Cricket: The return of a confident man

Click to follow
The Independent Online
While England's batting in their second innings may have taken some of the gloss off Phil Tufnell's magnificent bowling, it must not be allowed to cover up a performance of real character from a bowler who had every reason to believe he had been harshly treated.

No doubt it is much better to be selected in the original squad for a Test and then be left out on the day than not to be selected at all. But when it happens five times in a row it must be dispiriting to say the least.

Tufnell's temperament and his behaviour on and off the field has, in the past, left a considerable question mark over his name. But on last winter's tours of Zimbabwe and New Zealand he was a reformed character and no longer the disgruntled loner of previous tours.

None the less, it was difficult not to feel that there was still likely to be a substantial self- destruct button lurking somewhere waiting to be pressed. It was just such a situation as this which might have sparked off the instinct to push it, especially when his rival, Robert Croft, the only spinner in the side, had not been bowling well.

It was greatly to Tufnell's credit that he did not let this outwardly worry him. Five times he returned to county cricket with Middlesex and got on with the job of taking wickets. He did not let this constant last- minute rejection unsettle him.

He was rewarded in the end by getting his chance on the best pitch for spinners in this series, and he could not have taken it better. There was something delightfully cheeky, faintly rebellious and impressively self-confident - a quality he lacked for so long - about his bowling at The Oval.

It is fair to say that he bowled like an Australian. He was always at the batsman and once he had established a superiority, which he did when he bowled Matthew Elliott in his very first over, he made sure it did not slip away. His enthusiasm was infectious as his control was superb and he bowled like a man who knew he was going to take wickets.

It may be that Tufnell's re-emergence as a left-arm spin bowler and a strong competitor will be England's only gain from this last Test. Even so, it may easily turn out to be a very considerable gain.

In this guise, Tufnell is a most formidable bowler.