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The Craig White story: Ditching off-spin, the comeback and bowling Lara

Craig White
Ed Kemp by Ed Kemp 6 minute read

Craig White, the Yorkshire-born, Australia-raised and re-adopted Englishman, revisited his fascinating all-round career in a chat with Ed Kemp.

First published in 2017

The ‘homecoming’

70-odd & 2-fer | Yorkshire Probables v Possibles | Headingley, 1990

The reason I got to Yorkshire was because Jack Potter at the Australian Cricket Academy knew Bob Appleyard who was on the Yorkshire committee, and wrote to Bob saying we’ve got this Yorkshire-born Australian – and at the time you had to be born in Yorkshire to play for Yorkshire. So they flew me over to have a look at me and I was going to join the academy and play second-team cricket. We had a trial match and I did quite well – got a quick 70 and took a couple of wickets bowling off-spin – and got straight in the first team, and that was it! At the time there was only me and Fred Trueman to ever debut for Yorkshire first team before playing second-team cricket.

From spin to speed

Yorkshire nets | 1993

I could always bat but one of the coaches at Yorkshire said I probably wouldn’t make it as an off-spinner, so I just started bowling seamers in the nets. Every now and then Martyn Moxon would throw me the ball in games when nothing was happening: ‘Just run in and bowl as fast as you can for three overs, see what happens’. And it sort of built up from there. All of a sudden my pace was getting better and I was knocking people over. I’d only been bowling seam for 18 months – if that – when I got an England call-up. Crazy really, looking back on it.

An early England call

1-38 & 19 | England v New Zealand, 1st Test, Trent Bridge | 1994

My first wicket was Martin Crowe, caught down the leg-side off the glove. Later I got fifty at Lord’s, which was my first major score. Then I just chipped away with one or two wickets here or there, bowling in short spells. You’re not going to turn down an England call-up, but I still believe, if I was given another year, 18 months, just to play county cricket and build up the tolerance in my bowling muscles, I reckon I would have played a lot more for England. But I was thrown in at the deep end and my body wasn’t strong enough, I kept breaking down, and I was sort of in and out through lack of form or injury – that’s how my career went until I had two or three good years towards the end.

The blackout

Scarborough | 2000

I’d been in and out of form and favour. It was a period where I thought quite a few times, ‘Is this for me?’ I looked at joining the fire service at one stage. But Scarborough was a massive turning point that made me into a different person. Before that [White mysteriously suffered chest pains before losing consciousness and collapsing in a side street, for which no medical reason was ever established] I was very harsh on myself, I was my own worst critic. After that incident, I had three weeks where I wasn’t allowed to do anything. I had all these tests and was thinking, ‘Shit, I might be on the way out here’. After I got the all-clear it gave me a different perspective on life, and I was a much free-er player after that. I just tried my best and if it wasn’t good enough I didn’t dwell on it, and I became more consistent. In some ways, I wish that had happened three or four years earlier!

The renaissance

16 | South Africa v England, ODI Tri-Series Final, Johannesburg | 2000

I had got back in the one-day team and I played an innings at The Wanderers on a spicy pitch against Donald and co when we were about 50-5 and we were just trying to eke out as many runs as possible while it was nipping around at good pace. I didn’t get many, but lined it up well and left it… and Duncan [Fletcher] after that called me into his room and said, ‘Look, from what I saw yesterday, I think you could play Test cricket, I think you could fit in our Test team’, and virtually said, ‘I’m backing you to play Test cricket’. So there I was, back in the team, and away we went. Nasser and Duncan were brilliant for me.

Silencing Lara

5-32 | England v West Indies, Fifth Test, The Oval | 2000

Before the series, we were in a nightclub somewhere in London with Goughie. Lara was there with Dwight Yorke and he said, ‘You’ll never get me out!’ and all this. And I got him out twice, so that was quite satisfying. First time was at Headingley, where he padded up, and next time was at the Oval, first ball.

I used to come round the wicket and I got this one to come back on him, he jumped right across to off stump to eliminate the away-swing from round the wicket. Duncan Fletcher had seen him the day before get bowled round his legs a couple of times. So I just thought, ‘Bollocks, I’m going to go for his leg stump’. It was a leg-stump half-volley that was meant to be a yorker and as soon as I let go of it I thought, ‘No, that’s not right’. But he was that far over that he missed it and it knocked his leg stump over.

The Test ton

121 | India v England, 2nd Test, Ahmedabad | 2001

My one Test hundred. It was in the subcontinent which is always difficult, Harbhajan and Kumble were bowling, it was tough conditions. Bob Willis was commentating, and it was typical, because he wasn’t a fan of mine – and, you know, vice versa – and when I got my hundred he said, ‘Craig White gets a hundred in Test cricket, I never thought I’d see the day’ – he just put a downer on it like that. I just thought that was not very nice. He’s got a job to do but he forgets that my family are watching. It was typical, anyone else could have been commentating, but bloody Bob Willis was commentating when I got my Test hundred! But it’s in the memory bank. It was all I’d wanted to do, to make a hundred and take five wickets in a Test match, and I did both.

The nervy finish

21* | Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Kandy | 2001

We’d had a great time in Pakistan, winning that Test match in the dark, and then went to Sri Lanka. At Kandy me and Ashley Giles had a partnership on the last morning, we only scored about 50 runs, but it took us two hours, maybe longer. I got 21 not out and that was one of the best knocks I played. Muralitharan was turning it a mile. We won the match and went on to win the series. That was special.

The last hurrah

16* & 1-21 | Australia v England, World Cup Group Match, Port Elizabeth | 2003

My last game for England. Bichel and Bevan knocked off the runs when we should have won it. I got 16 not out and took 1-21, and got my brother-in-law [Darren Lehmann, who married White’s sister] out again, which I remind him of! I had a rib issue during that World Cup and kept having to be injected before I went out and bowled. That was the end of me bowling. It took two years to settle down and then my knees had packed in. I was very lucky to play an extra few years as a specialist batter for Yorkshire after that.

First published in 2017

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