Dean Headley

'It burnt to be told I didn't have the heart to play as a bowler'

Former fast bowler Dean Headley recalls good and bad days with England, his heritage, and the time he bounced Allan Donald and lived to tell the tale

Interview by Scott Oliver

"Speak to any of the captains I played under and they'll say, 'Throw him the ball at half-past five and, whether he's having a shit day or not, he'll run in for you'" © PA Photos

I never saw my surname as a burden. I think others may have done. It's the way I was brought up. I knew my heritage very early on but my dad made it very clear. He said: "You are who you are. You should go and play your game".

I got a wicket with my first ball in the County Championship - a five-fer against Yorkshire - and I walked off the field and Angus Fraser said, "Well bowled. Brilliant. It's all downhill from now on."

I got three hat-tricks in a year, but it should have been four. Asif Mujtaba nicked off to Nick Knight, who's an amazing slipper, and he dropped an easy catch for him. That would have been a world record.

Graham Thorpe always felt that I should have played for England earlier. I never got the 70, 80 wickets a year, but Thorpe said it was who I got out and where I got them caught.

The A tour to Pakistan got me picked for England. That and a bit of luck, with Richard Johnson getting injured and Peter Martin going up to the main tour. It was the first time I'd really met Nasser [Hussain], and I just said, "Look, all I want to know is how I get in this team". He says, "You're the last cab on the rank."

I met my granddad a couple of times. I knew about him from books, from people. But I didn't live with the furore that went around him. I went to Jamaica when I was 18, 19, and it was on TV - me, visiting the island. Because of my contacts, I trained with the Jamaica squad: Jimmy Adams, Courtney Walsh, Dujon, Patrick Patterson. I'd play in a game and it would come on the news at night: "Jimmy Adams scored 102 over in Montego Bay, and Dean Headley is 3 not out." Surreal.

Goughie and I played in five Test matches together and got 53 wickets between us. He epitomised, to me, what you need to do as a bowler. Yes, things might not go your way, but you never, ever give up on anything.

I bowled and bowled and bowled on that A tour in Pakistan. I bowled for a session and a half without a break in one game. Ed Giddins was on that trip. Nasser used to joke that when he came to ask me, "How many overs you got left?" I'd go, "I'll bowl till you take me off". With Ed it'd be, "How many overs is Dean bowling?"

I got woken up in the West Indies after a night where I'd commiserated myself with a bit of Jack Daniel's. The media officer said, "Dean, the press guys want to do an interview with you." "What about?" "Well, Bumble's come out and said the reason why we lost the Test match was because of you and Caddick." I said, "Oh, that's good. And we haven't even had a team meeting yet…" So John Etheridge [of the Sun] was sat in a chair by the pool at the hotel, leading the questions. He's got a bit of a stutter, and I knew that every time he had to say something controversial he was going to stutter. He's gone, "So, h-h-have you got any comments?" "About what?" He said, "Well, erm, ob-obviously you lost the Test match." "Yeah, I know that." "And, erm, with Bumble…" "John, get to the point." "Well, Bumble's come out and said that you and Caddick were the reason England lost." I said, "Why do you think he came out and said that?" "Well," he said, "when we asked him he said you didn't bowl very well." And I went: "He's right. I didn't." "Have you got any m-more comments?" "Well, no. You've just told me the coach has said we lost the Test match because Headley and Caddick didn't bowl well. I can't answer for Caddick but I can certainly answer for me. I didn't play very well." End of interview. Caddick, on the other hand, said, "Well, I disagree with him. I think I only bowled four bad balls in the whole Test match."

I kept an eye on the speed gun a little bit, mainly as a barometer to see whether I had to put in more effort. Goughie wouldn't bowl a slower ball in Australia because it'd bring down his average speed.

My dad played 17 years at Worcestershire. I got the sack there after one year - they said I wasn't going to be good enough - and went and played for Leycett in the North Staffs League for a season. Clive Lloyd got me that. He even drove me to their nets.

"People talk about whether we competed with Australia in the '90s. I think we did. I can go through every Test I played against Australia and dropped catches will be massive. But we never, ever talked about it"

Lara was the best I've seen.

Michael Vaughan said that if we'd have got a draw against that Aussie team in 1998-99 - which, barring that Slater run-out in Sydney, we would have done - then he believes that would have been bigger than 2005.

Clive Lloyd took me for trials to three counties: Derbyshire, Somerset, Middlesex. I was late for the Middlesex net because he got stuck in traffic, but it was all right because I was with Big Clive. I think if it had just been myself they'd have shown me the door.

I joke that I'm the best bowler in our family. I think it was harder for my dad because he was right next to one of the legends of cricket.

Angus Fraser said: "Look, most people take a wicket every 60 balls. So if you go at four and a half an over, you'll average 45. If you go at 2 an over, you'll average 20. Your career won't depend on your good days. It will depend on whether you can make your shit day a little bit less than shit, your average day a little bit better than average, and your quite good day a little bit better than quite good."

After I retired I worked for a paper in Kent, as commercial director, and I'm now cricket coach at Stamford School. I've learned a lot since coaching here. Lots of ideas just weren't around when I was a kid. You had people teaching you the forward defensive first. I ask our boys to hit the ball.

