Transcript: Couch Talk with Derek Pringle

Couch Talk 132 (Play)

Guests: Derek Pringle, Former England All rounder

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former England cricketer and currenlty, The Telegraph’s cricket correspondent Derek Pringle. He talks about the early comparisons to Ian Botham as an allrounder, the 1992 cricket world cup and the final versus Pakistan, the 1986 Test series against India, amongst other things.  Thanks for being on the show, Derek!

Derek Pringle (DP)– Yes. Good to be here.

SJ– In England any player who shows promise with both bat and ball is immediately called the next (Ian) Botham. Recently we have had Ben Stokes and before him Freddie Flintoff. In your career, was there a constant comparison to Botham and playing under Botham’s shadow? What were the expectations from you?

DP– I guess I caught their imagination because I was picked to play for England when I was in university. Also, the fact that just a few months before, at the start of the summer I had my ears pierced and got it studded. It caught the attention a little bit. Of course, being an all rounder, it was inevitable that Ian Botham comparisons were made. I tried to play them down and at every opportunity I have said that Ian was far better batsman than I was, and a better bowler too.

SJ– But, Matthew Engel calls you the “most fluent undergraduate stroke maker”…

DP– The most fluent? Well, Fenner’s where we played all of our home games, it was a really good pitch to bat on an a bit difficult for the bowlers to get pace or bounce off it, it rarely turned at all. It was good place to bat straight. I batted at no. 4 or 5 and had the opportunity to do so. I enjoyed batting. Once I came into the professional game, possibly my bowling was a much stronger suit.

SJ– As you said, you were pulled out of the university team…what did you expect of yourself when you started playing for England?

DP– It all came pretty quickly. I thought I wasn’t absolutely 100% sure at that stage if I wanted to play cricket for a living. It was pretty poorly paid back in those days, so I wasn’t 100% sure. I then kind of made my mind up and played in Cambridge and had been on the Essex club and played for them in the previous few years, but not regularly because I was still in the university. It came as a little bit of surprise to me. I just went with it. Ride the tiger when you are on board.

SJ– Certainly. Looking back on it, in terms of your whole career, how would you describe it?

DP– Probably in a way Matthew may be right, I probably undersold myself as a batsman, didn’t quite live up to the talent I probably had, but that is what I thought. There is only one person you can blame for that. Bowling wise, I just wish I had known the secrets of swing bowling a little bit earlier in my career and then I probably might have had a few more Test wickets.  Beyond that, very fulfilling was the career with Essex, a great county with a great bunch of guys with talent who enjoyed the game and won a lot of Championships and trophies.

SJ– OK. I announced online that you were going to be on the show and many sent in questions about your time with England and Essex. But, more importantly about the World Cup in 1992. Would you say that the England ODI side in 1992, was the best side England had ever put on for a World Cup?

DP– A lot of people said that. It’s not my place to judge. There were some great players in the side when they went to the finals in 1979 and lost to the West Indies. That was a pretty good team, it was when they were playing 60 overs. The team also got to the finals in 1987 in India, that was a very good team. People point to the fact that of the team that played in the final [in 1992], every player had a first class 100. We batted quite deep and also people could bowl in ODIs. There was a lot of depth to the side, but we ran up against a very good Pakistani team in the final night and the game had just begun to drift a little bit. Up until we lost to New Zealand we were the best team in the tournament, and then we lost our way a little bit.

SJ– You had Pakistan down in the round robin stage and rain came and saved them. With that experience behind you what were England’s thoughts going in to the final against Pakistan?

DP– I think we fancied our chances because – you were right – we had them out cheaply earlier it the tournament. In a one off final it only takes a couple of blokes to spark a really great day. It happened, we were bowling and in the middle of our innings with Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis in succession to Botham. Imran had been dropped by Gooch for 20 odd,  and got Pakistan back after a cold start.

SJ– Plenty of people sent in this question, perhaps cheekily – whether Javed Minadad was out, and if so, how many times?

DP– Well, until recently I only thought it was just the once. But, then I saw that there was another LBW in the same over that was pretty close as well. With DRS, I reckon both were out. Wasim Akram certainly thought it was out because he saw it at Old Trafford when they were showing it at lunch time.

SJ– So, Javed and Imran put together a good partnership and set you a good target of 250. What is the thought in the England dressing room at that point?

