Cricket: DeFreitas driven by desire

Experienced campaigner inspires Derby's revival.
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The Independent Online
THE MOST astonishing thing about Phil DeFreitas is not his uncomplicated dedication to cricket, his fierce competitiveness or his roll-call of honours including two appearances in World Cup finals, more than 100 one- day internationals and being nominated as one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year in 1992. No, it is quite simply his age, 32.

If anyone had written him off in their minds they would do well not to let him know it. "I honestly believe that I could play for England again," he said earlier last week while contemplating a forced break with a bruised heel. "Some players may have problems with motivation and it is a lot harder when you are just drifting through the season with nothing to play for," he continued, "but cricket is my life and every time I go on to the field I want to perform well, both personally and for the team."

And the performances of Derbyshire this year have surprised everyone, well nearly everyone. The departure mid-way through last season of the captain, Dean Jones, and coach, Les Stillman, left the club floundering and, being one never to shirk responsibility, DeFreitas accepted the captaincy until the end of the season.

"It was a situation I wouldn't wish on anyone but I never considered refusing it. What kind of example would that have been?" DeFreitas explained. "Instead I made the choice to pick the youngsters and persevere with them. To begin with we struggled but I felt it would help this year's captain and the players themselves if they experienced first-team cricket.

"I'm not claiming responsibility, but the youngsters have all performed this year and, importantly, have not relied on the Test players to win games. I felt at the start of this season that we had a good and committed squad and that cannot be underestimated. Everyone here desperately wants to play and win games for Derbyshire" - a possible reference to Chris Adams who also left the club at the end of last year, but one that DeFreitas denies vehemently.

"I am not interested in politics at all," he said. "I care about the cricket and if people don't want to play then they shouldn't be here. Two years ago we came second in the Championship but the trouble flares when the results are poor and as far as I'm concerned that is now the past."

And the past compares little to the bright future for the club. Lying seventh in the County Championship, NatWest finalists and fighting hard to be in the top division of next year's revamped Sunday league, Derbyshire are enjoying a season many bigger and more fashionable clubs would settle for.

But it is silverware that everyone covets and it is ironic that Saturday's opponents are his former club, Lancashire. "My last final was five years ago for Lancashire and against Derbyshire," he said. "We lost that one, so I'm hoping for the same result this time.

"The trick on the day, and I've been telling our lads this, is to enjoy the build-up, the preparation and the night, whatever the result but when the first ball is bowled the tension and adrenalin take over. Every player will be nervous and wanting to perform but this and playing for your country is why we all play cricket."

Undoubtedly his experience has helped the club through turbulent times and his steely "never say die" attitude and determination to concentrate solely on the cricket is being emulated rapidly by the younger players.

"The thing about me is I've got so much experience and people have to make the most use of me," DeFreitas said. "The players here are asking me things all the time and we have developed a tight unit. When I started at the highest level I was 19 and didn't have anyone one to guide me, people like Both [Ian Botham], Lamby [Allan Lamb] and [David] Gower were all playing but concentrating on their own games. I actually want to help people if they are prepared to ask."

Such comments suggest a future career in coaching, a definite plan for DeFreitas and one that he has given considerable thought. Unlike other former players who have gone straight to managing a full county first team, DeFreitas wants to look after younger players in the second team and develop them in to the first team.

"Cricket is my life, it hurts so much when we lose or I do badly. If I don't go away this year to play I will go round the local schools coaching kids - probably for a pittance but I will do it," he explained.

But first there is the final. "I want to win this for Derbyshire, the club deserves it. And don't you go writing me off," he warned sternly. "There's six, seven years left in me and there's a lot more I'm going to do. Remember, I'm only 32 and determined to play for England again."