Warwickshire are mourning their batting coach and former batsman Neal Abberley who died in hospital early today (August 8) aged 67.
Abberley had been battling with a lung condition for some time but he had been working on a part-time basis in recent years and was at Edgbaston for Warwickshire’s most recent home County Championship match against Sussex.
Flags are expected to be lowered to half mast at Edgbaston for this week’s third England v India Test and England batsman Ian Bell, one of Abberley’s many protégés, will wear a black arm band. India’s fielding coach Trevor Penney also played for Warwickshire under Abberley’s tutelage.
Though Abberley’s playing record was modest during a 16-year first-class century – 10,082 runs at an average of 24.47 and three centuries – he did tour Pakistan with a strong MCC Under-25 side – effectively England A – in 1967 though he suffered ill health on the trip.
He moved into coaching in 1980 and served Warwickshire for more than 30 years as Second XI coach and more recently with a roving brief working at all levels from senior to youth sides.
“To me he was a mentor, a confidante but, most of all, a friend,” said Warwickshire’s director of cricket Ashley Giles. “We knew he was getting a little bit fragile but we didn’t realise how fragile so his death has come as a shock to everyone.
“When I last spoke to him last week his concerns were for the team, not his own health which typified Neal. He gave his life to Warwickshire and there are a lot of player who owe a huge debt of gratitude to him. He got a lot of us through.
“Without Neal Abberley I would not be Warwickshire’s director of cricket and I would not have played 54 Tests for England. When I was first met him I was an 18-year-old triallist and I was still wet behind the ears having come from living at home with mum and dad.
“He helped me to grow up. He was old school and it was a tough school at times and a steep learning curve. But Neal was a great influence on me and he set me on the road to where I am now. It was a rocky road at times but when I look back at what I have achieved over 20 years a lot of it is down to Neal’s influence.”
Abberley’s death comes at a time when Warwickshire are challenging strongly for the County Championship which Giles believes would be a fitting tribute to his mentor.
“I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Neal than winning the Championship,” he said. “That puts us under a lot of pressure but his contribution, as a valuable member of the coaching team, has been immense.”
Penney, who was informed of Abberley’s death during an India net session at Edgbaston, said: “When I first came to Edgbaston I was impressed with how professional and organised Neal was. He could be strict but I came from that sort of background so I didn’t mind it.
“He would pull people into line if they needed that but he was a nice man who would always buy the team a drink on our away trips. His methods worked because a lot of the guys came through from the second team to be part of the first team that was so successful in the mid-1990s.
“Towards the end of my playing career when I was playing mainly one-day cricket I captained the second team and it was good to have Neal around to bounce ideas off, to ask questions of and to learn from.”