The England all-rounder Derek Pringle was born on September 18, 1958. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the career of the quirky Essex genius who could not live up to his immense potential.
It was difficult being Derek Raymond Pringle. Throughout his career he had to fight for the much-coveted all-rounder’s spot in the England Test side with Ian Botham — and lost more often than not. Even during Botham’s absence from the side for various reasons — the obvious or the otherwise — Pringle often ended up playing for England in their worst seasons and missing out on the better ones.
The entire ritual of Pringle warming up to bowl was a spectacle in itself; it looked so absurd that there was an automatic cheer in the crowd when the ball was thrown to him. It looked so absurd that it has been described as “lying on his back wrestling an invisible octopus”.
The tall 6’4″ frame did not look menacing when he ran in or even when he released the ball, but the awkward bounce and prodigious swing that he managed to generate led to a bag of wickets more often than not. Towards the end of his career Pringle cut down his pace even more, and managed to extract more swing.
The outswinger, especially, was lethal under helpful conditions: the magical curve shaped away from the batsman more often than not, luring batsmen of limited capabilities to be tempted to drive and — as a result — edge them. It earned him the title “Pring the Swing”.
He was also an effortless strokeplayer — probably one of the more attractive batsmen of the era who did not make it as big as he should have. He almost always looked authentic and was an excellent timer of the ball, but ended up disappointing his fans by not converting his starts to big scores.
Pringle played 30 Tests, scoring 695 runs at a way-below-potential 15.10 and picking up 70 wickets at 35.97 with three five-fors. In 44 ODIs, Pringle’s tally read 425 runs at 23.61 and 44 wickets 38.11 with a decent economy rate of 4.22. These numbers are not excellent, but given the fact that he never got the run at the highest level he deserved, they do not sound that bad.
From 295 First-Class matches, mostly for Essex, Pringle had 9,243 runs at 28.26 with ten hundreds and 761 wickets at 26.58 with 25 five-fors and three ten-fors. The averages show that he was an excellent all-rounder in the Championship; indeed, he played a key role during Essex’s six Championship titles in 16 seasons. These remain their only six titles.
The Lancastrian Don Pringle had moved to Nairobi in 1958 to work as a landscape consultant; Derek was born there soon afterwards. He is one of three Test cricketers to be born in Kenya, the other two being Qasim Umar and Dipak Patel. Curiously, all of them were born within a span of 20 months.
No mean player himself, Don had played two matches in the 1975 World Cup for East Africa and had once taken five for 97 and five for 67 against a high-pedigree International XI at Nairobi in 1968. He passed away in 1975 in Nairobi while returning from a local match where he had taken six for 16.
Pringle scored a dazzling 84 not out on his debut for Felsted School against Aldenham School at Dunmow. Soon afterwards he was selected to play for Essex Second XI, England Young Cricketers, and England Schools Cricket Association. On a tour to India he defeated North Zone Schools at Jalandhar almost single-handedly with six for 65 and 122 not out.
He performed brilliantly on that tour, especially in the third ‘Test’ at Calcutta, where he scored 56 and picked up seven for 60 to help win his side by 115 runs. As a result he won The Cricket Society Wetherall Award for the Leading All-Rounder in English Schools Cricket.
After school he went on to study at Fitzwilliam College. However, due to his immense potential he made his First-Class debut for Essex before he played his first match for Cambridge in 1978. To add to the singularity his debut was against Cambridge at Fenner’s Ground, where he scored a brisk 50 not out and picked up a wicket.
The innings, however, remained his only score above five in the four matches he played in the season; the wicket remained his solitary wicket as well. Playing alongside several stars for TN Pearce’s XI at Scarborough he was not a success either.
It was for Cambridge University next season that he first came into prominence: playing against a very strong Yorkshire side at Fenner’s Ground Pringle put up a lone fight as his University was butchered by the tourists. He bowled 24 overs and finished with figures of four for 43 as Yorkshire scored 283 and won by 151 runs.