DP– I felt we let them off the hook. After 30 overs, they were 70 for 2 or 80 for 2, not sure. On the field, the guys were thinking they won’t even get 200. When they went over 200, I felt we needed to bat really well to win this one. One player had to play a really good innings. It started really badly because Ian [Botham] went very cheaply, he got nought I think. After that it was a bit of a battle because Aaqib Javed was swinging the ball conventionally, Wasim was swinging it reverse later on. Mushtaq Ahmed was bowling really well and got a couple of wickets. I think he got Gooch out and then Graeme Hick. We needed someone to really play a blinder and Neil Fairbrother was our best batsman. He got a 50 or so, not sure how many exactly he got. Once he was out, I thought that was probably it.

SJ– In terms of your bowling, you had 3-22 in 10 overs. Considering, you must have thought you did all that you could as a team member, perhaps disappointed with how the result turned out to be?

DP– Absolutely, I was very disappointed, and there were a few tears. I didn’t cry personally, but there were a few tears there, some of the guys there it was definitely going to be the last World Cup. Graham had played in 3 finals but hadn’t won one. Not as pleased, but I was injured two games before. I didn’t play against Zimbabwe or in the semi-final vs South Africa because I had pulled the intercostal muscle. What I remember is how I got the injections to try and find the right spots, trying to get it better, try to get it better and fit for the finals. I thought it doesn’t matter to myself because the English season doesn’t start for 6 weeks and I would get over it before that. I thought I could push myself with medicine but bizzarely it seemed to ease on me a little bit before the finals. I said to Graham that as long as he didn’t bowl me too many different spells – I had only 2 spells – I could probably cope. It was one of those days. The ball swung. The white Kookaburra ball on most days swung and that suited me.

SJ– That was the last time England were in the ODI World Cup final, of course they have won the T20 World Cup. But, why isn’t that England has been able to produce a team that is quite competitive in the World Cup?

DP– It is a difficult one to answer because they play quite well in individual series but when you have a tournament like that you have to hit the form at the right time. They never really seem to get going. In 1999, they were knocked out before the knock out stages. The papers said at the time, they didn’t come to their own party when they played in England. The one before that, in India, that is when people, certainly Sri Lanka started to use the first 15 overs to really attack the bowling and England were a bit slow off the mark doing that. I think we were never really progressive in the way they looked to 50 over cricket. I also think that in the last 15 years the emphasis has been on Test cricket – The England & Wales cricket board might deny this – but it has. It is just changing now, and they are putting some focus into the next World Cup. I still think that we have some talented players but our chances are not as good as some of the other countries. I’d be surprised if England win it, but you never know, If you get on a roll, it is just a one off final. We looked the better team than Pakistan for much of that tournament in 1992 but we lost the final.

SJ– Since the India-England Test series just ended, I want to ask about the 1986 series that you featured in vs India here. It was one of just the three series that India has won away in England and they won 2-0 which is a surprising margin. What was going wrong with the England team at that time?

DP– Yu could also ask it the other way – what was going right for India at that time? We played on some pitches that were helpful to seam bowlers and you had a fantastic bowler in Kapil Dev and some pretty good back up bowlers in Madan Lal and Roger Binny. As I recall it – we awre talking about quite a long time ago, so my menory could be compromised, At Lord’s we didn’t really play that well, the ball did a bit, England were shell shocked after coming from the West Indies being blackwashed. I remember Graham Gooch said to Tim Robinson in the first innings at Lord’s, “Come on Robbo, we have been bombed all winter, it is time to go and get some runs.” Tim Robinson was probably out in the 3rd over. It didn’t work out too well for him.

But, for India (Dilip) Vengsarkar batted brilliantly – he got a couple of hundreds – put up enough runs on the board for the seam bowlers to defend. That is what happened. Headingley was a disastrous pitch. It was an unusual Test pitch because the ball was not only moving sideways but also moving up and down because there were big cracks in the pitch. It was a very difficult pitch to bat on. It was one of those things; it was raining at that time. it was cloudy at Headingley and the sun was doing nothing. The summer was cursed. Dilip Vengsarkar was batting when the sun was out. That is our excuse, anyway.

SJ– There is one question from listener David Oram who is a BIG Essex fan as well – he points to the time when you captained England on the last day of the Test vs West Indies because Gooch Was injured. He asks if you enjoyed the experience and whether you would have liked to captain England?

DP– I never sought captaincy at all. I was the vice-captain of Essex for a while, I led the side when Graham wasn’t around. He split his finger badly in that match and needed 12 stitches on his finger. He stayed off. We had a very outside chance of winning if the pitch turned, but it didn’t seem it had that much for the spinners. I think we didn’t have the pace and they needed just over 200 odd to win. I quite enjoyed it, but it would have been nice to take a few more wickets, if I had two or three down and been quite comfortable in the end. But that was the summer where we had 4 different captain if you include me too for those two sessions. It was a bit of a turmoil. Paul Dowton played in that series. I think that is why he is very keen on resisting calls for getting rid of Alastair Cook, because he remembers the chaos changing a captain in the middle of a series can bring.