People talk about whether we competed with Australia in the '90s. I think we did. Steve Waugh said it: "England are a far better side than what they believe." I can go through every Test I played against Australia and dropped catches will be massive. But we never, ever talked about it.

At Kent one year, we finished second in the Championship, second in the Sunday League, and lost the B&H final. What are you gonna do? If you're good enough to get to a final, you're good enough to win it. To lose the Championship by five points - where do you begin analysing that? And one of those games was a tied game at Somerset, so it's one run away from having enough points. It could be run-outs, catches, moments. The following year, Kent pay an Olympic athlete who finished second all the time a lot of money to come and speak to us. Roger Black. The first thing he did was hold up his silver medals and said, "These are my gold medals." What he meant was that he was competing against Michael Johnson, so those were the best he could do. "Success is not measured by the prize you get; it's what you get out of what you got. You can't control who's around at your time." I laughed. We paid you money to come and tell us that!

Middlesex had a really harsh dressing room. So if they thought you were a so-and-so, they'd call you it. But because of that, there was none of this backbiting. It was tough. The boys came in and had pieces out of each other, but then it was, like, "Okay, what we going to do about it?" I grew up in a really harsh environment, but, I felt, a really healthy environment.

Hicky and Ramps were probably the best two English batsmen I bowled at.

Carl Hooper was an underachiever at international level, but if you said to me that there's a game of cricket on tomorrow and Carl Hooper's going to get 80, I'd pay money to see that. I remember us playing against Saqlain Mushtaq at The Oval - the Surrey boys still talk about it. Everyone was mesmerised. Hooper played him as though he was a schoolboy offspinner. He got 200 against Wasim Akram, who was bowling ridiculously quick at the time, swinging it both ways, and everybody else was struggling. Three overs after going in, he calls to the pavilion. He always batted in a jumper and we just thought, "Oh, he's going to take his jumper off". He took his thigh pad off. He batted against Wasim Akram without a thigh pad, because he had really massive thighs and his gloves were catching and he didn't like it. He got hit all right. Just didn't flinch. If Wasim hit me, I wouldn't walk for a month.

I would have liked to have won more with England, but Melbourne was a good night and it was nice to have done something that you can be remembered for. But obviously I finished playing nine months after that, which was disappointing.

The reason why Clive [Lloyd] wanted me to play league cricket was pressure. I remember not getting any runs for the first three games. You've got the old men; they're sat there, waiting for you to walk by, and they say, "I thought they said this lad could bat." If someone's giving you, say, £200 a week and giving you board and lodgings, that's their money. These are working-class, hard-working people. So you put in. And quite often I'd bowl 20-odd overs from one end - which probably wasn't particularly good for me. When people say, "You retired at 29…"

Gough and Headley splash water at photographers at the team hotel after England's memorable win in the Melbourne Test in 1998

Gough and Headley splash water at photographers at the team hotel after England's memorable win in the Melbourne Test in 1998 William West / © PA Photos

I think club cricket's a really important part of things. I remember the very first bowling attack I faced in the Birmingham League was Allan Donald, Gordon Parsons and Tim Munton. Club cricket! Warwickshire 2nds used to put a full professional side in it and won it once in 11 years.

The one thing I regret is letting people control my batting. I used to bat at 8, 9, and because I had a good technique they'd say "Right, you stay there". Whereas, actually, I played my shots. And that is my one regret about my career. I should have averaged 25 to 30 in first-class cricket.

That always burnt through my career - being told I didn't have the heart to play cricket as a bowler. I'd grown six inches in two years, and my body wasn't right. Dave Roberts was the physio and he kept saying, "The kid doesn't want to get on the park. There's nothing wrong with him." I was certainly motivated by someone saying I didn't have the heart to bowl. Funnily enough, speak to any of the captains I played under and they'll say, "Throw him the ball at half-past five and, whether he's having a shit day or not, he'll run in for you."

We said when [Allan] Donald comes in, we don't care if he gets 15, 20, we're going to try and take him out of the series. So Stewie or Bumble said, "When he comes in, Deano, you'll be on." Donald comes in, I hit him three times in an over. People didn't really bomb White Lightning, for obvious reasons. Cork was meant to do the same thing. Didn't do it. He pitched the ball up, got him out bowled. I was made to look like the right villain. I walked off the field - there's half an hour to go in the day - and people are like, "Yeah, Dean! We got hold of him, you British bulldog!" Then one of the batsmen asked if he could have a nightwatchman. Atherton just turned and giggled: "You realise they're going to try and kill you?" And that's exactly what Donald did for 20 minutes. He had steam coming out of his ears. He wrote about it in his book. He thought it had something to do with a game four years previous, where he hit me, but actually I was just doing what I got told to do.

Nasser stood at mid-off for me quite a lot, especially if things weren't going right. He was a good, calming influence on me.

The disappointment for me about the abandoned game in Kingston was that I would have had the chance to run in in front of my granddad's stand. It would have been Headley coming in from the Headley End, which would have been nice.

Scott Oliver tweets here