The first hundred came in his last match of the season — against Oxford University at Lord’s. Not only did he top-score with 103 not out (nobody else passed 40) to lift a side languishing at 166 for six to 302, but also returned match figures of 33-16-37-5 to defeat the traditional rivals by an innings almost single-handedly.
Pringle the bowler eventually arrived against Warwickshire at Fenner’s Ground next season: after Cambridge declared at 314 for four (Pringle scored 37 not out) he ripped through the Warwickshire line-up with figures of 9.1-5-11-4; the tourists were bowled out for 142 and had to follow-on.
They did a better job in their second innings; if the first innings had displayed how devastating a bowler Pringle was, the second was a proof of his tenacity: Warwickshire dominated the bowling and reached 295 for four before Pringle cleaned up the tail and finished with six for 90. It was his first five-for as well as his first ten-for. The tourists lost their last six wickets for 39 runs.
Chariots of Fire
By 1981, Pringle was an ace player for Cambridge but hardly one of the best players in the country. It was during this phase that he decided to add a third dimension to his career: he played a role in Hugh Hudson’s iconic Chariots of Fire that went on to win all sorts awards including four at the Academy Awards, three BAFTA Awards, and two more at Cannes.
Pringle played the vice-captain of the Cambridge University Athletics team (he used his own Cambridge Blue blazer for the audition!). It was a two-minute-long single take and earned £10 (and a free haircut) for the effort. For all his efforts, unfortunately, Pringle remained uncredited.
The abrupt rise
After earning his Essex cap, Pringle began 1982 in style against Glamorgan at Fenner’s Ground; he did not bowl but hit out against the tourists to score 127 out of a team score of 222. Set 325 for a win, he aimed for a second hundred before stumps were drawn with Cambridge on 256 for five and Pringle on 73.
Now leading Cambridge, he picked up three for 54 and scored 24 but could not help Lancashire from taking a 30-run lead. It was then that Pringle bowled what was perhaps the spell that made his career: his relentless accuracy and crafty skills led to a single-handed decimation of a strong batting line-up for 128.
Pringle had returned figures of 27-13-33-6, but those 159 runs still had to be made. When Cambridge sunk to 56 for three it seemed that the experience of the Lancastrians would prevail, but the captain top-scored with 61 not out, and his University was home by three wickets.
The performance impressed Peter May, the chairman of selectors at that time sufficiently. In less than a month Pringle made his Test debut against India at Lord’s — alongside Botham: the selectors had decided to rely on pace.
Pringle made only seven before he edged one to Sunil Gavaskar off Dilip Doshi, but he came to his elements with the ball. Coming on first-change after Botham and Bob Willis, Pringle trapped Yashpal Sharma and Ashok Malhotra leg-before and finished with two for 16; when India followed on he picked up two more for 38 — which included having Gundappa Viswanath caught-behind.
He played two more Tests in the series at Old Trafford and The Oval and also against Pakistan at Lord’s. He was also selected for the Headingley Test in the second season; while sorting out the complimentary tickets he leaned back on a chair; the chair collapsed; Pringle was left with a scorching pain between his shoulders and missed the Test.
Pringle was picked for the Ashes that winter, where he scored 47 not out and added 66 for the last wicket with Norman Cowans and scored 42 more at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), but did not impress with the ball at all. After that debut Test he had picked up only seven wickets in his next six Tests.
The first comeback
Returning to the Test side after a layoff lasting a season-and-a-half against Clive Lloyd’s West Indians is not really a cricketer’s dream, but Pringle had to live up to the challenge. The Edgbaston Test began in a horrific fashion with Malcolm Marshall sending debutant Andy Lloyd to hospital; England somehow recovered from 103 for six (technically seven) to 191.
