1982 April 4, 2015

The earring that upset the MCC

When the selection of Derek Pringle ruffled feathers

India's Sunil Gavaskar takes a smart catch to dismiss England debutant Derek Pringle for 7 © PA Photos

Selectors have a thankless job, slammed when their picks go wrong or when they leave certain players out but given little credit when they get it right. Few choices of their choices have upset the English establishment as much as when they called up 23-year-old Derek Pringle, a Cambridge undergraduate, to face India in the summer of 1982.

A 6'4"allrounder, Pringle had played for Essex in between his university commitments for four seasons. In that time his county record was very ordinary - in 20 first-class games he had scored 319 runs at 14 and taken 21 wickets at 44 - but for Cambridge he enjoyed far more success. At the university's home, Fenners, which was by his own admission "a really good pitch to bat on and a bit difficult for the bowlers to get pace or bounce off it", he found life much more agreeable and his form at the start of the season was outstanding. By the end of April he had scored 361 first-class runs at 90.25, more than any other batsman had ever managed by the end of that month (increasingly early starts to seasons were still a few years off).

He was also a useful seamer, and inevitable comparisons with Ian Botham, at the time in his pomp, filled the newspapers, even if he was unknown enough at the start of the summer for his hundred against Glamorgan to be credited to "Brian Pringle"

But some felt as Cambridge captain his priority should have been his university, while others were more disturbed by his appearance; Pringle not only wore a leather jacket but also sported at ear-ring, at the time a sign of rebelliousness not associated with cricket or Oxbridge.

There was another problem. Pringle's call-up came in part because several players had been banned because of their part in the rebel tour to South Africa earlier in the year. But Kenyan-born Pringle had also been playing in South Africa the previous winter as part of a university side called the Jazz Hats.

He was drafted into the MCC side for the game against the Indians a fortnight before the first Test and although he did not bat he took four wickets. His ear-ring - he had his ear pieced at the start of the summer - grabbed a few headlines and some disapproving stares from the MCC members. Asked why he wore one ear-ring he replied: "Because I'd look silly with two."

He did enough to warrant selection for the Prudential Trophy - the one-day series which used to precede all Test series - but was not considered as he was sitting his degree. But when the squad for the first Test at Lord's was announced, Pringle was included.

"Yes, he's a surprise," Peter May, the chairman of selectors, said. "But we just felt he is such an outstanding cricketer that the sooner we got him involved the better. He's a good, strong batsman and a fine fielder. There are not many of his type around." Coincidently, May had been the last undergraduate selected for England back in 1951.

The first question Pringle was asked when the side was whether he was up there with Botham. "It's flattering , but I know I am nowhere near his standard. He's got to be one of the greatest allrounders the game has produced and his record proves it. I am still very much a learner."

I remember Pringle being told to take his earring out in a Test because the chairman of selectors said it would affect his balance at the crease
Former England opener Graeme Fowler

He was the 13th - and last - university cricketer to be picked for England while still a student since the turn of the century. It also helped him decide on cricket as a career. "I wasn't absolutely 100% sure at that stage if I wanted to play cricket for a living," he told Cricinfo last year. "It was pretty poorly paid back in those days. I then made my mind up. I just went with it. Ride the tiger when you are on board."

Although he only made 7 with the bat - unluckily given out caught off the pad - as England scored 433, he made an immediate impact when he came on as first change when India batted, taking two wickets in his first three overs. "Yashpal Sharma and Ashok Malhotra were, completely exposed to deliveries that moved sharply off the seam to trap them lbw as India lost five wickets for 28," noted the Daily Express. After a spell of 9-1-16-2 he was rested and was not needed again as Botham (5-46) and Bob Willis (3-41) skittled the Indians for 128. He took 2 for 58 as India followed-on and eventually lost by seven wickets.

His selection for the second Test a week later was not unexpected but caused mutterings among some of the old guard who insisted his priority should have been leading Cambridge in the Varsity match, which clashed with the Test. Peter Roebuck, himself a former Cambridge captain, described this as a "nonsense". There was precedent. In 1971 Majid Khan played the first two Tests of the summer for Pakistan but missed the third, opting to lead Cambridge in the Varsity match. He explained he felt he had to honour the duties he had accepted when he took on the captaincy.

Pringle played once more for his university, against Leicestershire in a rain-affected draw between the first and second Tests. In the gap he also led Combined Universities in a two-day non first-class match against the Indians at Fenners. As he walked out to bat on the second day an elderly Cambridge spectator was heard to mutter "deserter".

What happened next

  • Pringle was dropped after the fourth Test of the summer. In those four matches he had scored 58 runs at 11.60 and taken seven wickets at 40.14. He went on to play 30 Tests and 40 ODIs for England. Half his 10 first-class hundreds came while he was at Cambridge.
  • Only four Cambridge players since the war played for England before graduating - John Warr, Hubert Doggart, May and Pringle. Cuan McCarthy and Deryck Murray played for South Africa and West Indies respectively before completing their university education
  • In Pringle's absence Cambridge were led by Peter Mills to a seven-wicket win in the Varsity match

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