“You might have to wait a while,” Warwickshire’s fast bowling coach Alan Richardson said when asked whether Keith Barker would be able to pop down from the visiting dressing room at the Ageas Bowl for an interview after taking five wickets on the first day of the Specsavers County Championship season. “He’s watching the United-Tottenham game, and they’ve just started the second half.”
Barker has always been a Manchester United supporter, even when progressing through the ranks of Blackburn Rovers.
“No, I never really supported Blackburn,” he confirmed with a grin, having abandoned his post with admirable professionalism to perform his media duties – even though United had yet to fall behind.
“I was at Blackburn from the age of nine until I was 20, 21, and then I joined Warwickshire the year after. Blackburn wanted me to play as a big target man holding the ball up, but I preferred playing on the wing and taking people on. We’ve been playing a bit of football in the West Brom indoor school this winter, which has been a nice bonus.”
Until he made the decision to prioritise football late in his teens Barker had been very much on Lancashire’s radar, as an all-rounder of high-calibre cricketing pedigree. His late father, also called Keith, had played first-class cricket for Guyana before settling in Lancashire where he played as a professional for Enfield and Rishton – and he asked one of his mates to act as godparent to each of his three sons.
“One of my brothers has Lance Gibbs, another has Garfield Sobers, and mine’s Clive Lloyd,” young Keith explained. “I don’t see him often because he’s Mr International, he’s all over the place. But I saw him when we were out in Dubai for pre-season and played West Indies in a T20, had a bit of a catch-up.”
Lloyd must be so proud of the way his godson’s career has developed, while perhaps retaining a tinge of regret that it has done so in the midlands rather than the north-west.
“I never expected to be doing what I’m doing now,” admitted Barker, who had taken 199 wickets in 55 five first-class matches over the four seasons since 2012, in addition to hitting a Championship century in each of the last three.
“It was Keith Piper [the former Warwickshire wicketkeeper] who asked me to have a trial at Warwickshire, and I got a hundred in my first game against Hampshire.”
He has hardly looked back, and is now settled happily in Birmingham.
— County Championship (@CountyChamp) April 10, 2016
Barker arrived at the Ageas Bowl yesterday morning with a fair idea that he would be taking the new ball, under the new regulations which allowed his Bears captain Ian Bell to choose to bowl first without a toss.
He opened up with the Hilton Hotel behind him on a windswept spring day at Hampshire’s modern home, and by lunch he had taken five wickets – the left-handers Michael Carberry and Tom Alsop caught behind, and Will Smith poking to short-leg, in his new-ball spell before he returned to win lbw decisions against Sean Ervine and Liam Dawson.
“It was a brilliant start for me, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” reflected Barker, part of a battery of Bears seamers so strong that Chris Wright, Richard Jones and Oliver Hannon-Dalby have all started the season on the sidelines – as well as Laurie Evans, who had a busy day as 12th man after being squeezed out of the middle order.
Rikki Clarke also bowled well without luck, Boyd Rankin claimed the key wicket of James Vince with a leading edge to extra cover, and Chris Woakes was finally rewarded for his typically wholehearted efforts when he removed Reece Topley’s off stump to end a stubborn innings of 15 in 85 minutes from the new signing – which turned out to be a first-class career best.
He will hope to emulate Barker’s left-arm success when Warwickshire reply.