After Willis removed both openers for with 35 on the board, Viv Richards joined Larry Gomes; things changed subsequently. The pair added 206 in 208 minutes before Richards fell for a 154-ball 117; to add to the woes, Gomes added 124 more with Lloyd, and after Pringle picked up three more wickets Eldine Baptiste and Michael Holding frustrated the English bowlers even more with an 114-ball partnership of 150.
Pringle persevered and was the only bowler who seemed to have some clue as to how to get the West Indians out. He finished with five for 108 as West Indies scored 606. Pringle, walking out at 138 for six, added 43 with Paul Downton and 42 more with Willis; he was left stranded on an 88-ball 46 as West Indies won by an innings and plenty.
Despite his efforts Pringle was dropped after two more Tests. West Indies whitewashed the hosts 5-0.
The second comeback
With Botham banned for three months for smoking cannabis Pringle made another comeback in 1986: it was the Indians again, but a stronger outfit this time. The English team was also passing through a turbulent phase, with David Gower replaced mid-series as captain by Mike Gatting.
To his credit, Pringle did a commendable job against the Indians who won the series 2-0. Coming out at 98 for four in the first innings at Lord’s he helped his Essex captain Graham Gooch put on 147; Pringle eventually scored a dogged 63 in 244 balls. This would remain his only Test fifty. He also returned match figures of four for 88, but it was not enough to prevent India from winning.
The second Test virtually a contest between Dilip Vengsarkar and England: the Bombay batsman scored 61 and 102 not out on a very difficult Headingley pitch where England were bowled out for 102 and 128. Pringle failed with the bat but picked up three for 47 and four for 73 in the Test.
He came out with England at 88 for four and helped Gatting add 96 for the fifth wicket and scored 26 in the second innings, apart from taking two wickets. In a series where England were completely subdued by India, Pringle proved himself as a worthy replacement for Botham with 136 runs at 22.67 and 13 wickets at 23.23, leading the bowling chart in both wickets and average.
Things took its normal course as Botham came back for the Ashes that winter and Pringle, duly forgotten, was dropped without any fault of his.
The first World Cup
With Botham pulling out of the 1987 World Cup, Pringle was picked for the tour. He had a terrible World Cup debut, setting a new world cup record by conceding 83 runs in his allotted ten overs against West Indies at Gujranwala. He set a new record for conceding most runs in a ten-over spell in One-Day Internationals (ODIs); the ignominy lasted for four days when Ashantha de Mel went for 97 at Karachi.
He played in only three matches and was replaced by Eddie Hemmings when England decided to go in with towards the later stages of the tournament. However, when he played his first match, Don and Derek Pringle became the first father-son pair to have played in a World Cup.
The third comeback
By this time, Northamptonshire’s David Capel had appeared on the forefront; he replaced Pringle for the home series against New Zealand. Pringle, however, had to be recalled after Capel’s failure. Once again it was West Indies; once again it was a rout; and once again Pringle did a commendable job.
England managed to save the first Test at Trent Bridge but lost the other four. Pringle failed with the bat but picked up 11 wickets at 29.63. In the fourth Test at Headingley, especially, he gave England a sniff of a chance as he picked up five for 95 to bowl out West Indies for 275. England scored 201 and 138 and lost by ten wickets.
After a single Test at Headingley, in the next Ashes he was dropped, only to make a comeback in the last Test at The Oval. On a placid track Pringle bowled his heart out taking four for 70; Australia regained the Ashes by a whopping 4-0 margin.
Pringle bowled brilliantly that season, picking up 94 wickets at 18.64; this included five for 42 and five for 38 against Middlesex at Chelmsford; a career-best seven for 18 at Swansea where he and John Lever bowled unchanged to rout Glamorgan for 65; and six for 42 and four for 60 at Southend-on-Sea.
However, in a move that had been almost obvious by now, Pringle was replaced by the subsequent West Indies tour by Chris Lewis.
The fourth comeback
It was the customary routine: yet another summer; yet another Wisden Trophy at home; and yet another comeback by Derek Pringle. With the ‘youth policy’ not working, the 33-year old was picked for the first Test at Headingley.