SJ– Talking about Gooch – he always had the look of a grumpy school headmaster…

DP– What school did you go to, Subash? *laughs*

SJ– *laughs* He looks like a tough task master. You come in as a young man, with the ear-ring and stuff. How did you get along with him?

DP– I think there was a sort of code back then that you had to earn your stripes a little bit in the cricket team. Young players weren’t particularly welcome, but I guess I was quite lucky because I was taken under the wings of John Lever and a chap called Ray East, a left arm spinner. They were both interesting characters. Lever was a very fine bowler and I learnt a lot from him.

Graham was a different personality. He was much quieter, and shy in some ways. A fantastic player. But he was definitely an Essex player because he had a wicked sense of humour. People, in the public eye don’t really see that often, in the dressing room you do. The private man can very different from the public one. I think that was Gooch was like in that part of his career. He was untrusting when in public and he might say things in private. He had a bit of a front where he put on this impassive face, but he is a pretty funny guy when you get to know him.

SJ– As you said, when you first came in, you are something that the English cricket establishment was not used to. Was there any friction from that side?

DP– A little bit. I got the backing of the people that mattered – captain and the coach, and also the chairman of selectors. So, they picked me. If he didn’t know that I had an ear-ring then he must be short sighted because he saw me plenty of times.

SJ– You faced deportation during the tour to Zimbabwe in 2004 because you refused to sign an agreement that you won’t report on anything besides cricket. Could you elaborate on what went on down there?

DP– We just appeared on a list. Some writers were allowed in and others weren’t. It was pretty random as well because the guys from the Daily Mail were pretty critical and their editors were critical of the Mugabe regime, and they were allowed in. Some guys were allowed in and some were not. We just hung around in Jo’burg airport and the team, Michael Vaughan was the captain, said that if the press isn’t allowed in then we aren’t going in either. So, it was the team that forced the issue really, rather than anything my paper or I did.

SJ– I want to talk about your life beyond cricket. You have had eclectic taste and you are a huge music buff and a collector of Vinyls. So, what sort of music are you into these days? Has your music taste changed over time?

DP– Yes, and no. It was probably broadened a little bit over time. I try and find some vinyls in India actually. I quite like a couple of Indian groups from the ‘60s that is very hard to find.. I quite like some Hindi film tracks – Lata Mangeshkar, I like her. My ears are open. If it is good, I like it; if it suits me, I like it. At the moment there is an American band called the Feliz Brothers that I quite like. Lana del Rey, there are a couple of her songs that I like. But, I mainly look for the older stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The greatest period for music was between 1966 and 1973. I also like reggae from that period, that was pretty good too.

SJ– Are you a Beatles fan or Elvis fan?

DP– Both, really. I quite like some of Elvis stuff. I actually like the Beatles after Rubber Soul, the first great album that they produced, in my opinion. Abbey Road is a great album. Revolver is a great album too.

SJ– One last question, Derek. You have been a journalist after your cricket playing career for a long time now and you had written a piece in the Wisden Almanac that said “Don’t marry a cricketer.” Being a  journalist on tours, you must have witnessed a lot of similar stories with journalists as well. So, would you be writing a piece that says “Don’t marry a cricket journalist?”

DP– Well, yes, the long suffering of the wives of cricket players and journalists because the game takes a long time and the tours take a long time and it is very anti-social in that regard. It wasn’t my idea to write that piece, but Tim de Lisle who was the editor thought it might be good fun to do it. i spoke to a few people and got very different responses. Guys were away for even longer than they are now. It all depends on your outlook, what kind of person can you be with your spouse being away. I enjoyed writing it, and it got a very good response.

SJ– You have been a journalist for a long time. Which of your career has been more rewarding? Playing or writing about it?

DP– I think nothing can match playing if you are lucky enough to be in a good team and respect each other and win things like I did with Essex, my England team didn’t win often. We were a good ODI side that time, not a good Test side. We were unlucky to lose two World Cup finals in that time. I would say that playing probably pips it. You do get some satisfaction if you have a good scoop or you write a good piece. But, newspapers are there for a second but then gone. On to the next day’s report. You can’t linger at that for long. If you have won something big, like for a World Cup, you can sit back and enjoy the satisfaction of having done the job. For a bit longer anyway.

SJ– Alright!

On that note, thank you so much, Derek. Thanks for taking the time off to speak to me. Cheers!

DP– No problem! Cheers!


Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman