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The Cat recalls his many lives

The Cat recalls his many lives

PHUKET: Cricket legend Phil Tufnell was the image of an Englishman when he turned out at The Village Coconut Island last Friday night – he was sporting a sunburn the colour of a cricket ball, not that it appeared to dull his usual geezerish personality.

Friday 13 January 2012, 02:14PM

Phil Tufnell demonstrates his questionable batting prowess.

Phil Tufnell demonstrates his questionable batting prowess.

‘Tuffers’ was in Phuket on a two week vacation, and while he had obviously spent a little too much time “chilling and relaxing” in the sun, he took a night out to entertain a group of fans at The Village, recounting some of his memories from his career as an English spin bowler.

An disproportionate amount of those memories seemed to involve him being hit out of the ground.
“The first time I bowled to Sachin Tendulkar he came up and thanked me afterward. He scored 195.”

And the ‘Little Master’ wasn’t the only batsman to get the better of Tufnell, it seems. “I had the privilege of bowling to Brian Lara – for two days,” he said.

It was this apparent ease of scoring he provided which earned Tufnell one of his many nicknames; The Waugh brothers of Australia called him ‘Vindaloo’, “because every time I bowled to them I gave them the runs.”

His more popularised moniker, ‘The Cat’, is derived from his well-publicised off-field antics. “Out all night, sleep all day. Taking a piss in the next door neighbour’s yard. I’ve never been rogered by a ginger bloke called Tom though.”
‘The Cat’ was always one to walk on the wild side, making headlines both on and off the field. Though as he puts it, he never had much of a chance; “[Former English Test captain] Ian Botham – he was my role model, which wasn’t the best start. He used to have a rule that he would never come home on the same day he went out on.”

But despite his self-depreciative humour, Tufnell is still regarded as one of the best spin bowlers of his era, even if his Test bowling average of 37.68 is not reflective of the talent he possessed.

What ability he had with the ball must have come at the expense of his batting though, because Tufnell averaged just 5.1 in Test cricket, making him a strong claim for the worst international player ever to wield the willow. He was a born number 11, though if you ask him, “I batted at number 11 because I didn’t like walking off alone.”

Despite most bowlers giving him a fairly difficult time when he was at the crease, if there was one man he feared most, it was West Indian paceman Curtly Ambrose.

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“Curtly is a scary man on and off the field. I’ve seen him in the shower. When he gets out, there’s just footprints and a line on the floor.”

But since his success – and a few failures – on the field, Tufnell has moved on to a successful career in television, a transition he has made with apparent ease.
For him, the change of pace from the rigors of Test cricket is a welcome one.

“You just turn up really, and have a good time. It’s great... the only way they could improve that for me is if they hold it in a pub.”

The Cat didn’t get the chance to check out Phuket’s new dedicated cricket oval, the Alan Cooke Ground, but expressed some surprise that such an established league exists on the island.

“It never ceases to amaze me where you can find cricket being played,” he said, though ruled out any chance of making a cameo appearance in the Island Furniture League.

As to whether the game has a bright future in Asia, “Who knows? Australia is not far away. India is not far
away. It’s got a lot more to give than just the game.”

So what was next for this cat who has lived more than his fair share of lives? “I’m gonna finish this beer, then who knows?”

The evening at The Village also saw two framed autographed bats go under the hammer, raising B53,000 for the Phuket Has Been Good To Us Foundation.
–Dane Halpin

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