DateLine: 13th February 2006
Although the third generation of Headley to play Test cricket, Dean Headley was the first to play for England and the first who posed more threat with ball rather than bat. His grandfather George was a magisterial batsman for the West Indies for 25 years, and he averaged 60 in Tests in becoming the first great non-white batsman to wear the maroon cap. His father Ron played two Tests for the West Indies, before settling in England after spells with Worcestershire and Derbyshire. It was this which allowed Dean to be born in Stourbridge, which gave him both an English qualification and a strong West Midlands accent. He was frequently amongst the wickets in the Championship, although as they came at a high 20’s price he wasn’t quite in the highest bracket of domestic performers. However, on A tours to the very different wickets of Pakistan in 1995/6 and Australia in 1996/7 his wickets came very cheaply, and a reputation for bowling especially well at lefthanders won him selection in 1997 against an Australian side containing three in their top six. His debut came in the Third Test at Old Trafford, and his first ball threatened to come into Mark Taylor before leaving him. A round of applause broke around Manchester, as England looked to have a bowler who did what it said on the tin. Although England lost the match, Headley dismissed Taylor, Matthew Elliot and Michael Bevan twice in the match to prove that his bowling was indeed deadly to southpaws. Like most English pace bowlers of the 1990’s, injury and non-selection ensured he was in and out of the team after that, although in running through the Australians at Melbourne in the Boxing Day Test of 1998/9 he did what so few cricketers of recent years have done in inflicting an ultra rare home defeat on the late twentieth-century brand of Australian ‘Invincibles’. Although his mini-spell of four for four was as impressive as it was tongue twisting, it was how he had seized the moment with such clinical predation which was arguably the more remarkably un-English accomplishment. England teams had always competed with the Australians, but had usually come off second best when the seminal, knife-edge moments had arrived. The way Headley sniffed out and capitalised on the chance of victory was more typically Pakistani or Australianlike.
It’s a sobering thought to think that his First-class career barely had another 9 months to run after that finest hour. A persistent back injury ruled him out of the entire 2000 season and he finally admitted defeat in the pre-season of 2001, at the still relatively early age of 31. A career shortened by injury is always a reason for sadness, although in Headley’s case there were legitimate, non-sentimental reasons for thinking that he still had more to give at Test level, although he had at least reached certain heights during his career which most of his cricketing contemporaries never did. Headley now works as a director of a newspaper in Kent, the county for which he played his county cricket after two seasons at Middlesex, and it was while wearing the white horse that he took three hat-tricks in 1996 alone, which equalled the world record for most in a season.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 Matthew Reed)