Michael Powell, now into his 15th year with Warwickshire, launches his benefit season today. To mark the occasion he reflected on his career with George Dobell.
First impressions: I came to Warwickshire when I was 12. My family moved to Rugby and I came to Edgbaston for trials. I captained every age-group side from Under-14 onwards and my ambitions were always to captain Warwickshire and play for England. Of those I played with in those youth sides, only me and Mark Wagh are still involved in the game.
I owe a lot to my parents. They took me everywhere, supported me always and never interfered.
Learning: I joined the staff in 1994. Neil Abberley walked me to the dressing-rooms and, on the way, listed the 13 batsmen that were ahead of me in the pecking order. He was always very good at making sure you didn't get carried away with yourself.
I learnt all my cricket between 1993 and 1995. I was 12th man all the time so spent a lot of time in the dressing-room with all those great players. The thing is that if you took out Keith Piper and Brian Lara from that team, none of those guys were geniuses.
They had to work bloody hard on their game and that was a great lesson. Work hard, play hard and party hard: that was the motto.
Dermot Reeve was an amazing captain. People had different views on him as a person, but when he spoke everyone listened. He had everyone's utmost respect. What a talker! What a motivator! Tactically no-one compares. He was brilliant.
There were some tough lessons, though. The first time I walked into the dressing-room, in 1992, Tim Munton looked up at me and asked "Did you knock?" I left, knocked and came back in.
Then I asked Jason Ratcliffe where I should change and he pointed towards the corner. It was the only place left anyway. I was just leaning down to take off my shoes when I saw a pair of feet standing about six inches from me. "What the hell do you think you're doing? That's my place." It was Andy Lloyd, the captain. I changed in the showers for the rest of the season.
Debut: My debut was against Durham in 1996. I clipped the first ball off my legs for two, left the next delivery and tucked the next ball into the leg side for four. My opening partner, Andy Moles, wandered down and said, "Keep playing like that and you'll be 600 not out at the close." It immediately put me at my ease.
Coming of age: Brian Lara took me to one side at the start of 1998 and told me he wanted me in every team he took out. He told me he rated me and that I was the first name he wrote on the team sheet. That meant a massive amount.
The innings when I proved to myself that I could cut it happened earlier in the same year against Nottinghamshire. It was a dodgy pitch at Edgbaston. The ball either rolled over your boots or bounced in front of your gloves. I managed to carry my bat for 73 not out becoming the county's first uncapped player to do so for 49 years.
When I thought about some of the people who had played for the club over that period - Amiss and Kanhai for example - it made me think I couldn't be that bad a player. I made my first hundred later that season.
Promotion: I was taking a shower when I got a phone call from Andy Lloyd, the chairman of cricket. My first thought was, 'Oh God, what have I done wrong'. I thought I might be sacked as I knew they'd just had the 'hiring and firing' committee meeting. But then he told me I'd be made captain! It was completely out of the blue. I was only 25 and it hadn't even been discussed as a possibility.
What people don't realise is that Bob Woolmer wanted me to be vice-captain. It was Andy Lloyd who wanted me in charge. Bob wanted Neil Smith to carry on, but me to take over for a few championship games.
Captaincy: When I see the list of players that have captained this club I feel two things: pride and embarrassment. I don't think I'll ever feel I belong on that list and sometimes I need to be reminded that I'm a good player.
In hindsight, yes, the captaincy did come too early. I was the second-youngest member of the side at the time and my game did suffer. The thing is, my greatest skill was getting the best out of other people. I made sure I gave Jim Troughton or Mark Wagh or Dougie Brown the chance to bat in positions that would suit them - and the team - best. It was, sometimes, to my own detriment.
I'm glad I did that, but it didn't help my own career. Honestly, I reckon 90 per cent of my time was spent worrying about everyone else. If I had my time again, I'd make sure I had my own game in order. But I'm very proud of winning promotion in that first year and the success we had in 2002. I wouldn't change any of it.
England: Of course I wanted to play for England. Still do. I don't regret taking the Warwickshire captaincy. Never could. But I do think that it damaged my development as a batsman.
The closest I came to Test cricket was when I was picked to tour the Caribbean with England A in 2000-2001. I played well, too, putting on over 200 with Ian Ward in Bridgetown. At that stage, I guess we were all only a few innings away from the Test team. Ian Ward proved it.
