Profile: The rejuvenated tourist: Derek Pringle looks at the all-round ability of a man set to be a force for England in Australia: Phillip DeFreitas

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been a memorable summer. By beating New Zealand and drawing the series against South Africa, England managed to remain unbeaten in a home series for the first time in three years. The last time this happened, in 1991, the spoils were shared 2-2 with the West Indies, the most powerful side in world cricket. Then, as now, England's most consistent bowler was Phillip DeFreitas.

Over those five Tests three years ago, DeFreitas took 22 wickets, a tally only exceeded in that series by the awesome Curtly Ambrose, who took 28. It was a masterful performance by DeFreitas, who then capped the season with a Test best of seven for 70 against Sri Lanka at Lord's. Like Graeme Hick's hundred in Bombay, it was seen by many as the turning point in a patchy international career that began in 1986, when he was ambitiously touted as Ian Botham's understudy in Australia. (It is a comparison that has done him few favours over the years, not least because Botham's approach to the game was unique.)

Yet in 1991, it looked like DeFreitas was here to stay, even if it was more as a frontline bowler than dashing all-rounder. At last, the lithe apprentice had emerged from his svengali's substantial shadow, and a permament spot was seemingly assured. It wasn't. DeFreitas was dropped by England soon after returning from the 1992 World Cup.

Curiously, it was not until this summer - amazingly, his 23rd recall to England colours - that he found his name inked in under the probables rather than the possibles. Raymond Illingworth has always admired DeFreitas and it might be that his support, coupled with a persuasively paternal kick up the backside, has at last done the trick. With his 30 wickets in six Tests, it has been the summer's most inspired selection and although there have been too many mirages in the past, he has looked - apart from a lacklustre Test at Lord's against South Africa - thoroughly impressive.

One of the reasons DeFreitas found it difficult to establish himself was that he started life as a swing bowler. By moving the ball away from the right-hander at a nippy fast medium, he was relying on that most capricious of disciplines for his success. Unlike those well-versed in reverse swing, conventional swing bowlers are always likely to go through periods where their skills desert them, and try as they may, they cannot get the ball off the straight. This can spell disaster, and more than one Test career has foundered as a result. This was what cruelly befell England's Richard Ellison and Australia's Bob Massey.

Due to his extra pace, and an ability to hit the seam, DeFreitas has survived far better than those whose niche disappeared with their swing. But if he had the pace and the ability to adapt technically, a volatile temper coupled with fluctuating confidence levels kept his progress in check. Tantrums, particularly at county level, and clashes with team-mates have seen him move clubs twice. At Leicestershire, where he started his career, he once left the ground in a huff after Jonathan Agnew had thrown his kit off the balcony in retaliation for DeFreitas's pouring salt all over his lunch.

This was not the only thing that irked him at Grace Road. Having returned from his first tour with both reputation and confidence enhanced (justifiably so, for England had just won the Ashes), he found his captain Peter Willey, an old pro - from the 'You just haven't earned it yet, baby' school - determined to test his mettle. Willey, keen to show the whipper- snapper who was boss, bowled him for long spells into the wind. Something had to give, and DeFreitas and Leicestershire parted company at the end of the 1988 season.

He moved to Lancashire where, at first, everything was rosy. He was a team-mate of his close friend Neil Fairbrother and was playing for a big county, who had the ability to win trophies. But for someone who still harboured ambitions of a regular England place, the move was a disaster. Lancashire's powerful batting order meant that he rarely had a decent chance to bat, and his bowling, shorn of its confidence on Old Trafford's flat pitches, soon lost its zip.

What made matters worse was that he found himself in and out of the England side, as well. 'I was really confused,' he said. 'Every time I made a comeback, I was under more pressure to try harder, to try and bowl faster. In the end, all you do is lose your rhythm, your action and your confidence.'

In addition, his daughter Alexandra's worsening asthma condition was making it difficult for him to concentrate on his game. 'When I was left out of the West Indies tour, I just felt that my career was going nowhere,' he explained. 'On Old Trafford's pitches, I just didn't seem to have a role. The pitches didn't suit my bowling as the shine never lasted long, and I never got much opportunity to improve my batting. I still had ambitions to play for England, so I decided to spend the winter playing for Boland in South Africa.' This allowed DeFreitas to work on his cricket under the guidance of Bob Woolmer, the Warwickshire and Boland coach. 'Playing for Boland gave me the opportunity to open the bowling and bat at number six. Also, Bob helped me believe in myself, something I'd lost with Lancashire.' Although still only 28, DeFreitas sensed it was now or never, and his winter in South Africa was followed by a move to Derby.

Not only are his family closer to his in-laws in Burton-on-Trent, the move seems to have given him a more settled outlook. David Lloyd, the Lancashire coach, agrees: 'Daffy looks at peace with himself now. As if he's worked the game out. Over the past few seasons, most of his problems have come from within. In the past, his histrionics on the pitch have annoyed his team-mates.' His volatile temperament rose to the fore last year when, as a late replacement for Alan Igglesden in the first Test, DeFreitas bowled without distinction in a losing England side. He was one of those subsequently dropped and was informed of his fate by Graham Gooch during Lancashire's match with Essex a week later. As Lancashire took the field, DeFreitas came charging down the stairs outside the Essex dressing-room, shouting and yelling, smashing a window in the process, the glass showering a surprised Peter Such, who was clipping his nails.

Born in Dominica, Phillip Anthony Jason DeFreitas comes from good cricketing stock. His father Martin represented the Windward Islands and all six brothers play the game at club level. Having moved to England, he attended Willesden High School, where his athletic talent meant that he played both football and cricket for the school, captaining an outstanding side that included a precociously talented youngster by the name of Chris Lewis.

Having started their county careers at Leicestershire, as well as both being regarded - at various times during their England careers - as the heirs apparent to Botham, comparisons between DeFreitas and Lewis are inevitable. In fact, they could not be more different. Where DeFreitas needed guidance and was easily influenced (particularly by Botham), Lewis has always been his own man. Also, whereas DeFreitas has worked hard at making the most of his talent, and has progressed, albeit slowly, Lewis is generally thought to have squandered his gifts.

Two incidents, early on in their careers, illustrate the difference between them. Just before the Headingley Test of 1991, Lewis, having come home from the previous winter's tour of Australia with a stress fracture, withdrew with a migraine. Whether or not last- minute nerves got the better of him is open to conjecture, but it was clear that he did not want to let his team or himself down.

DeFreitas, on the other hand, during a match played in Pakistan as part of the 1987 World Cup, had to stop in the middle of his run-up in order to vomit. He had not been feeling well and the searing heat had made the affliction worse. Anxious not to lose his place, he had not mentioned his illness to the captain, preferring to try and see the day through instead. He maanged this, without compromising his team-mates.

It was a gutsy performance and it is perhaps only to be expected that, under Illingworth, DeFreitas has usurped Lewis as England's bowling all-rounder. With the long hard Ashes tour away from his family ahead, he will need all his new-found discipline and appetite to do the job of work expected of him. If he maintains the form that he has shown all summer, then he may just yet influence this winter's series as much as his hero Botham did back in 1986.

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