Trevor Penney's decision to leave Warwickshire will be a particular wrench for a man who has spent half his life serving the club with distinction.

Penney is to leave Edgbaston at the end of this season to take up a coaching role with Sri Lanka. The 37-year-old, who signed for the club in 1988, will be assistant coach to former team-mate Tom Moody from next month in a deal that is scheduled to run beyond the 2007 World Cup.

While Penney (pictured) would like to have extended his playing career, the opportunity to move into a coaching role with an international side proved too good to resist.

The ECB have agreed to release him from his five-month contract as specialist fielding coach at the National Academy at Loughborough over the winter.

"Tom Moody phoned me, I didn't apply for the job," Penney told The Post yesterday. "It's very flattering to know that you are so highly regarded by someone like Tom. He really wanted me."

Perhaps Warwickshire have missed a trick. Penney has much to offer in a coaching capacity and would have made a fine second XI coach; a role currently vacant. Indeed, few could rule out a return to the club in a few years, perhaps as director of cricket. Warwickshire's loss is Sri Lanka's gain; they've secured the service of a good man.

As a player, however, Penney had probably pushed his body to the limit. Though he still produced some attractive cameos in one-day cricket and remained a good enough fielder to substitute for England in the Ashes series, his fragile hamstrings had become a recurring problem.

A masterful 'finisher' in one-day cricket, the form of Jonathan Trott and Alex Loudon suggests his influence has been passed on. Dougie Brown is now the only player from the [nearly] all-conquering Warwickshire team of 1994 to remain on the playing staff. An era has all but ended.

"I was definitely tempted to stay on at Warwickshire and see if the second XI job came up," he continued. "My wife and I have had some sleepless nights making this decision. I'd love to have played another year, but then I might be left out to give the youngsters a go and these opportunities don't come up very often.

"There are two sides to it. I'm desperately sad to be leaving a club where I've spent 18 happy years, but this is just what I'm looking for. It's a hands-on role with an international team. It's a life changing moment, but it's such a good offer I just couldn't turn it down.

"Retiring from all of this was not something I could consider lightly. But it's time to move on."

Few players in the history of the game can match Penney's collection of winner's medals. Having represented Zimbabwe before they were granted Test status, he was signed by Warwickshire in 1988, but had to wait until 1992 before he qualified to play for England.

He scored a century on debut for Warwickshire (against Cambridge University) and won his county cap in 1994, playing a vital role in the treble-winning side of that season.

"Those two years in the mid- 90s were amazing. Incredibly happy times. I don't think any team will repeat our success. I have eight winner's medals and I've played in eight finals. I've relished every moment of it."

"But there are so many happy memories and great friendships. Not just with players, either. I've been lucky to strike up a bond with the members. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody involved at Warwickshire for their support and encouragement throughout my entire career."

Speaking to The Post earlier this season, he admitted that he had some regrets about not playing at the highest level.

"From a purely cricketing perspective, it might have made sense to stay in Zimbabwe for a few more years," he said. "If I had, I would have played Test cricket and probably developed into a better player.

"When I came to England I had to qualify, so I played league cricket between 1988 and 1991. I enjoyed it, but I'd have played a higher standard in Zimbabwe. When I left I was more highly thought of than Andy Flower [who went on to be rated as the best batsman in the world for a time], and I do think a bit about what might have been."

"People always said I was close [to an England call-up]. Between 1995 and 1997 I was always hoping for the call-up. It got to me in the end and I had a couple of lean years in 1998-99 as the disillusionment set in.

"I've got a first-class average of nearly 40 [39.28], which is generally thought of as the benchmark, and think that if my fielding had been taken into account, I might have been worth a look. 'Jonty' Rhodes was never the best batsman in the world, but he was still a fantastic international cricketer. There were times when it hurt a lot to be ignored. I would love to have played international cricket."

Penney was perhaps shelved too early from first-class cricket. At the end of the 2000 season he was offered only a one-day contract, but continued to serve the club with distinction.

A very fine strokemaker and a selfless team man, he may be best remembered as one of the great fielders in the history of the sport, prowling the cover point region with a skill and athleticism that turned many a game.

"One of the best fielders I have ever seen," was Dennis Amiss' assessment yesterday.

Immensely popular with players, officials and supporters, he enjoyed a well-supported benefit in 2003 and will be a much-missed presence around Edgbaston. Those supporters wanting to wish him farewell will have the chance, however.

He will be included in Sunday's totesport League team and will be at the club's end of season reception. He deserves all the plaudits he will undoubtedly receive.

Click here to vote for your Warwickshire cricketer of the year