But I went back to Edgbaston as captain and really, from that moment, any hope I had of playing for England disappeared. That's OK. I played for England U-19 with Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick and they were in a different class to me. So are guys like Ian Bell and Alastair Cook. But I think I could have scored more runs had I been a bit more selfish.
It's not a regret, just a recognition of how things developed.
Bob Woolmer: I feel so lucky to have known him. His influence on me was enormous and I owe him a huge amount. He took me under his wing. He invited me out to South Africa and arranged so much for me. He told me in 1994 that I'd captain the club one day and his belief in me means the world.
I was upset to see him go at the end of 2002. I just felt, if they could treat him like that, a man who had done so much for the club, what hope do the rest of us have?
The best: Brian Lara is the best batsman I've played with or against. He was burnt out the second time he came to us - in 1998 - but in 1994 he was incredible. I put on 118 with him one day and he scored 93 of them.
Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald are easily the best bowlers I've played with, but the two best I've faced are Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh. I worked it out once: they bowled 38 overs at me in total and there wasn't one ball that I could hit for four. I edged one through the slips for four, but that isn't quite the same, is it?
The fastest spell I've faced was from Nixon McLean. Mohammad Sami, at Beckenham in 2004, was the second quickest.
Other options: I've never come close to leaving Warwickshire. I did think about going to Sussex in about 1997, as I'd scored loads of runs for the seconds but couldn't get into the Warwickshire first team. And I was called at the end of 2003 and asked if I'd like to captain another county in 2004.
I gave them a flat 'no'.
The thing is, you could take me out of Warwickshire, but you could never take Warwickshire out of me. All I've ever wanted to do was play for the club and it's all I've known since I was 12.
Highs: Lifting the Benson & Hedges Cup as captain in 2002 was my greatest moment. We were second in the championship that year, only behind a great Surrey side. Promotion at the end of 2001 was fantastic as well.
Winning the championship in 2004 was special, too. Although I wasn't captain, John Inverarity wrote in the club's yearbook that my character and example had played a major part of the success. That meant a lot.
Winning my cap at the end of 1999 was special, too. It really meant something. In fact, having that bear on my jumper and cap meant everything.
Lows: The year 2003 was horrible. I was out of form and felt I was being selfish if I was in the side. I hated every minute of it and knew that I had to resign as captain. That was hard, as I was giving up something that I'd always wanted. In retrospect I should have resigned at the end of 2002 when Bob went. I did think about it.
But the worst season of all was 2007. It was as if Mark Greatbatch built a wall to keep me out of the side. In the end he told me he wasn't going to pick me. Nothing could be more demotivating. It didn't matter how many runs I scored in the seconds.
It was horrible to see the club I love going through such times and it still makes me angry that fantastic players like Mark Wagh and Moeen Ali aren't playing for this club any more because of that man. If he hadn't left, and I didn't have a benefit season, I would have had to think about my future very hard.
Supporters: I've always had a pretty good relationship with the supporters. When I came to the club, there was a culture of going to the bar for a drink and a chat after a day's play. I know that there are different views about drinking now, but I do think we need to get back to that.
Last year there was a rota drawn up saying who had to do it when it shouldn't be like that. It should be natural and enjoyable. I think you'll see it happen a bit more now.
Being awarded a benefit here is a very humbling experience. I'm very proud to have been part of something so special for so long and very grateful to the club.
The present: I feel more excited now than I have at any time since Bob Woolmer came back to the club. There are people in charge now - Ashley Giles, Allan Donald and Dougie Brown - who really know and care about the club. They came through in the mid-90s and know what it takes.
There's a clean slate and I think I've as good a chance of playing as anyone. I'm only 32; I should be in my prime as a batsman. I'd love to bat in the middle-order in limited-overs cricket and think I could bat anywhere in the championship. The team could do with a bit of experience.
Future: I want to play here for the rest of my career and I hope there are a few years left in me. I've only one year left on my contract so it's a big year in lots of ways.
Hopefully I'll be able to move into coaching when I retire as a player. I've always enjoyed it and it's what I did well when I was captain.
* Michael Powell's Benefit Launch Ball is to be held at Chesford Grange on Saturday April 12. For details of all events, or to book, telephone Alison Prosser on 07769 880888 or visit www.mp2008.co.uk, which will be launched imminently. Michael will be donating a portion of his benefit year profits to the charity Cure Leukaemia.