Cricket / Second Test: Medicine man who rules roost: When it gets physical, Dave Roberts hands out the treatment. Derek Pringle reports

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The Independent Online
IT WAS when Phil Tufnell fainted that Dave Roberts, the England cricket team's physiotherapist, suspected the worst. Tufnell, in hospital in Antigua to have the diagnosis of his injured shoulder confirmed and then to have an injection, had passed out during the X-ray. The needle had yet to make an appearance.

'In fact,' Roberts said, 'he was quite good when it came to the actual jabbing. It was the preamble that spooked him.' As well as swooning, Tufnell, with eyes screwed firmly shut, had blurted out, 'Is it in yet? Is that it then?' every time a syringe was snapped out of its wrapper. Phil the Cat had become a kitten and it was part of Roberts's job to hold his hand.

No doubt the extent to which players are 'mothered' will horrify those who maintain that the bucket and sponge of yesteryear has been replaced by bucket and spade when England now go on tour. Advances in medical science may indeed make the job easier, but on tour at least the physio needs to be a multi-talented beast. Long gone are the dark days when, according to Brian 'Tonker' Taylor, the Essex captain before Keith Fletcher, all physios were a waste of time. His maxim - 'Good players don't need them. Bad players aren't worth it' - still echoes around Chelmsford every time a hefty physiotherapy bill lands on the secretary's desk.

Roberts finds that tours are hard work, but gratifying. 'There is no doubt that overseas you are pocket psychologist, fitness trainer, wet nurse, dry nurse, as well as physio, all rolled into one.' This is just as well when you consider that the ailments of Igglesden, Caddick, Lewis and Tufnell could fill the Lancet's orthopaedic and psychiatric sections for at least a year. Igglesden is so often in Roberts' company that he refers to him as 'Roomy', even though the physio has a room to himself. 'You find out about people's character on tour. There's no better place for it,' Roberts says.

A tour of the West Indies is renowned for impact injuries: of fast balls smashing into parts soft and hard, with fingers bearing the brunt of the barrage. So far this hasn't happened, though with nearly four whole Tests left, it is perhaps too early to start counting one's digits. If the one bouncer an over rule has placed batsmen theoretically less at risk, then Walsh's torrid spell at Sabina Park showed it is still possible to rough batsmen up and test both technique and equipment to the full.

'I knew the West Indies was a notorious place for broken bones,' Roberts explains, 'so I got this company called Columbus, who do protective equipment for the RAF and the Police, to make everyone's gloves. They use a special material that absorbs impacts rather than transfers them. It clearly helped Devon Malcolm and Graeme Hick at Sabina.' Ironically the only person who didn't have the stuff fitted was Angus Fraser, who broke a finger, batting in Barbados.

Despite a reduction in batsmen's injuries, Roberts has been as busy as ever. Even on days off he finds little time to relax, and a recent snorkelling expedition ended abruptly when Igglesden (who else?) put his hand on a sea urchin and demanded instant treatment.

Unlike his predecessors with England, Lawrie Brown and Bernard Thomas, who were very clearly part of the management, Roberts fits somewhere between them and the players. So much so that on his first England A tour, Ted Dexter patted him on the back at Heathrow with the encouragement: 'Get plenty of runs, son.'

Nevertheless, he feels comfortable with his role and reckons to have struck the right balance in order not to be compromised. 'There is a danger of getting so close that it affects your judgement. But I think I'm professional and objective enough to be completely honest. After all, I don't think any player would appreciate preferential treatment on my part.'

At 35, Dave Roberts has come a long way from his first job with the Inland Revenue. It was only after having persistent treatment for a number of rugby and cricket injuries himself that he decided to go back to college, get the necessary A levels, and train to be a chartered physiotherapist. Having qualified, he worked at Rochdale Royal Infirmary with Dennis Wright, the Great Britain rugby league physio.

He came to cricket almost by chance after treating the Zimbabwe team during one of their tour matches at his club, Middleton, near Manchester, in 1985. This led to a long association with the Zimbabweans that ended only when he was appointed to Worcestershire in 1989. This coincided with Ian Botham's comeback from a serious back operation. As Botham fought his way back into the England team the exposure did Roberts no harm and he finished the year on tour with England A.

With Lawrie Brown's retirement, he became the obvious successor, after working with Keith Fletcher on three previous England A tours. Having just set up a sports injuries clinic in an old funeral parlour in Alkrington, the man they call 'Rooster' - after an ill-advised rum-driven foray on to a dance floor - is doing very nicely. Perhaps when he looks back, he'll realise there's more to life than death and taxes after all.

(Photograph omitted)