August 27, 2014

'I probably undersold myself as a batsman'

The former England allrounder reflects on his unfulfilled international career, the pain of the 1992 World Cup final, cricket journalism, and his eclectic taste in music

Subash Jayaraman: In your career, was there a constant comparison to Ian Botham and playing under Botham's shadow?

Derek Pringle: 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 ear pierced and got it studded. It caught the attention a little bit. Of course, being an allrounder, 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 a far better batsman than I was, and a better bowler too.

SJ: Matthew Engel called you the "most fluent undergraduate strokemaker"...

DP: The most fluent? Well, at Fenner's [Cambridge], where we played all of our home games, it was a really good pitch to bat on and a bit difficult for the bowlers to get pace or bounce off it. It rarely turned. It was a 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: 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. I then made my mind up and played in Cambridge and had been with the Essex club and played for them in the previous few years, but not regularly, because I was still at 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: Looking back, in terms of your whole career, how would you describe it?

DP: 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 earlier in my career, and then I probably might have had a few more Test wickets. Beyond that, the career with Essex was very fulfilling, a great county with a great bunch of guys with talent who enjoyed the game and won a lot of Championships and trophies.

Pringle is among many former England Test cricketers who have taken to journalism © Getty Images

SJ: Would you say that the England ODI side in 1992 was the best side England ever put out 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. The team that got to the finals in 1987 in India was a very good team. People point to the fact that the team that played in the final [in 1992], every player had a first-class century. We batted quite deep and also had people who 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 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 but the rain saved them. What were England's thoughts going into the final against Pakistan?

DP: I think we fancied our chances because we had them out cheaply earlier in the tournament. In a one-off final it only takes a couple of blokes to spark a really great day. Imran had been dropped by Gooch for 20-odd, and that got Pakistan back after a cold start.

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

DP: Well, until recently I only thought it was just the once. But 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 [during the India Test in 2014] when they were showing it at lunch time.

SJ: Javed and Imran put together a good partnership and set England a target of 250. What was 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, I'm not sure. On the field, the guys were thinking they wouldn't even get 200. When they went over 200, I felt we needed to bat really well to win. 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 reverse-swinging it 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 fifty or so. Once he was out, I thought that was probably it.

SJ: You had figures of 3 for 22 in ten overs. Disappointed with how the result turned out?

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

"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"

SJ: That was the last time England were in the World Cup final. Of course, they have won the World T20, but why have England not been able to produce a competitive team for 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 form at the right time. They never really seem to get going. In 1999, they were knocked out before the knockout [in the Super Sixes] stage. 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 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 ECB 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: The 1986 home series against India that you featured in was one of just three Test series wins by India in England. They won 2-0. What was going wrong with the England team at that time?

DP: You 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. 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've been bombed all winter. It is time to go and get some runs."

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. 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 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!

"Gooch 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" © PA Photos

SJ: An Essex fan, David Oram, points to the time you captained England on the last day of the Test against 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. 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. But that was the summer where we had four different captains, if you include me too for those two sessions. It was a bit of a turmoil. Paul Downton 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. He looks like a tough taskmaster. You come in as a young man, with the earring 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. The private man can be very different from the public one. I think that was what 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: You were something that the English cricket establishment was not used to. Was there any friction there?

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 a earring 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 wouldn'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 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 Johannesburg 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: You are a huge music buff and a collector of vinyls. What sort of music are you into these days? Has your music taste changed over time?

DP: Yes and no. It has probably broadened a little bit over time. I try and find vinyl 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 suits me, I like it. At the moment there is an American band called the Felice 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.

SJ: Are you a Beatles 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: You wrote a piece in the Wisden Almanack titled "Don't marry a cricketer." Being a journalist on tours, you must have witnessed a lot of similar stories with journalists as well. Will you be writing a piece that says, "Don't marry a cricket journalist"?

DP: Yes, because the game and 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 a person you can be with your spouse being away. I enjoyed writing it and it got a very good response.

SJ: Which part 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 then, 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 and then gone. On to the next day's report. You can't linger on that for long. If you have won something big, like a World Cup, you can sit back and enjoy the satisfaction of having done the job. For a bit longer anyway.