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‘I’ve had no regrets about choosing cricket’ – Phil DeFreitas

Phil DeFreitas
Jo Harman by Jo Harman 6 minute read

Former England all-rounder and county champion Phil DeFreitas recalled his special moments during a chat with Jo Harman.

Published in 2015

The decision

Choosing cricket | MCC Young Cricketers Trial, Lord’s, 1982

One of my captains at Sudbury Court wrote to MCC Young Cricketers off his own bat and I knew nothing of it until he told me I was going for a trial. I wasn’t thinking of becoming a professional cricketer – I thought I’d just play cricket wherever, whenever. It was the same with football. The coach who took John Barnes to Watford took me on trial to Luton Town FC; I played a couple of games and was then offered a contract. When I was told they’d like me to join the MCC groundstaff I knew I had a decision to make and I’ve had no regrets about choosing cricket.

The debut

3-3 & 3-81 | Leicestershire v Oxford University, University Match, Oxford, 1985

My first-team debut never really worried me, I never really thought too much about it. My coach at Leicestershire, Ken Higgs, kept it as simple as possible. He said just try and enjoy it and do the best you can – you might be able to earn a place in the side. I never really thought about swinging the ball away or nipping the ball back, all I focused on was hitting an area as consistently as I could. That’s all I was taught. My game was very clear and simple.

The eureka moment

3-87 & 6-21, 106 & 16 | Leicestershire v Kent, County Championship, Canterbury, 1986

This was a fantastic game of cricket and it really made me realise the ability I had. I managed to take some wickets and it was my first first-class hundred, batting at No.9 against a Kent attack that included Derek Underwood, Terry Alderman, Graham Dilley and Richard Ellison. It went all the way to the last over on the final day and we narrowly lost it. I was so disappointed that we lost that it was only when we were going home that it sunk in that I’d done pretty well. From then on I decided just to back myself and go for it.

The perfect start

40, 2-32 & 3-62 | England v Australia, First Test, Brisbane, 1986

I was going on my first Ashes tour as a 20-year-old with some of my heroes, and in particular one IT Botham. Suddenly I’m sharing a room with him! Best moment of my life. In the lead-up I remember Graham Dilley and Micky Stewart telling me not to feel as though I was making up the numbers. I managed to force my way in for the first Test and walking out for the first time to bat with Ian Botham was like a dream. I had a great partnership with Ian, watched him get his hundred and then we went on to win the match. As a debut, I couldn’t have asked for more.

The Lord’s special

28, 2-30 | Lancashire v Worcestershire, Benson & Hedges Cup Final, Lord’s, 1990

We did the one-day double that year, beating Northamptonshire in the NatWest Trophy final when I took out the top order [5-26]. But that victory was a bit of anti-climax, really. It was won in the first hour. The B&H win over Worcester is the one that stands out – we were challenging with them all the time and it was my first win in a Lord’s final. Hick and Botham were Worcestershire’s dangermen and Wasim got rid of Hick and I eventually got Botham.

The ultimate Test

4-34 & 4-59 | England v West Indies, First Test, Headingley, 1991

A few years after the 1991 series I remember reading an article written by this Henderson guy [Robert Henderson in the Wisden Cricket Monthly, June 1995] about “interlopers”, saying that guys who were born in the Caribbean wouldn’t give their all for England when they played the West Indies. It really offended me because it was always the other way round and my performances in the 1991 series showed that. The West Indies were the best side in the world and I was desperate to do well against them – if you do well against those guys you gain respect. I took some wickets in the first Test and ended up playing the whole series and doing really well [22 wickets at 20.77].

Phil DeFreitas has Jeff Dujon leg-before at Headingley, 1991

The World Cup semi

1-28 | England v South Africa, World Cup Semi-Final, Sydney, 1992

It was a pretty even game, South Africa needed something like one-a-ball to win it in the final few overs when the rain came down. We were waiting in the changing room when we heard that the rain rule calculated they’d need 22 off one delivery when we went back out! We started celebrating but were told we had to be quiet and not show any emotions – we still had to finish the game. When we got back to the changing room and the doors were shut we went absolutely mental. That was a special moment and I bowled one of the best balls I’ve ever bowled in my career to get Peter Kirsten.

The Test Best

4-94 & 5-71, 51* | England v New Zealand, First Test, Nottingham, 1994

This was a good Test match for me but Goochie pipped me to the Man of the Match award. It’s a batsman’s world! It was all about confidence, really. I gained that confidence from feeling that the selectors believed in me and that the management at that time rated me. Other times when I was dropped I just didn’t feel like I had the support there, like I was always on trial. This was a good series for me [DeFreitas finished as leading wicket-taker with a haul of 21].

The Adelaide assault

21 & 88 | England v Australia, Fourth Test, Adelaide, 1995

We were on the back foot when I went into bat with John Crawley towards the end of day four. I was very watchful and we managed to get through that evening. The next morning I read a couple of quotes from our coach Keith Fletcher saying that we’d do really well to get a draw out of this. I thought that was a bit negative. I decided to play my natural game and that was always to be very positive. Craig McDermott took the second new ball and I decided to go after him. If it was in my arc, it was going. I was disappointed not to go on to make my hundred but it was about the team position. The guys bowled really well and we ended up winning the match. It was a special Test and a great day for me.

 The season to savour

64 wickets at 26.35 | Derbyshire, County Championship season, 1996

This was my best year of county cricket. Dean Jones came over as captain and we should have won the Championship but finished second to Leicestershire. We played some fantastic cricket and the culture changed completely. Everyone bought into it. Don’t get me wrong, Dean was hard work – he was a very hard man and stubborn at times – but he made me vice-captain and once he got into it he started to listen to people. I didn’t want the season to end. It was actually quite sad when everyone went away for the winter.

Published in 2015

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