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Spotlight on Richard Oliver

Opening batsman Richard Oliver enjoyed two spells with Shropshire either side of playing first-class cricket for Worcestershire.

He made his Championship debut for Shropshire in 2008 and went on to play 62 matches for the county in three-day and one-day cricket.

Richard struck 1,885 Championship runs at an average of 30.90 in 37 Championship appearances, hitting four centuries and nine fifties.

He also played his part with the ball, taking 23 wickets for Shropshire across both formats, and holding on to 40 catches.

Richard was appointed Shropshire captain ahead of the 2013 season and led the county to the final of the MCCA Trophy, which ended in defeat against Berkshire at Wormsley.

After starting the next season brightly, he was handed a chance to impress by Worcestershire.

Richard made the most of his opportunity and signed a contract with the Pears in June 2014, quickly becoming a regular in all formats, scoring 1,052 runs in 20 first-class matches for the club at an average of 29.22.

He returned to play for Shropshire in the 2016 season.

Richard continues to be a prolific batsman in club cricket. Currently captain of Surrey Championship club Reigate Priory, the left-hander has divided his time for many years between England and Australia, playing Down Under for Willetton Crows in Perth, Pint Cricket Club in Darwin and he continues to enjoy a long association with Geelong City Sharks.

Closer to home, he has also played club cricket for Woore, Whitchurch and Shifnal.

When and where did you start playing cricket? I played a lot as a kid with my dad Tony, my mum Sandra and my brother Harry. Even my two nans would join in as we all used to play cricket in the back yard. It was very entertaining, especially playing with two grandparents. They would bowl under arm at me and my brother all day, every day in the school holidays, so that’s where it all started.

I then went to our local village club, Onneley, at under-11s. Our other local club was Woore, so I moved there to play some senior cricket. I also played at school, The Grove School in Market Drayton. We lived in quite a rural area of north Shropshire, close to the border of both Staffordshire and Cheshire.

It was then off to play for Shropshire’s under-12s in 2002 during the Don Woollaston days. That was my first involvement in the Shropshire system. I then moved to Wrekin College on a scholarship when Michael De Weymarn was the master in charge of cricket, so there was a gradual progression from the rural Shropshire country ranks.

What’s your earliest cricketing memory? Probably me and my brother trying on cricketing gear in the back garden, putting the big pads and gloves on. Dad would play every Saturday for Onneley and then later Woore, so we used to go down and run amok on a Saturday with all the other kids. It was all a pretty simple life back then!

I actually started off as a scorer and I would get £5.50 a game to go and score for dad’s team. Sometimes we would be lucky enough to go and watch the fifth day of a Test match if it was during the school holidays. One of the first was the 2001 Ashes Test at Headingley when Mark Butcher scored 173 not out as England won. That was brilliant. We also went along most years to the Cheltenham Festival, so to actually end up playing in it for Worcestershire was pretty special and holds fond memories.

Biggest influence on your career? It certainly starts with the family. Coming from such a rural area, it took a lot of dedication from them to ferry me around. They would drive me around Shropshire and to various counties. Rod Jones was one of my first coaches when I got involved in the Shropshire system and he showed a lot of belief in me.

The Reigate connection through Chris Murtagh and Neil Saker, who took me down there, really helped broaden my horizons with the standard of cricket you could play and the cricketers you could play with.

When I became Shropshire captain, along came Kevin Sharp as coach, and he was probably the biggest influence on my career as a cricketer. With Terry O’Connor as a coaching/management team, they were both very influential during that period. Toby Shaw was also a good influence when he was Shropshire chairman and I was captain.

I’ve been lucky everywhere I’ve gone really. I couldn’t have done it without having such a great kit sponsor as Gary Stanyer from Spyderbats, a great supporter for over 15 years now. Everyone who has supported me along the journey, whether it be in Shropshire, Worcester, Reigate, Perth or Geelong really deserve a mention as you are flying solo a lot of the time when you’re a travelling cricketer. You can’t do it on your own, so I’m very grateful for all the support that I’ve had.

Most memorable match you played in? Keeping it relevant to Shropshire, you of course remember the hundreds. My first for Shropshire was against Cheshire at Whitchurch in 2009, and my highest score was 175 against Wales at Oswestry in 2012. There was one down at St Austell, which was a good trip, and I also remember a one-day hundred which kickstarted my career to the next level against Lincolnshire at Shrewsbury in 2014.

From a team perspective, we played two semi-finals in the one-day competition, the first down at Hertfordshire when Ed Foster was captain on the road to 2010 glory. That was a nail-biter, such a hot day, and there was some incredible cricket played. Both teams scored more than 300 and it was unbelievable as a young player to be able to experience that feeling.

Then a few years later when I was captain, we went down to Hertfordshire again and won another semi-final, another good game. The whole 2013 season when I was captain is one that I remember well. We only lost two games – and they were both to Berkshire, the Trophy final and a Championship match.

I remember every one of those games as the winning run got longer and the anticipation was building for success. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite get there in the end, but every single one of those games was memorable. It’s incredible when you look at the team photos from those years. James Ralph was captain when I first came in, then Ed and then myself. You look at some of those players on the photos and I was very lucky to play in such a strong era for Shropshire cricket. It really was magic.

I’ll also never forget my first-team debut, for all the wrong reasons. I got a golden duck against Herefordshire at Shifnal. I remember going out on a pair when we only needed a few runs to win and feeling the pressure from the balcony, so that was a tough introduction to senior cricket with the lads enjoying a laugh at my expense!

Highlights of your playing days? There’s so many games you can talk about, but it was more about everything that went with it that has made it so memorable. It was just great times throughout my Shropshire journey from making my first team debut aged 18 and it was a great privilege to play for my home county.

Joining Worcestershire was a proud moment. It was pleasing to break into the set up and to then sign my first professional contract was definitely a highlight. That was a great period for me, 2014 and 2015, as it was all happening.

I scored two first-class hundreds for Worcestershire. The maiden one was 179 against Gloucestershire at New Road. I’ll never forget that and I was lucky enough that my folks and a couple of friends were in the stands. I made a good hundred down at Hove against Sussex and they had a pretty good attack, so they would be highlights.

I always look back at big scores I’ve made. I’ve made six double hundreds and hopefully I’m not done yet. My highest score was 292 not out at Barnt Green for Worcestershire’s 2nd XI against Warwickshire. I was gunning for the second team record the next day, which I think was 333 set by Marcus Trescothick, but it rained on the last day, so I was left stranded on 292.

Best player you played alongside? I’ve been fortunate to play alongside so many. It all started at Woore as a teenager when we had some good overseas cricketers like Agha Sabir and Rizwan Aslam. They were two good left-handed batsmen that I learnt a lot from. More recently, there’s a guy at Reigate, Andy Delmont, who started off playing as our overseas for four or five years and is now classed as a local. He’s been brilliant for us.

I played alongside so many good players with Shropshire and everyone made valuable contributions. Ed Foster with the bat was unbelievable, Steve Taylor was very talented, Jono Whitney was very consistent with bat and ball. I could go through the whole list really as there have been so many good Shropshire players. We also had some great pros with the likes of Andy Gray, Ben Sanderson, Gurman Randhawa, Alex Wyatt and David Wainwright.

I just had so much belief in every Shropshire team that we went out on the park with. To have the experience of James Ralph, who was available for every game, even in the twilight of his career, gave freedom to someone like Omar Ali to come in and have the licence to just go out and play. There were some great players and there was no pressure on anybody because of the confidence everyone had in each other, so it really was a special time.

I played with some world class players at Worcester. We had Saeed Ajmal playing for us, the number one bowler in the world, so that was just incredible to play alongside somebody like that. It was also the time that Moeen Ali was starting to get picked for England and playing some unbelievable cricket, so it was an amazing time.

Best player you played against? I’ve been very lucky to play against the best in the English county game and also the world’s best, people like Brendon McCullum and Kevin Pietersen to name just a couple. I remember an innings from Jonny Bairstow at Scarborough in 2015 when he made a hundred and it was the most unbelievable innings I’ve ever played against. You just couldn’t bowl at him that day.

From a Shropshire point of view, it would have been playing against teams like Berkshire and Cheshire rather than individual players. We would find them challenging opposition and look forward to playing against the better teams.

Favourite ground where you have played? The Oval always stands out as my favourite because the wickets were always good to bat on, the crowds were always big and the outfield was rapid. Surrey always used to have top stars in their team and we would look forward to playing them there.

We are lucky to have so many great grounds in Shropshire. I always enjoyed batting at Whitchurch, Shifnal and Bridgnorth. I enjoyed playing at The Albert Ground in Melbourne and I have played a lot of cricket at Geelong, a good ground to bat at.

Team mate which made you laugh the most? Playing through the different age groups with Shropshire was great fun, very entertaining. Andy Gray was probably the one team mate that used to make me laugh the most, for good and bad. Managing someone like Simon Gregory, a great mate, as a captain over the years was very funny, the same with Simon Dimelow at Whitchurch. I would always enjoy playing cricket with him and he would be doing something daft. Chris Bambury, who I came across at Geelong, is another of the funniest guys I’ve played with.

What did you enjoy most about playing for Shropshire? From the age of 12, when I first got a letter through the post, it was always an honour to represent Shropshire, to put the blazer and the tie on. That feeling never stopped all the way through as it was a massive highlight.

I look back on all the years I was travelling to away games with my mates. At the time, sometimes on a Saturday after a club game, it was sapping to then get on the road for hours to travel to a hotel to be ready for the game on a Sunday morning, but it was always such great fun because you would hear some great stories. I drove Andy Gray around a lot and it was never dull.

It was always an honour for the grounds around Shropshire to be hosting games, and they were always immaculately presented, so you would look forward to playing on good grounds, good wickets and playing good cricket.

To top it off, we would usually have a beer on the president’s tab when we would enjoy sitting around after a day’s play, talking and sharing cricket stories. That’s what you look back on so fondly because that’s where you create great, lifelong friendships. It was always a privilege to represent my home county and it was a great time.

Pictured: Richard Oliver, right, with Terry O’Connor, Shropshire’s former team manager.