'I wanted my career bests to be at Lord's, not Derby or Leicester'

Former England fast bowler Phil DeFreitas looks back at his career highlights, his batting, and talks about the pain of being dropped repeatedly

Interview by Scott Oliver |

DeFreitas on Chris Lewis (left):

DeFreitas on Chris Lewis (left): "one of the most naturally talented cricketers I've ever seen" © Getty Images

When I was at school, I used to skip lunch, save the money and then use it to get a train ticket to Lord's, where I'd blag my way in, then go along the lanes asking the sides who were netting if they minded if I bowled. The sessions were from 6pm till 10, and every hour a different side would come. Each team that came, I'd ask them: "Do you mind if I bowl?" Occasionally I was offered a bat as well.

Nineteen-nighty one, against West Indies, was the best I bowled for England - because I was allowed to play! I felt comfortable. If you pick me, I'll bowl well. I didn't stay in the side because I bowled well. I bowled well because I stayed in the side.

I was at school with Chris Lewis. One of the most naturally talented cricketers I've ever seen.

I was racially abused while playing for Boland. This was after apartheid. It happens. But what I couldn't take was when people knew I was Phil DeFreitas the England cricketer, I was treated totally differently than when they didn't know who I was. I'd walk into a shop and they'd look at me like I wasn't supposed to be in there. Then I'd open my mouth and they'd go, "Oh, you're English!" and the atmosphere suddenly changed. I really couldn't handle that.

When I was a youngster, Ian Botham was my hero. So to have him as my first room-mate for England, to then walk out to join my hero, batting in an Ashes Test, on debut, and then to share that partnership with him - it was everything I'd dreamed of. Things can only get worse from there!

I'm pretty sure I'm the only person to take a five-for against all 18 first-class counties.

"I'd walk into a shop [in South Africa] and they'd look at me like I wasn't supposed to be in there. Then I'd open my mouth and they'd go, 'Oh, you're English!' and the atmosphere suddenly changed"

The night Lamby [Allan Lamb] smashed Bruce Reid in Sydney, I walked out and he said to me, "Daffy, I need to use your bat." His bat was crap, and we were both sponsored by Slazenger, so I said okay. I was just trying to get him on strike, so it didn't matter to me. Going into the last over, he said that whatever happened, we had to run twos. He smashes one to deep cover, I've run, turned quickly, and am sprinting back. Only, Lamby's still stood in his crease. Not moved. I'm thinking, what's going on? As the throw came in, he moved a little bit - just enough to put Reidy off gathering the throw, and then he ran through for two. All deliberate. Unbelievable. Brilliant to watch.

My maiden first-class hundred was at Canterbury. Kent's attack was Graham Dilley, Terry Alderman, Richard Ellison, Chris Cowdrey and Derek Underwood.

In all the years I played for England, I only played one Test against India - in Bombay, Vinod Kambli's game. When we first arrived, I slipped on a bathroom mat and did my groin. I didn't play any warm-up games. Then I got chucked in. I didn't get a wicket. It was the worst tour of my life.

My best bowling figures in Tests was seven-for against Sri Lanka, at Lord's. My career best was for Lancashire against Middlesex, at Lord's, another seven-for. I've had opportunities to take eight or nine, but I didn't want it. I wanted my career bests to be at Lord's, not Derby or Leicester.

"If you pick me, I'll bowl well" © PA Photos

The trouble with England in 1988-1989 was, if you had one so-so Test match, you knew you were out. How were we supposed to compete? You never felt settled at all. The gateman at Leicester used to tell me if I was picked. A tannoy announcement was how I found out I'd been dropped. No one ever said what I needed to do to get back in. There was no direction. It was just shambolic. Shocking, really.

I made my first-class debut at the Parks, against Oxford University. We bowled them out for 24. I was once quoted as saying, "I don't like students." That was a misunderstanding. What I meant was, I treated those games properly. I played them hard.

After Lord's, my favourite ground was Adelaide. When I was 19, in my first year at Leicester, I went out to play grade cricket for Port Adelaide, and I was back the following year on an Ashes tour. I also had a couple of good Test matches there later on. I made my highest Test score there. I was just gutted it wasn't a hundred.

The six or seven years I had playing for Lancashire were the best period of my county career.

"I was dropped after the Headingley Test in 1989 and I thought, 'You know what? Bollocks to you. I've had enough of this.' I met with Ali Bacher about going on the rebel tour"

The only person who used to bat against Wasim Akram in the nets at Lancashire was Gehan Mendis. Everyone else avoided him.

Phil Tufnell and I were always in trouble when we were on the Lord's ground staff. At the end of the day they used to pick one or two of us to stay behind and bowl to the MCC members. Colonel Stephenson, who used to be in charge of us, came in for a net, and the nets sometimes used to be green. Tuffers decided he was going to bowl seam, and we both started to bounce Stephenson, as quick and short as possible, basically so that we'd never be asked again.

I was offered a contract by Luton Town FC the same year I joined the MCC Young Cricketers.

