DateLine: 8th December 2005
With grimacing facial contortions as he approached the crease, and a swerving, almost drunken run up, it says a lot about the importance of idiosyncrasies in cricket that Philip Defreitas was able to enjoy such a long career. Retiring a few months before his fortieth birthday, he had made his debut for Leicestershire as a 19 year old, and his ability to swing the ball at pace, as well as having the eye and the strength to hit a cricket ball as hard as any batsman in the English game soon brought him to international prominence. Although he had a personally modest maiden Test series, he had played a part in England’s retention of the Ashes, and he was the only member of that side to still be playing First-class cricket when England finally regained the Ashes in 2005. Despite being a regular for One Day Internationals, Defreitas only cemented a place in the England Test team in the 1991 series against the West Indies, where he sacrificed half a yard of pace for greater accuracy, and things clicked to the extent of 22 wickets at just 20.77. He also at last made his long expected maiden Test fifty. However, after that triumphant summer (which also included 7-70 against Sri Lanka) good seasons juxtaposed with bad ones, and when Dominic Cork burst onto the scene in 1995 as a swing bowler who could also score useful runs, Defreitas was squeezed out of the Test team never to return.
Defreitas was arguably the first player to be burdened with the premature label of “The New Botham”. His batting constantly felt underachieving, although an ability to hit sixes over extra cover should not have been taken as a guarantee of Test match centuries and 1,000 run seasons. Nobody was more frustrated than Defreitas himself when he was dismissed, judging by the shouts which often accompanied his walking off the pitch or his return to the dressing room. The big hitting nature of his batting meant that the potential risks and rewards would always be bigger than a more restrained nurdling style. His field dispersing 37 against South Africa at The Oval in 1994 was subsequently overshadowed by Devon Malcolm’s 9-57 the next day, although his 70 run partnership with Darren Gough had taken England much closer to parity than they would otherwise have been, as well as swinging the momentum right back to England. He won the man of the match award in the Adelaide Test of 1994/5 thanks to a top scoring 88 (made in just two hours), which again seemed to soften up the fielding side, as Australia subsequently collapsed to just 156 all out. That contribution must have been especially gratifying for Defreitas, as his series had started disastrously, with him and new ball partner Martin McCauge castigated for ceding the initiative to the Australians with an opening burst of four overs delivering 26 easy runs from long hops and juicy legside sliders. In the typically poorly planned World Cup campaign of 1995-6 he was asked to publicly unveil his off-spin for the first time. Defreitas bowled his off-breaks creditably, and subsequently dusted them off for county matches on raging turners. Off-spinner had been his fifth incarnation in England colours, as he had earlier morphed through the stages of strike bowler, all-rounder, line and length merchant and, briefly, pinch hitter.
Despite his stop-start Test career, Defreitas remained an excellent county cricketer, virtually guaranteeing at least 50 wickets and 500 runs in a First-class season. He had been a key component of Lancashire’s limited overs mean machine of the early 1990’s. Defreitas moved to Derbyshire in 1994 (his daughter needed hospital treatment in the Midlands, thus making Derby a better base than Manchester), and he picked up the captaincy in 1997 after Dean Jones had left in a hurry, although he was rather unceremoniously dumped from that position and replaced by Dominic Cork for 1998. It was a massive loss to Derbyshire when he left to return to Leicestershire for the 2000 season. Although he started the Millennium pre-season as a 34 year old, he was able to give six more seasons of excellent service at Grace Road. However, in the autumn of 2005 Defreitas attacked the way he had been treated by Leicestershire in his last couple of seasons. He had spent a lot of time in the second XI, despite still performing well when on first team duty, and he stated that he wished he had never returned. His first post playing job is coach of the Hong Kong cricket club, and he hopes to forge a coaching career in the years to come.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)
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