Cricket: Headley inspired by his famous forebears

FOURTH TEST: England's latest fast bowling hope is looking to build on a promising beginning, he tells Derek Pringle
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The Independent Online
There is little doubt that thoroughbred sporting genes can often help those inclined to follow in their forebears' footsteps. But they can also be a hindrance too, with the presence of a distinguished family tree merely increasing the pressures of expectation. For Dean Headley, however, that burden has proved something of an inspiration as he became the third member of his family to play Test cricket, the first time three generations have been thus involved.

"When I was younger I never really thought about it, but over the last few years I've been determined to play Test cricket. There have been times when I've been talking to my dad and people have come up with a piece of paper and I've grabbed it in order to sign it and they've gone: `Er no. It's your dad's we want.' It brings you down to earth.

"Although I enjoy being a part of a famous family, I didn't want to be the person that people turned round and said, well that's a Headley who didn't play Test cricket'."

But if there were lingering doubts before Headley stepped on to the Old Trafford turf, they have surely been banished now. Eight Australian wickets is the kind of debut that happens when most bowlers are asleep. Even more impressive than the figures however, was the fact that Headley consistently outbowled his more experienced colleagues in both innings.

"It was a great feeling to take eight wickets, though any county bowler in the country could have come up trumps on that first morning," he said as he prepared for tomorrow's fourth Test at Headingley. "I was much more pleased to take four wickets in the second innings when the pitch had flattened out."

Sensational debut though it was, he still has a long way to go before rivalling the deeds of grandfather George, a Jamaican who was dubbed the Black Bradman. A brilliant batsman on any surface, in 1939 he became the first and only West Indian to score two hundreds in the same Test match at Lord's.

His son Ron, a left-handed opening bat, was not blessed with such stellar talent, and his two caps for the West Indies in 1973 will surely - providing a lingering side strain clears up in time - be equalled at Headingley, by his own son, Dean.

Over his career with Middlesex and Kent, Headley has suffered from numerous injuries. In April, he began the season not in the nets at Canterbury, but in traction, trying to sort out the hip problem he had incurred on last winter's A team tour to Australia.

It was not the first time, he had had something wrong with him, and some say he has a reputation for wanting to be wrapped in cotton wool. Needless to say, it is not an opinion he shares and the Headley brow furrowed considerably when I asked whether he thought he was one of those bowlers like Chris Old, who was prone to injury?

"If I was, I don't think I'd be able to bowl the long spells that I do," he says with a tinge of hurt in his voice. "It's true I've had three different injuries this summer and that's frustrating. But I believe the back problems I've had recently can be linked to the traction I was put under when I returned from Down Under. I've certainly never had them before."

For a bowler who can be distinctly sharp when he wants to be - most of the Aussie batsmen were surprised by the pace he generated at Old Trafford - he has a strange action. His run-up, which is languid and athletic, culminates in a curious hybrid bowling action which ends up half drag, half sling. But if the ball tends to come out well, if occasionally too far to leg, the action appears to put a lot of strain on the pelvic girdle. Perhaps that was his problem?

"I never had much coaching when I was growing up. Dad was not a great believer in it unless something was drastically wrong," he says. "He believes you should just look at the end product, which is what I do.

"What is most important is the feel. You shouldn't worry what it looks like as long as the ball is coming out all right. I know I've got a fairly unique action with a few quirks, but it's one that feels natural to me."

One of the problems that players like Headley face when they first come into the Test arena is the increased exposure. One minute you're playing county cricket in front of two men and a dog, the next you're having your game dissected by the world and his friend.

It can be a disorienting business for the new player, particularly when advice, previously in short supply, suddenly arrives mob-handed at the dressing-room door. Which is what happened to Darren Gough following his foot injury in Australia. Fortunately, Headley a late starter at 27, is a far wiser bird.

"When you start your Test career, I think you've got to have big ears. Which luckily I've got," he adds tugging playfully at the one sporting the diamond stud. "The trick is to listen to everything then pick out the little points adaptable to your game as big changes tend to feel unnatural.

"I mean people talk about getting me to bowl one that goes away from the right-hander. Well we'd all like to bowl that wouldn't we? Even so, as my main ball comes in, I've only really got to get it to hold its line for it to be effective. In any case, I'm not a big swing bowler. More someone like an Angus Fraser, who nags away around off-stump.

"As Brian Statham once said to someone who asked him what he did with the ball: `I aim to bowl it three inches outside off-stump. If it comes in they've got to play it. If it goes away they've still got to play it, just in case it comes in'."

It may sound an endearingly uncomplicated philosophy to those used to hearing the prevarications of so-called experts, but simplicity is the key to most sport, a point that often gets overlooked in this age of analytical overkill.

For that reason, he says he found his Test debut far less daunting than the one-day debut he made on the same ground the previous year. "With the 15-over rule in one-dayers you haven't even got one ball to ease into things. At least in the Test, I knew I had a job to do for the day and that my strategy would more or less remain the same."

He puts much of his readiness down to the two England A tours he played, which he feels are a useful stepping stone to the pinnacle.

"The A team helped me feel that I belonged to the set-up. Just going away on tour with people like Nasser Hussain and others who had played Test cricket did a lot for my self-belief. In a way the company was more important than the opposition, though the fact that both tours were winning tours really boosted our pride during a time when the main team were getting a lot of negative press."

Having attended Worcester Royal Grammar School - Alma Mater to such luminaries as Imran Khan - Headley tried his hand at his father's county, Worcestershire. When that did not work out he suddenly found himself on a tour to India with Christians in Sport with a motley assortment, not all of them believers. One of those present was Simon Hughes who, impressed with the young Headley's pace, alerted his own club Middlesex, who promptly signed him after the briefest of indoor trials.

He stayed a year, before moving to Kent where a proclivity for taking hat-tricks (he took three last season) brought him the headlines that eventually led him, via England A, to the Test arena proper. A place where he and England now find themselves up against a resurgent Australia seeking to retain the Ashes.

"The mood of the side is still confident," he insists. "Certainly there are things we have to address, such as posting a competitive score. Mainly though, it's going to be down to pure hard work.

"The Aussies outplayed us at Old Trafford, but as far as I'm concerned it's one-all and we've just got to go out and start again, like we did at Edgbaston.