Dermot Reeve admits he was the ‘most disliked player in cricket’ as he opens up on being an irritant, his cocaine addiction, his feud with Brian Lara and an impressive trophy haul
- Dermot Reeve played county cricket for Sussex, Warwickshire and Somerset
- He made his name with Warwickshire where he played between 1988 and 1996
- Reeve was an irritant and said he was ‘the most disliked person in cricket’
- He was later a commentator but quit after revealing to have a cocaine addiction
Dermot Reeve is reflecting on a recent speaking engagement in Cheshire when something unexpected happens. He breaks into a rap.
It is 27 years since he steered Warwickshire to within a game of a unique quadruple, almost three decades since he played in a World Cup final. But on this evidence, he has lost little of the energy that made him such an inspiring captain — and such an irritating opponent.
The rap, written a decade ago, chronicles the anguish of a drug addiction that cost Reeve a Channel 4 commentary gig in 2005. Now, in a pub car park in Hampton in Arden, the bucolic Warwickshire village he calls home, it is dusted off without hesitation or self-consciousness.
Dermot Reeve is still passionate about cricket and shows the energy that made him an inspiring captain
It begins: ‘The woman on the cocaine helpline hung up on me when I said I met the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Amsterdam. That seemed a good thing. As to her statement, “No good happens with Charlie”, it was hard to believe at the time. He was becoming my best friend…’ On it goes, detailing the battle between two internal voices — rational versus subconscious.
‘You’ve lost your wife, your kids, and time. What to do? F*** it, let’s do another line.’ The rap ends with a choice, ‘Medicate or meditate.’ Reeve seems more meditative these days. Now he wants a route back into a game he still loves.
The game, it’s fair to say, has not always loved him. ‘Marmite, yeah,’ he says. ‘I was probably the most disliked person in county cricket. But if I could get inside an opponent’s head by clapping my hands and going, “Has anyone seen this guy bat in the second team? How are we going to get Jason out?” — when his name was John…’
Reeve’s active mind means he doesn’t finish all his sentences. But it has often meant he was ahead of the curve. In Winning Ways, written with journalist Pat Murphy in 1996, he argues for a 20-over competition, central contracts and a 14-match championship season. Tick, tick and tick.
Above all, Warwickshire played in their captain’s image. They were innovative and fearless, using the reverse sweep at a time when English cricket was still recovering from Mike Gatting’s dismissal in the 1987 World Cup final and packing their side with all-rounders. Other counties resented them, especially Lancashire.
Crucially, Reeve encouraged an open dressing room in which prince and pauper alike had a voice. It was a democracy that stemmed from his time at Sussex, where Imran Khan, now Pakistan’s prime minister, was sniffy about his ability.
Reeve pictured bowling his medium pace was known to be an irritant on the cricket field
LIFE AND TIMES…
Born in Hong Kong in 1963, Dermot Reeve moved to England and joined Sussex for the 1983 season, where he took 42 wickets in the County Championship at 29.35.
He made his name with Warwickshire, averaging 54 runs with the bat in the summer of 1990.
Reeve made his international cricket bow for Hong Kong in the 1982 ICC Trophy, averaging 34.50 with the bat. He played for England in the 1990s, featuring in three Tests.
He played in 29 ODIs for England, including the 1992 and 1996 World Cups.
Reeve spent five years as a pundit for Channel 4, but had to quit after he revealed a cocaine addiction in 2005
And he was no respecter of reputations. As coach of Somerset in 2000, he came on as substitute fielder against Kent at Bath and proceeded to abuse the India great Rahul Dravid.
‘He was the Wall of India. He told me, “You are the only person who has knocked that wall down. You gave me so much stick, I ended up going after one and getting caught. You’re the only person who’s ever got under my skin”.’
What did Reeve say? There is relish in his voice — ‘How did this guy ever play for India? He must have had family on the selection committee. He hasn’t got any shots. He just blocks it.
‘I went on and on. And he got out. Things like that made me very disliked. But I wasn’t out there to make friends. We were there to win matches.’
And win he did. In 1994 — the summer of Brian Lara’s 501 — Reeve guided Warwickshire to the Championship, the Sunday League and the Benson & Hedges Cup, before losing a vital toss and the final of the NatWest Trophy to Worcestershire.
Reeve calls it the ‘most successful season there’s ever been in the history of county cricket’. In 1995, Warwickshire successfully defended the Championship and won the NatWest.
They were heady years. At Edgbaston, the club shop is called Store ’94.
A giant photo in the window shows Reeve — virile and happy — being carried shoulder high by fans.
Reeve pictured with Brian Lara after breaking a world record with a score of 501 not out
In a game at Edgbaston, Imran told captain John Barclay that Reeve should go in at No 11 because ‘Dermot can’t bat’. He was lbw first ball. Back in the dressing room, Imran loudly announced: ‘I told you he can’t bat.’
