Phil Tufnell’s Ultimate Ashes Cricketers

April 8, 2014, Article by Ben Willis in Books, Sport

In this exclusive extract from Phil Tufnell’s new book, TUFFERS’ ALTERNATIVE GUIDE TO THE ASHES, Tuffers imagines the ultimate Aussie and England player…

On my journey back through the history of the Ashes, I’ve encountered many great personalities who have represented England or Australia with distinction. It’s been a delight to learn more about some fascinating characters from the past who’ve brought their own flavour to the biggest fixture in world cricket. What has become obvious is that there’s no single way to win the Ashes, a team needs a combination of many qualities to succeed. So what if you were to combine the qualities (and quirks) of the legendary English and Australian players of the past into two ultimate players to represent each side? What would they look like? What special skills would they possess? How many tinnies could they drink after play without falling over?

I donned my white coat and goggles, went in the lab and these are the monsters of Ashes cricket I came up with. Be very afraid . . .

The Ultimate Aussie Player

With an Australian international cricketer, there’s only one place to start and that’s on top of the head – the baggy green cap. The only way to get one is to play for Australia; it can’t be bought and its importance cannot be underestimated. As Steve Waugh once said, ‘Everyone wearing the baggy green just seemed to send out amessage that this team was really together and hard to break down.’ This baggy green has a couple of holes round the sides for the devil’s horns of Fred ‘Ain’t I a Demon’ Spofforth to poke through. Underneath is the luxurious hairstyle of Keith Miller and to add a bit of variety, the ever-changing hair colour of Colin ‘Funky’ Miller – during the final Test of 2001, Funky dyed his hair canary yellow on day one, changed to peacock green on day three and then burgundy red on the last day of series.

My ultimate Aussie has the gimlet eyes of Steve Waugh and the ginormous nose of Bill Lawry (although it was a toss-up between him and Fred Spofforth who was also blessed with a magnificent conk). There have been some wonderful moustaches sported by Australian cricketers over the years, but I plumped for the droopy ’tache of Merv Hughes, as I personally got to see it very close up, tangled with snot and dirt when he bounced me and then followed through down the pitch to call me a ‘Pommie bastard’. And on his left cheek is the scar of Ricky ‘Punter’ Ponting (© Steve Harmison).

Of course, to be a top-class Aussie cricketer, you also need to be excellent at sledging . . . oops, sorry, Steve Waugh – I mean ‘mental disintegration’. So many contenders to choose from here, but as we’ve got Merv’s moustache he might as well provide the sledges too. But to give Merv’s basic insults a bit more charm, my ultimate player will say them in the voice of Richie Benaud – how beautiful to be called a ‘****ing arsewipe’ in Richie’s rich tones . . . Then there’s the broad shoulders of Matthew Hayden (and as the Aussies love a barbie, Matty’s cooking skills would come in very handy too on a long tour) and the chest hair, medallions and shirt open down to the navel of Dennis Lillee circa 1975. My man has the guts of Warwick Armstrong in his 22-stone prime, and the Big Ship also provides his proven gamesmanship skills.

As a multi-purpose bowler, he combines the wrist and spinning fingers of Shane Warne, the speed of Jeff Thomson, the relentless consistency of Glenn McGrath, and just to freak the batsman out a bit more, the mixed-up legs of Max ‘Tangles’ Walker. With the willow in hand, he has the hand–eye coordination of Doug Walters, the anticipation and sheer run-gettingness of Don Bradman, the insane shotmaking of Adam Gilchrist and the bollocks of Stan McCabe – anyone who could stand up to the Bodyline bowlers without a helmet and score a century must have had balls of steel.

In the field, he has Ricky Ponting’s all-round excellence, Andrew Symonds’s speed and throwing arm and the hands of Mark Waugh (perhaps, wearing the ‘iron gloves’ of Rodney Marsh, which didn’t seem to do Rodney any harm). His personality mixes the permanent upbeatness of Mark Taylor with the nuggety attitude of Allan Border and the daredevil spirit of my old dad’s hero, Keith Miller. Off the pitch, he’ll have the dubious dress sense of Ian Chappell in the seventies, who turned up to a press conference back then wearing a purple shell suit, looking like one of The Scousers from Harry Enfield & Chums. And after a tough day’s Ashes cricket, my ultimate Aussie cricketer is going to have worked up a hell of a thirst, so who better to drink for Australia than the record-breaking ‘Keg on Legs’ himself, David Boon.

The Ultimate England Player

To take on the bionic Aussie, I was tempted to create a cricketer purely in the image of 1986/87 Ashes-winning captain Mike Gatting, for his all-round British bulldogedness, and leave it at that. But there’s too many other great players’ attributes to call upon, so, starting from the top, I’ve gone for the cap of Geoff Boycott (he even wore it when he was bowling) and the manky old sunhat of Jack Russell which Jack’d insist on wearing underneath.

The hair could only be that of Keith Miller’s Brylcreem twin, Denis Compton, and as for our player’s brain, I would have offered mine but I lent it to an Australian heckler, so we’ll have to make do with that idiot Mike Brearley’s grey matter instead.

When it comes to facial features, I’ve created a whole world of horror for our Aussie opponent. Behold the intense staring eyes of Bob Willis (Headingley ’81), the ears of my old team-mate/wingnut, Andy Caddick, the nose of Nasser Hussain (to discourage the close fielders from fielding too close) and the beard, of course, of W. G. Grace (his gamesmanship will match up nicely to the Big Ship’s too). You wouldn’t want to run into that on a dark night in the Bourbon and Beefsteak, would you Ricky Ponting?

Rather than the cut-glass, Queen’s English accent of David Gower, I’ve chosen the, ahem, classic English voice of Kevin Pietersen, just to get on the Australians’ nerves.

My ultimate player to wear the Three Lions has personality traits for all occasions, from the brass-necked pomposity of Douglas Jardine to the huge heart of Freddie Brown, the macho combativeness of Tony Greig to the effortless nonchalance of Gower. He also has a strong, er, middle order with the gut/guts of Gatt, the knob of John Emburey (I’m saying no more . . .) and the ‘golden balls’ of match-winning all-rounder Ian Botham.

Alec Stewart’s regimental neatness will ensure our player’s coffin is kept nice and tidy. The immaculate dress sense of Colin Cowdrey and the ballroom dancing skills of Strictly Come Dancing champion Mark Ramprakash will mean he cuts a dash at social occasions.

In the field, he has the reflexes of a young Botham to stand ridiculously close at slip, the speed and agility of Derek Randall to patrol the covers and the arm of Jimmy Anderson to arrow in the throws. As a bowler with the silent feet of Harold Larwood, smooth action of Freddie Trueman, nasty streak of John Snow and shotgun speed of Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson, he’s enough to test even the greatest players of fast bowling. And if he fancies bowling a bit of spin for variety, Jim Laker’s fingers will allow him to give it a fearful tweak.

At the crease, he boasts the elegance and power of Frank Woolley, the strike rate of Gilbert Jessop and the ability to make score after big score of our own ‘Don’, Alastair Cook. And at the end of the chicken legs of Goochy, he’s got the feet of Fred ‘Mistletoe’ Titmus, who lost a few toes in a boating accident. Ideal for when Jeff Thomson is bowling toe-crushers at you at 95 mph – less to aim at.

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