DeFreitas the Ashes winner predicts glory for England
Weather permitting - and hail, sleet and snow have been words ominously peppering the overnight forecasts - the Ashes summer begins at Lord's this morning when an MCC XI faces Warwickshire, the champion county, in the re-established traditional curtain-raiser.
With three and a half months to wait before the first Test against Australia in July, little of what happens over the next four days is likely to have any lasting relevance. However, for the likes of the Warwickshire batsman Ian Bell and the MCC side's Sussex and England A wicketkeeper Matt Prior, two in this match with hopes of facing the old enemy, the first challenge has already been issued.
It comes from Phillip DeFreitas, the only still-playing survivor of an Ashes-winning England side, who announced plans to retire at the end of this season with heartfelt hopes of losing that distinction. At 20, DeFreitas was the baby of the team Mike Gatting led to victory in Australia in 1986-87. Now 39, he is the oldest player on the county circuit.
"It is an honour to have that badge but it would be great if by the time I retire there are 12, 13 or however many players who can share it," he said.
"I really think they can do it, if they play to their full potential. But they need the country behind them - the public and the press - so they can truly believe they are capable of winning.
"It was different for us. We started off being told that we couldn't bat, couldn't bowl and couldn't field but we had legends in that squad, people like Ian Botham, David Gower, Allan Lamb, John Emburey and Phil Edmonds, who could rise to the occasion. This team has everything in place, the players and the leadership. But they need that self-belief."
DeFreitas - then, as now, of Leicestershire - won the first four of his 44 Test caps as England established an unassailable 2-0 lead, missing only the fifth and final rubber in which Australia gained their consolation win. He took five wickets and scored an important 40 as England won the opening Test in Brisbane.
DeFreitas holds one of the least coveted international records in having been dropped and recalled to Test cricket 15 times - more than any England player - but his pride is undiluted. "It shows how determined I was," he said. "After 44 Test appearances and 103 one-day internationals, including two World Cup finals, I can have no regrets."
A total of 140 wickets and 934 runs distinguished his Test career while domestically, with Leicestershire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, he has almost 11,000 first-class runs and more than 1,200 wickets. He captained Leicestershire and Derbyshire, but enjoyed most success with Lancashire, earning winner's medals in the Sunday League, Benson and Hedges Cup and NatWest Trophy.
"I could probably go on for two or three years longer because, physically and mentally, I'm in the best shape of my life," he said. "But I felt I wanted to go out at a time of my own choosing, hopefully on a high."
TOUR DE FORCE: ENGLAND'S 1986-87 ASHES WINNERS AND THEIR ROAD TO VICTORY
England's 1986-87 Ashes winners
Chris Broad, David Gower, Mike Gatting (captain), Jack Richards, John Emburey, Bill Athey, Ian Botham, Phillip DeFreitas, Gladstone Small, Allan Lamb, James Whitaker, Phil Edmonds, Graham Dilley.
1st Test: England won by seven wickets (Brisbane);
2nd Test: Drawn (Perth);
3rd Test: Drawn (Adelaide);
4th Test: England won by innings and 14 runs (Melbourne);
5th Test: Australia won by 55 runs (Sydney).
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