1991 March 15, 2008

More sinned against than sinner

When Phil Tufnell was for once on the receiving end

Tufnell can't hide his dismay after another appeal is turned down in the Sydney Test © Getty Images

Phil Tufnell had a - deserved - reputation as one of the game's bad boys, a gifted left-armer who seemingly found it impossible not to rub those in authority up the wrong way. In fact, it was a sign of how good he was that he played as much international cricket as he did, in the face of his unerring knack of doing or saying the wrong thing.

Tufnell made no attempt to reform his ways. "If I don't eat muesli for breakfast, and choose my own time to go to the toilet every day rather than at 9.30 as it says on the instruction sheet, it doesn't mean I'm not trying my best," he once said. "But if people want to take that as being different, or against the system, that's up to them."

His first major overseas tour, to Australia in 1990-91, was a disaster. England, under the regimental leadership of Graham Gooch, were a far from happy bunch and Tufnell blotted his copybook early on when he returned to the team hotel at 8.30am after a night spent with four girls - and walked straight into the England captain and management. A fine of £500 resulted. A couple of weeks later he was again fined after a disagreement about the value of him being made to bat in the nets.

Despite this, Tufnell's debut came in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. England, already one down after a ten-wicket drubbing in Brisbane, were again thrashed, this time by eight wickets. Tufnell went wicketless, his figures 21-5-62-0 and 24-12-36-0. However, he still managed to make the headlines.

As Australia pressed towards victory on the last afternoon, Tufnell walked past the umpire, Peter McConnell, and asked how many deliveries were left. The response was not as expected: "Count 'em yourself you Pommie ****."

Tufnell, rarely, was rendered almost speechless. "Sorry?" he spluttered. "You what?" McConnell stared straight ahead and said nothing. "Look mate," Tufnell said. "All I did was ask you how many balls there were to go in the over ... I'm not having that."

The exchange had not escaped the attention of Gooch who marched over. "Excuse me, umpire," he said. Tufnell, in his autobiography What Now?, admitted he thought he was again in trouble. "Here it comes ... bye-bye Melbourne. Bye-bye Australia. Bye-bye Test career."

"I heard what you said," Gooch told McConnell. "You can't talk to my players like that." Tufnell was even more flabbergasted by his captain's comments than he had been by McConnell's initial foul-mouthed response. "You could have tied my tits together with candyfloss," he said. "Bugger me if the old sod wasn't standing up for me." McConnell did not apologise but he was clearly shaken by Gooch's intervention.

Tufnell ponders the unfairness of life during the 1990-91 tour © Getty Images

It was McConnell, however, who had the last laugh. A few overs later, David Boon stepped back to cut Tufnell and got a thick nick into Jack Russell's gloves. "I ran down the wicket screaming and carrying on like a lunatic," Tufnell said. "Whatever else happened in my life, I would not be going to my grave without a Test wicket."

Boon, as was his right, stood unmoved. McConnell looked Tufnell straight in the eye and said: "Not out". "You f****** bastard," was Tufnell's response. "Now," McConnell replied, you can't talk to me like that." Boon finished unbeaten on 94, and while the wicket would not have altered the outcome of the game, it delayed Tufnell getting his first Test scalp by a week.

McConnell stood at the SCG in the third Test, and again England felt hard done by with some of his decisions, leading to Eddie Hemmings and Alec Stewart being fined for dissent. As Tufnell toiled away without reward "the smirk on McConnell's face grew wider and wider". In the end the first wicket came when Greg Matthews spooned a simple catch to Hemmings at mid-off, prompting Tufnell to turn to Tony Crafter, the other umpire, and yell "I suppose that's not f****** out either".

In the second innings Tufnell took 5 for 61 but claimed that as many as five more bat-pads were turned down. He finished the series at the bottom of the batting chart (13 runs at 6.50), and didn't do much better with the bowling (nine wickets at 38.33), England lost the series 3-0, and McConnell did not stand again that summer.

While Tufnell continued to whirl away and wind up for more than a decade before being lured away by the prospects of a TV career, McConnell lasted only one more year. His last Test, when Australia played India at Adelaide in January 1992, was, Wisden reported, "marred by controversy over lbw decisions - eight times Indians were given out, while all but two of their own appeals were rejected". By the start of the 1992-93 season he was out of the game.

What Now? by Phil Tufnell (Collins Willow, 1999)

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? Email us with your comments and suggestions.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo