It was Shane Warne who convinced Kearan Gibbs cricket was the sport for him.
Kearan – who has a rare congenital anomaly that led to him being born without hands – met the legendary spinner at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl when he was 11-years-old.
The sports mad youngster tried football, rugby and basketball at school but fell for cricket having first played with his uncle on a beach holiday.
Kearan had developed a bowling action that saw him grip and release the ball from the fold of his elbow – but he was struggling with the technique and becoming disillusioned.
“Shane was brilliant. He convinced me to stick with it,” said Kearan, now aged 23, who is a key member of Warwickshire’s cup winning Disability Access team.
“When I first started playing cricket I was trying to bowl fast but it kept slipping wide. It was frustrating and I’d started to wonder if I should focus on another sport.
“I had been invited down to the nets at the Ageas by Hampshire and the opportunity to meet Shane. He suggested concentrating on spin instead and was kind enough to spend time giving me some advice.
“I figured if I was going to take tips from anyone, take them from the greatest!
“Shane stayed in regular contact – it was cool having his number on my phone – and he was always willing to offer help if I needed it. He was a great guy.
“I took on board his advice. Over time it worked and I’ve developed a pretty consistent action now. I manage to take the odd wicket.”
Kearan is too modest.
Since joining the Club’s Disability Access team in 2014, he’s scored 384 runs and taken 64 wickets.
He also plays club cricket for Astwood Bank CC, Redditch, alongside able-bodied teammates. He’s taken 51 wickets in the last three seasons, with his best haul coming last summer when he took 19 wickets at 4.56 with a best of 4/32.
Next season he’ll be part of the Bears side that, for the first time, takes the step up into the national disability D40 hardball league.
“I guess I’m one of the veterans of the side at 23,” joked Kearan, from Redditch.
“That’s one of the beauties of disability cricket: there are no age barriers. I was able to start playing alongside adults when I was at high school.
“Cricket was the first sport that really welcomed me, that let me in.
“Initially with my batting I tried various adaptations onto my bat to help me grip it, but it didn’t feel comfortable or even work that well. I’ve got rid of those in the last few years and my batting has really improved, though bowling is still my strongest part of my game.
“I’m looking forward to testing myself in the D40 national league. It’s where the top disability players play. And then maybe onto the DPL (Disability Premier League).
“I’d love to get into the England side, that’s not off the radar for me. I have aspirations of playing for England and have been involved in development squads in the past.”
Warwickshire’s Disability Access team was crowned regional cup champions last August when they rounded off a flawless campaign with victory in the final.
They topped the Midlands Division with an unbeaten record before beating Derbyshire Disability CC in the decider.
It’s the first time since 2005 that a Warwickshire disability team – featuring players with both physical and learning disabilities – have lifted a trophy.
Kearan added: “There are probably people with disabilities living in Birmingham and Warwickshire who feel they can’t play cricket, that their disability excludes them. But I would say come along and give it a go. Start with our Super 1s and see where it takes you.
“I’ve come on a lot since I joined. The social side is great as well: there’s a camaraderie and we all get on well together.”
Warwickshire Cricket Board runs beginners Super 1s hubs in Edgbaston, Coventry, Castle Bromwich and Knowle, while there are plans to open further sessions in Sutton Coldfield CC, Stratford Upon Avon and Leamington Spa.
The Lord’s Taverners funded Super 1s programme – which is free and cricket equipment is provided – also teach life skills, welfare and healthy eating as well as cricket.
Rob Eynon, Disability Participation Officer at Warwickshire Cricket Board, said: “Kearan helps bring on the whole squad – been around the game for 17 years – and he’s a coach on the field.
“He’s a perfect illustration of what we’re trying to grow at Warwickshire and underlines our message that whatever the disability, cricket is here for you.”