I played against Leicestershire 2nd XI for MCC ground staff at Grace Road, one of my first games. I'll never forget driving up. It's hard to explain to people. I just had that feeling: "This is where it all starts." I did well. I sat in the corner of the away dressing room and had a vision that the coach would come in and say, "We want you to play." Literally two or three minutes later, Ken Higgs walked in and said he'd like me to play a couple of trial games.

I was dropped 14 times by England. You felt you were made a scapegoat. I was dropped after the Headingley Test in 1989 and I thought, "You know what? Bollocks to you. I've had enough of this." I met with Ali Bacher about going on the rebel tour. They were offering fantastic money. I was being treated so badly, I decided to go. I got some stick in the press, but it was only when I thought that it could be the end of my England career - everything I'd wanted to do since I was a young boy - that I had a change of heart. The money would have set me up, but I thought, "No, I want to play for England."

When I was batting in the nets at Derbyshire and Dev [Devon Malcolm] was bowling in the other net, I'd still shit myself.

"Ian Botham played the game hard, but when England won he did the right thing: he celebrated" © Getty Images

The only memories I have from Dominica is jumping in the sea in the mornings.

The season playing under Dean Jones at Derbyshire was brilliant. He got the guys fired up. He came over and wanted to do it the Australian way: four slips, two gullies. He made me the vice-captain. We disagreed on a lot of things - I said we couldn't have these fields, we were leaking boundaries and needed to create pressure, be patient - but we both thought about the game all the time. I learned so much from him and enjoyed it a lot.

Ian Botham played the game hard, but when England won, he did the right thing: he celebrated. That's how it should be. He played like every club cricketer loves to play their cricket.

Not winning the County Championship with Lancashire, with the side we had, was horrendous.

I think Micky Stewart and Gatt [Mike Gatting] got that 1986-87 Ashes tour spot on. They allowed the senior players to basically do what they wanted to do. They didn't take the warm-ups too seriously. They did what they needed to do to be ready for the Test matches. Me and Gladstone [Small] looked at it and said, these are quality players and they've earned the right to do that.

I do believe your first over sets the tone. On the morning of the 1994 Brisbane Test I practised from both ends. I made a decision I was going to bowl from one end, assuming I was going to take the first over. So I'm all set to bowl the first over of the Ashes, and as we walk out Gatt says to Michael Atherton, "The wind's changed. I think Daffy should come from this end instead." There was a doubt in my mind then. Having got zoned into bowling from one end, I came from the other end and straightaway my lengths were short. Most Test openers would have left those balls. Michael Slater smashed them. I should have stuck to my guns and said, "No, I've prepared to bowl from that end and that's what I'm doing."

"The trouble with England in 1988-1989 was, if you had one so-so Test match you knew you were out. The gateman at Leicester used to tell me if I was picked. A tannoy announcement was how I found out I'd been dropped"

Without being sour about it now, poor decisions probably cost us the 1992 World Cup final - I had Imran Khan lbw, Derek Pringle had Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq. Had we had better umpiring, who knows.

Shane Warne's ball to Gatt - I just thought, "Bloody hell, I've got to go out and bat against that!"

It was a quick, bouncy wicket at The Oval [1994], Allan Donald was bowling quite fast, and I thought if I tried to defend I was going to get nailed. Raymond Illingworth was the chairman of selectors, Keith Fletcher was the coach, and I'm sat there waiting to bat when we lose a wicket with about an hour to go. Fletcher said, "Look, just try and survive the evening." So, I walk down the steps and Illingworth's there. He says, "Lad, play your shots. You're a better player when you do that." I thought, okay. And that was it: I just went for it. When Goughie [Darren Gough] came in, we just had a laugh, really. The whole crowd got behind us. I reckon Donald bowled as quick as Dev. We had chest guards, arm guards. When Dev went out to bowl, to be fair, the South Africans, they crapped it a bit.

"I always felt I had to take wickets to stay in the side. You lose focus on the batting, which let me down a little bit" © Getty Images

It wasn't until later that I started playing my natural game as a batsman. I'd listened to people saying do this and that, and I wasn't being myself. And you've got to be yourself.

When I first started I treated batting, bowling and fielding equally. I wanted to make runs. I wanted to show how brilliant I could be in the field. As time went on, especially with England, I always felt I had to take wickets to stay in the side. So that takes over your thoughts. You lose focus on the batting, which let me down a little bit.

People say, "Oh, you should have scored more runs." I got 10,000 first-class runs.

Ken Higgs improved me as a cricketer. He made me a thinking cricketer. He was very black and white: this is what you do, this is why you do it. It's who I learned the game from.

I was stood at mid-off and kept saying to Scott [Boswell], "Cross seam. Cross seam. Just get it down the other end and get it over with." It wouldn't sink in. He was caught in the headlights.

As a professional cricketer, you live in a false world. Everything's done for you. Food, clothes. You're told what to do, where to go, and when. Your life's being run for you. Then all of a sudden that ends, and you think, "Shit, I've got to do all that myself now." I understand why people get depressed when they've finished. I have to go to the gym two or three times a week now just to feel better about myself.

Scott Oliver tweets here

 

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