The Test saw the return of Pringle in a new avatar. It was one of his greatest performances; he picked up two for 14 including the wicket of Richards and two for 38 including Desmond Haynes; more significantly, he hung around for 144 minutes scoring 27, helping Gooch add 98 and carve out his once-in-a-lifetime 154.
In the rain-affected second Test at Lord’s, Pringle was, not for the first time in his career, the pick of the English bowlers; he picked up five for 100. England drew the rubber and Pringle finished the series with 12 wickets at 26.83. He also scored a dour 45 at Edgbaston, adding 92 for the ninth wicket with Lewis; however, with Botham returning out of nowhere for the last Test at The Oval, Lewis was retained and Pringle was dropped.
The second World Cup
Unlike the previous occasion Pringle emerged as one of the heroes of England’s World Cup campaign of 1992. It was not about the wickets — he picked up only seven from eight matches at 31.14. However, he finished the tournament with the excellent economy rate of 3.27 and finished third on the economy rate list for anyone who had played more than one match.
He saved his best for the champions, though. Under humid conditions, he swung the ball around prodigiously and spearheaded the attack that bowled out Pakistan for 74. He finished with figures of 8.2-5-8-3. However, incessant rain meant that the match had to be abandoned after England were 24 for one in eight overs.
The two teams met again in the final. Once again Pakistan batted first. Once again Pringle struck, removing Aamer Sohail and Ramiz Raja with only 24 runs on the board, and coming back later to clean bowl the dangerous-looking Inzamam-ul-Haq. Pakistan finished with 249 for six and for a while it seemed that Pringle would have the last laugh with figures of 10-2-22-3.
It was not supposed to happen, though. England were reduced to 69 for four; just when it seemed that Neil Fairbrother and Allan Lamb had managed to consolidate, Wasim Akram produced two beauties in consecutive balls to remove Lamb and Lewis. England’s World Cup dreams were shattered.
The final days
1992 was Pringle’s benefit season for Essex. It was, however, also his last season as a Test player. He went wicket-less in the first Test against Pakistan at Edgbaston (where Botham, Pringle, and Lewis all played); he was dropped for the next Test at Lord’s that Pakistan won. It turned out to be Botham’s last.
Recalled for the fourth Test at Headingley, Pringle helped level the series with figures of two for 22 and three for 66. He had a disappointing fifth Test with both the bat and the ball as Pakistan won the series 2-1. His Test career eventually came to an end when Wasim uprooted his off-stump with a stunner in the second innings.
Despite his excellent performances in the World Cup, he was picked in only two of the five Texaco Trophy matches — a series that England won by a 4-1 margin, somewhat avenging the World Cup final defeat. Pringle picked up four for 42 at Lord’s and two for 35 at The Oval. Pakistan lost both matches. He had a decent season, finishing with 47 wickets at 25.04.
The next season turned out to be Pringle’s last. He was picked for two Texaco Trophy matches at Old Trafford and Edgbaston; he was dropped for the third ODI at Lord’s after Australia won both matches. Realising that he did not have a chance to make a comeback, Pringle retired after the season.
His penultimate match was against the touring Australians at Chelmsford; Pringle proved his pedigree once again, picking up two for 48 and four for 65 in the match and holding the tourists to a draw. He finished his career with a haul of four for 90 against Gloucestershire at Bristol.
After retirement Pringle took to journalism and has worked as a correspondent for The Independent, shifting subsequently to The Telegraph. He was on the verge of being deported from Zimbabwe in 2004 when he refused to sign a declaration that he would cover nothing but cricket.
A man with obscure tastes, Pringle was possibly the first England cricketer to wear an earring, and is known for his slightly non-trivial taste in literature, music, and fashion. He is also passionate about archaeology and photography. When Rough Trade Records brought out their 30th anniversary compilation edition in 2006, Pringle selected the track I Wanna Destroy You by The Soft Boys.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)