“We’ve had a very talented bunch of cricketers who’ve gone through that cycle; but I think part of the challenge is that during that period, it’s been very difficult for youngsters to have the opportunity because if you’ve got that team of Trott, Bell, Ambrose, Clarke, Barker, all those guys, it’s been very difficult to have the opportunity.

“Our success has been partly responsible for not bringing our youngsters through. Having said that, there’s never been a better opportunity. Ash and I have talked about that quite a bit. We’re delighted with the recruitment that we’ve done, but we don’t want to pack the team out with people and stop the opportunities coming through.”

Looking beyond the players: “Have we got the right people in the right jobs?”

In most sports, when a team is failing, it’s not just the players who come under the spotlight. What about the coaching staff?  Are they up to the job?  Neil offered an honest response.

“It’s a fair question to ask. You look at the players, but you also have to look at who’s leading those players.

“Within our cricket management team, we’ve got a lot of people who care passionately about Warwickshire and the Bears, who are talented in their own right; but we’ve got to look at all aspects.

“I conducted a review of the whole cricket side of the business at the end of last season and we decided that we needed to make a change in terms of Dougie [Brown] moving on and we did a bit of a re-structure.

“I think it’s healthy to do that every year so we’ll do a similar review, and a big part of it is have we got the right people in the right jobs?

“There’s been no lack of effort, no lack of determination, I think there’s been a lot of head scratching up in the press box and out in the stands and in the Members’ Lounge, with people wondering “How have we been so poor?”  Part of that is where we’ve been in the cycle but also we have to look at the leadership.

“So we’ll conduct that review and take any appropriate action as we see fit.”

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