Henry Blofeld: Lord's dressing room awaits new king of the Australian jungle

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The Independent Online

If the Phil Tufnell situation is used intelligently by all those concerned, and not least by the player himself, it could set in motion a string of extraordinary events. Tufnell, once the most insecure of men with a harum-scarum behaviour pattern, a tendency to fly off the handle, a considerable talent to annoy, a scruffiness to raise even the most contemporary of eyebrows, and a vocabulary that would be the envy of any self-respecting stevedore, has become a cult figure.

Someone, an agent, a television executive, or maybe just a friend, has been extremely perceptive. Not the least remarkable aspect of it all has been that Tufnell listened intently to what he was told. After handing in his cards to Middlesex, who had refused to allow him a month off, he smiled non-stop, did as he was asked, got along famously with everyone and finished as the celebrity to end all celebrities.

This highly talented left-arm spin bowler had a genius for kicking over the traces, although he was still considered good enough to be picked on 42 occasions to play for England. None the less, the present bosses of the England side, Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher, whose man-managing ability seems to have gone walkabout, had evidently had enough of him.

He may have begun to feel left out of it in a Middlesex side run nowadays by a lot of youngsters. Without the carrot of a possible Test recall glittering in front of him, he not unreasonably felt that enough was enough. I'm A Celebrity... was a new challenge and might lead to something – apart from the immediate £25,000. He was prepared to allow the England management's love affair with Ashley Giles to continue unabated.

It was a different Tufnell we have been watching in the jungle. The Jack-the-lad was still there, but charmingly and amusingly so and without any of the perverse tantrums which have so blighted his cricket career. He began with bagfuls of confidence that increased on a daily basis until, after swallowing five courses of sick-making creepy-crawlies for which on its own he deserved a medal, a huge audience voted him the winner.

It is not hard to guess what this will now have done for his confidence and self-respect. The powers-that-be with Middlesex, including the chairman, the former England left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds, who kicked over a trace or two in his own time, have said that, if the situation warranted it, they could see no reason why he should not be recalled to the Middlesex colours.

The new Tufnell would almost certainly be a chap who would bring an entirely different outlook and approach to the game. He would be more relaxed and it would be surprising if, because of it, he was not suddenly a better bowler than the man who left Middlesex a month or so ago with his career running out of the plughole. His humour, like his concerns, might now no longer be so exclusively self-centred. He might even become rather a good team man. He was in the jungle.

Hussain has just begun the downward path out of the England dressing room and, when he goes, it is not far-fetched to suggest that Fletcher would accompany him. The shrewd, but amiable, Michael Vaughan has clearly been billed to take his place and he may take a more objective view about Tufnell. He has plenty of cricket left in him if he can continue to get his thinking right. And keep his feet on the ground.

It is not being fanciful to suggest that victory for Tufnell in the Australian jungle might lead to victories on more closely mown and manicured stretches of Australian soil, like those found at the SCG or the MCG, to name but two.

There could be another interesting result too, if he returns to the Middlesex side. If he comes back on a match-by-match basis, it might open the way for a number of other cricketers who have the potential to play regular first-class cricket, but have found the impenetrably hard shell of the professional game too off-putting, to do likewise.

This might be the conduit through which, for example, highly successful Minor County players to dip their toes into the first-class game. If Middlesex do ask Tufnell back, as surely they must – at least from time to time – might this not be the precedent that is needed? Other countries would follow suit and not just with prematurely retired Test players, but also with the highly talented who have never had the chance to try and fulfil themselves at this level.

More than likely they will have been put off by the prospect of having to commit themselves lock, stock and barrel to a life they are not sure will suit them even if they are good enough. This would begin to produce an accessibility to the first-class game that has always been at hand in Australia, where it has served them so well and of which England's cricket is badly in need if the best is to be made of its resources.