‘Everybody laughed,’ says Reeve. ‘It was my worst day’s cricket ever. I thought if I ever get the chance to run a team, there is no way anyone is going to have a dig at a youngster.’
Imran wasn’t the only one. Sussex team-mate Alan Wells told Reeve he’d never play for England. Once, when Ian Greig returned to the side from injury, his kit was hurled off the dressing-room balcony, years before Kevin Pietersen suffered the same fate at Nottinghamshire. Reeve’s experiences at Hove almost led him to quit the game. Life has not always gone smoothly since he called it a day in 1996, at the age of 33, because of a persistent hip injury.
Four years after leaving Channel 4, he was accused by an Australian newspaper of selling fake Don Bradman memorabilia — an accusation he denied. In 2017, struggling for cash after a costly divorce, he sold his leatherbound Wisden, which he had been awarded in 1996 as one of the Almanack’s Five Cricketers of the Year.
‘If someone wants to have that for their collection and it’s going to give them a thrill, I’d rather have an airfare to go and see my kids in Australia,’ says Reeve. In the event, a friend in Hong Kong forked out a few grand and handed it straight back.
Now 58, and on his third marriage, he is a touch greyer, a touch heavier and in search of equilibrium. He still sells memorabilia, is taking an interest in cryptocurrency and has hopes for a speaking career.
He remains a superb mimic — the haughty Imran, the old Etonian Barclay and Richie Benaud all get the Reeve treatment as we chat.
More than anything, he would like to get back into coaching.
But the glory days feel like another era. With his bustling, clever medium-pace and his impish batting, Reeve was regarded as a potential successor to Ian Botham. There were even press whispers he might captain England’s one-day side at a time when Mike Atherton combined the Test and 50-over jobs.
‘Nothing against Athers at all,’ says Reeve, ‘but I’d rather bowl at him than Alistair Brown at the beginning of a one-day match. I remember being at a Sky awards night. Standing next to me at the bar is Noel Gallagher from Oasis. He said, “You should’ve captained England at one-day cricket, not Atherton!” Those were the only words he ever said to me.’
Reeve lists the trophy after winning the Benson and Hedges Cup final for Warwickshire in 1994
Eleven of Reeve’s 29 one-day caps — his three Tests came in New Zealand in 1991-92, when Botham was on the panto circuit — came in two World Cups. In 1992, he topped the tournament bowling averages with eight wickets at 15, including India’s Mohammad Azharuddin for a golden duck. But walking out to bat in the final against Pakistan at a hostile MCG, he mislaid his usual verve.
‘I thought here we go, bring this game home, man of the match. Then a voice went, “It’s a World Cup final”. Doubts came in.’
He was caught off leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed for 15. England lost by 22 runs and their one-day cricket went into decline.
Recalled shortly before the 1996 tournament for a trip to South Africa, Reeve was shocked by the passivity of the England dressing room. Barclay, now the tour manager, confided: ‘Dermot, we don’t talk cricket. I need you to talk cricket, and get everyone thinking and talking ideas.’ Reeve adds: ‘It was all very cliched. “Right, we’ve got a game tomorrow and we know we can beat them. Good luck”.’
So what makes a good captain? He doesn’t miss a beat. ‘Someone who can try to get the players to understand what being in the moment really means.
Reeve describes 1994 as the ‘most successful season’ there’s ever been in county cricket
‘You’ve got to make them realise that, hang on, we’re only playing cricket for a while. It’s not a matter of life and death. But what you do take with you is your self-esteem. And that’s not fuelled by winning cricket matches. That’s fuelled by knowing, hey, I’m a good bloke and I did my best every ball.’
Reeve is not one for regrets, but he does have mixed feelings about the summer of 1994, when Lara scored nine first-class hundreds, including the world-record quintuple against Durham at Edgbaston, and averaged almost 90.
‘Despite winning three trophies, it was possibly the most unenjoyable season I ever had. The energy between myself and Lara wasn’t right for the whole season. I believe his agent told him I didn’t want him, so he arrived with a chip on his shoulder. I believed on the field he was undermining me.
‘Brian and I are OK now when we bump into each other. It’s just funny that the most successful season was not really enjoyable.’
Reeve longs to resume a coaching career that has included stints in New Zealand and India, as well as the county game, although he fears his past — ‘chemicals to help yourself relax or cope with life’ — may be held against him.
One thing is clear, he would speak his mind. ‘It still galls me that in the T20 World Cup final in 2016, if Ben Stokes — a brilliant guy and an amazing cricketer — bowls wide yorkers not straight yorkers, England would have won.’
And he’s off, talking about reverse hits and hitting into the breeze and his old Warwickshire mate Roger Twose. Eloquent, passionate and still searching.
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