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  • Specsavers County Championship 3m

    Cult Heroes: Phil Tufnell

    The latest in our series of county cricket's Cult Heroes is spinner known for snoozing and smiling in equal measure, Phil Tufnell

    Born: 29 April 1966, Barnet, Hertfordshire
    Batting style: Right-hand bat
    Bowling style: Left-arm orthodox
    Team: Middlesex 1986-2002

    Phil Tufnell’s floppy hair and fluctuating fortunes perfectly encapsulated England’s travails in the 1990s.

    The left-arm spinner, nicknamed The Cat for his prodigious ability to squeeze in changing room naps during matches, summed up a turbulent period for English cricket with his approach to the game and regular brushes with the authorities.

    While Tufnell’s fielding and batting often prompted giggles from the stands, his bowling did not. The 50-year-old took over 1,000 wickets in his First Class career, the majority for Middlesex, for whom he played for 16 years.

    A total of 42 Tests for England underlines his spin prowess, that unmistakable hop and skip when approaching the crease the forerunner to many a delivery that deceived batsman with its flight.

    Tufnell made his debut for Middlesex in 1986 against Lancashire at Old Trafford, having decided to abandon his training as a quantity surveyor, and quickly fashioned a formidable partnership with John Emburey, in the midst of his own England career.

    Emburey’s Middlesex protege received his first cap in the Boxing Day Test against Australia at the MCG in 1990, and established his credentials by taking six wickets in his second match, during a draw in Sydney.

    The following English summer, he took 7-175 as England drew with the West Indies for the first time since 1973-74. The game was also notable for being Viv Richards’ last as captain of the opposition.

    Tufnell enhanced his burgeoning reputation with 11-147 in the first Test against New Zealand in Christchurch in 1992, a series that England went on to win 2-0. But he could never nail down a regular place in the side, making just 11 Test appearances on home soil.

    One of those came at The Oval in the sixth Ashes Test of 1997 when he bettered his Christchurch figures by taking 11-93 in an England victory that saw the series end 3-2 to the visitors.

    In total, The Cat took 121 Test wickets at an average of 37.68, and struck a chord with the public thanks to his club-cricketer style approach to the international stage. In the days before bleep tests and high-protein diets, Tufnell was far more likely to be found down the pub than on ther treadmill.

    Questionable fielding and batting that put the 11 into number 11 further endeared him to supporters, that unmistakable shuffle towards square leg and waft of the bat his method for dealing with the quicker bowlers he came across.

    Tufnell did score over 2,000 First Class runs in his career, with a top score of 67 not out for Middlesex - the only time in 400 innings he surpassed 50. Awarded his county cap in 1990, his best season came in 1991 when he took 88 wickets.

    He was part of the Middlesex team that won the County Championship in 1990 and 1993, their last until 2016’s glorious campaign that culminated in a thrilling showdown with defending champions Yorkshire at Lord’s.

    Tufnell, who also played 20 ODIs for England, made his last Test appearance for England against Australia in 2001 and retired from the game in 2003.

    Since then, he has forged a successful broadcasting career for himself, both as a pundit as part of the Test Match Special team and on BBC Radio Five Live.

    But his horizons have spread further than cricket. Tuffers won the second instalment of ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here’ and came eighth in Strictly Come Dancing in 2009. He is also a team captain on much-loved BBC show Question of Sport.

    The Cat will always have place in the checklist of England crowd favourites, and harks back to a transitional era when England’s players embraced the social side of the game and often relied on Ceefax to find out if they were in the Test squad.

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