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Last Updated: Friday, 11 April, 2003, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Tufnell: Hero or villain?
By Tom Fordyce

A bleary-eyed Phil Tufnell
Nights out and net practice: a tough combo to pull off
Ah, sigh the old hands wistfully - Phil Tufnell, what a character. Cricket is poorer for his retirement.

Or is it? How much does a professional game need a man who puts an appearance on "I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here!" ahead of a season with his newly-promoted county?

The Tufnell of popular myth is cricket's own Stan Bowles or Rodney Marsh, a talent too hot for the authorities to contain, mistrusted, misused and missing training with calamitous hangovers.

In an era when England's cricket team was so dull that taking a ride in a biplane could signal the end of your Test career, Tufnell stood head and shoulders above the rest - or at least he would have done if he wasn't asleep in the dressing-room.

In the eyes of the public, desperate for a human face in a team that sometimes seemed to place more importance on shaving than skill, a smoking spinner with bleary eyes and a taste for champagne was easy to love.

When the alternative was Richard Illingworth - terrible 'tache, attritional action, woefully wicketless - it was never a contest.

CAREER OF THE CAT
Tests: 42
Wickets: 121 at 37.68
Best bowling: 7-47 v NZ, 1992
ODIs: 20
Wickets: 19 at 36.78
Did you know? In 408 first-class knocks, Tufnell made just one fifty

Which is a shame, for Tufnell's public image obscures the real debate about his true merits.

One version of the story has Tufnell rendered impotent by fickle selectors who chose to put seam before spin.

He played just 11 times for the national side on English soil, yet won Tests for England at The Oval on two occasions - against the West Indies in 1991, and famously against Australia in 1997, when his 11 wickets in the match left many wondering why his call-up had come so late.

Then there is the other side. This is a man whose 121 Test wickets cost 37.68 runs apiece, a man who was known to deliberately bowl leg-side long-hops when not given the field setting he asked for, a man who returned figures of 1-174 against the Aussies at The Oval two years ago.

Was Tufnell a good enough cricketer to be worthy of automatic inclusion in every England squad?

As a bowler he could change games. But just as often - particularly when on tour - the mood would be wrong, the head would go down and his threat neutered by no-one but himself. An inability to bat or field as a modern-day tail-ender should have been addressed at a much younger age.

The I'm A Survivor contestants
Tuffers meets his new celebrity pals

Then there is the character. We could all smile when he was fined 500 for kicking his cap and swearing while on tour in India.

And there is a chuckle to be had when, as a journalist, you go round to someone's house at 11am for a pre-arranged interview only to find your host has not been to bed, and is so "tired and emotional" that he insists on conducting conversation sitting on garden furniture in his garage rather than letting you see the state of his house.

But there is nothing charmingly roguish about assaulting your girlfriend (1,000 fine, 1994) or wrecking your hotel room, even if you do check yourself into the psychiatric wing of a Perth hospital afterwards.

Tufnell was cleared by the England management of accusations that he smoked cannabis in a Christchurch restaurant. But he also received a suspended ban for failing to provide a specimen for a random drug test sample after that Oval triumph in 1997.

Should a sportsman who aspires to the international stage really spend the night before the first Test of a series in the West Indies getting smashed in a Kingston club?

HAVE YOUR SAY

There is letting off steam, there is being yourself, and then there is letting your team-mates down - not to mention the supporters back home.

For sure, it's great to have some boozy tales to tell in your autobiography. It's even better to make the most of your talents, rather than squander them for the sake of another night on the sauce.

Playing for Rest of the World XI against Asian XI in a one-day match in Dhaka, Tufnell managed to put down both Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly off his own bowling before getting them both out.

It was one of the few occasions when he recovered from a self-inflicted blow to come out on top.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Middlesex coach John Emburey
"Good luck to Tuffers"


MIDDLESEX

SEE ALSO
Will English cricket miss Tuffers?
11 Apr 03  |  Have Your Say
Fraser leads Cat tributes
11 Apr 03  |  Middlesex
Tufnell announces retirement
10 Apr 03  |  Middlesex

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