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The Definitive: Phil Tufnell

Phil Tufnell
Ed Kemp by Ed Kemp 15 minute read

The roguish left-arm spinner-turned TMS man talks to Ed Kemp about the defining moments of his career.

BECOMING A TWIRLER
Middlesex Colts | 1977

Jack Robertson, who played for Middlesex and England, was the coach, and showed me when I was very young, about 11, how to spin the ball. He said: ‘Phil, you’re a good quick bowler but there are lots of quick bowlers. There aren’t too many left-arm spinners out there. Hold the ball like this and then pretend you’re turning a door handle, so I did it and it spun and I went: ‘Wow! That was quite good.’ That was my initial introduction into spin bowling, so that was a pretty defining moment. Lucky that first one turned or I might have given it up!

PUSHY DAD
Returning to cricket | 1983

I hadn’t been playing cricket since I went to work for my dad as a silversmith at about 16. One day he said: ‘Phil, I’ve had a word with them at Lord’s and they’re having a trial for the MCC Young Cricketers. I’ll give you a full day’s pay and you’ve only got to go down there for the morning. Go down there, give it your best shot.’ I hadn’t played for about three years but I went along and got in. Then, all of a sudden, you’re getting a wage, I was playing every day at Lord’s and got noticed by Middlesex and they asked me to join the Second XI. If I had never done that, I would still be a silversmith.

NO LONGER ‘SCRUFNELL’
Picked for England Tour | Middlesex v Essex, July 26-28, 1989, Uxbridge

When I was 21/22 I had big long hair. They used to call me ‘Scruffnell’. Gatt [Mike Gatting] and John Emburey were saying: ‘Look, if you get your hair cut you’ve half a chance of playing for England’. I went: ‘F*** off!’ They said ‘They’re looking at you and you might be going on tour. Get your haircut, sort yourself out. Smarten yourself up a little bit. Then you might have a chance.’ They took me down to the barbers in Uxbridge and I had to get a short back and sides, but it worked because I got picked to go on tour!

THE ENGLAND DEBUT
0*,0-62,0*,0-36 | Australia v England, Second Test, December 26-30, 1990, Melbourne

I got nought-fer, nought-fer, nought not out and nought not out. That’s called an Audi! Wow, talk about being thrown in at the deep end. I’d played in front of one man and his dog in county cricket, then, all of a sudden, to make your debut at the MCG was mind-blowing. A hundred thousand people there, England versus Australia, the Ashes. I just decided that I’ve got to have a go at this, it doesn’t get any better than this. Graham Gooch threw me this ball, it looked like a f***ing Rottweiler had had it for about three months, no stitching on it, the seam had all split and it was like an orange. On the third ball, [Dean] Jones has come running down the wicket and hit me right on the point of the ankle and that sort of woke me up. I bowled pretty well even though I didn’t get anyone out. On a flat pitch I held them down, created some chances but we got beat. That’s also where I asked Peter McConnell [the Australian umpire] how many balls to come and he said: ‘Count ‘em yourself you Pommie bastard’. I said ‘You can’t say that!’ But then the crowd and the media are saying ‘Oh, tantrum Tufnell having a go at the umpire’, when really it was the other way around. It kind of stuck from then.

"Count 'em yourself you Pommie bastard"

“Count ’em yourself you Pommie bastard”

SYDNEY REDEMPTION
5-61 Australia v England, Third Test, January 4-8, 1991, Sydney

It was a great day for me personally. I felt like I’d sort of arrived and proved my worth. I had David Boon caught cutting by Jack Russell, massive nick, away from the body so it couldn’t have been anything else. I turned around and appealed at McConnell and he just smiled and said: ‘Not out’, and he f***ing knew. We almost won the game but McConnell and [Tony] Crafter were the umpires and the Aussies had Carl Rackemann blocking out. We must have had them out about 20 times lbw and they just went: ‘Not out, not out’. Thank god for neutral umpires now. I got two in two that innings. David Gower dropped Steve Waugh for my hat-trick; it would have been a great hat-trick. It wasn’t nine, 10, 11, it was Border, Jones and Waugh. I suppose in the back of my mind this was always what I was trying to achieve – without having pictures of Ian Botham on my wall – but this was when it sunk in that this is where I wanted to be.

THE PRIZE WICKET
6-25 England v West Indies, Fifth Test, August 8-12, 1991, The Oval

I got Viv [Richards] out at The Oval. Even though it was his last Test match, that was someone I’d looked up to all my life. Seeing him play in that West Indies side, which was an amazing side to watch, was one of the reasons I played cricket. Richards, Haynes, Greenidge, Holding, Roberts. I was always watching them on telly as a kid, but to actually go out and play against him and get him out was a big wicket. My best wicket: getting the master blaster out.

ONE MAD SESSION
7-47 New Zealand v England, First Test, January 18-22, 1992, Christchurch

John Wright was on 99 just after tea, trying to save the game. They were three down and we needed seven wickets. Everyone’s just going: ‘Oh, it’s going to be a draw.’ He’s come down the wicket and, as I’ve let go of the ball he knew, and he went: ‘Oh no!’ He got stumped by Jack [Russell]. It was as if I was Malcolm Marshall, they went all jittery. Then, just towards the end, there was Martin Crowe and the No.11. If they’d hit four more runs, that meant that we’d have to bat again, which with only three minutes to go would have given them the draw. I bowled it, he hit it straight up in the air, got him caught at mid off and we’d won the game. That was an amazing feeling! They were all good players; it was just that one session, it was madness…

ASHES EUPHORIA
7-66 & 4-27 | England v Australia, Sixth Test, August 21-23, 1997, The Oval

Another low scoring game, which you find sometimes are the most exciting Test matches. It’s probably the best I’ve ever bowled. About three times you get in the zone in your career, and that day I could have run up with my trousers around my ankles and my tongue hanging out and it still would have come out beautifully. Mark Waugh was one of the best players of spin I’ve played against, but I got him out twice. He used to say that I bowled over the wicket just until they made a mistake, so we had a little niggle there. The thing that I remember about that was that the crowd was mental. I mean, Oval crowds are great but when you’re in that tight a game, the noise is immense. They were going mad, such an exciting game of cricket. I got the last wicket of McGrath, caught by Graham Thorpe, with them needing about 10, and the place went mental. All the players went mental, Adam Hollioake ripped my shirt off! Everyone came piling onto the pitch and we were legging it up the steps. It was great to beat the Aussies.

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