Phil DeFreitas: Over-coaching can damage fast bowlers

Phil DeFreitas played county cricket for Leicestershire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, and donned the England cap in 44r Test matches and 103 ODIs. In an international career which began with a Test debut in 1986 against Australia in Brisbane, the Dominica-born DeFreitas retired in 1997 with 140 Test scalps and 115 ODI wickets and was part of the England team that famously lost to Pakistan in the 1992 World Cup final.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the 49-year old DeFreitas spoke about his recollections of playing with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis during his county career, his views on the difficulties faced by bowlers in the modern game, the trend of fast-bowlers losing their pace due to over-coaching and looked back at the experience of touring Pakistan.

Excerpts from an interview:

PakPassion.net (PP): Looking back at your international career, are you satisfied with what you achieved?

Phil DeFreitas (PD): First of all I’m really pleased to have played so many games for England especially when it was in the days of not many Test matches or any central contracts and if you had a bad day for England you were dropped and then someone took your place and you had to find your way back in. The only regret I have is that I wasn’t given the opportunity to bat in the all-rounder position more often than I did. Apart from that, it was fantastic and I’ve been very fortunate to have had such a long career.

PP: What was it like having Wasim Akram as a team mate at Lancashire?

PD: We became very good friends. He came to Lancashire the year before I signed for them and when I agreed to sign for Lancashire we were touring Pakistan and I met up with Wasim then. He was a good friend back then and remains a very good friend. To play in the same side and to open the bowling with Wasim Akram was phenomenal. He was a fantastic and great cricketer.

PP: You obviously came up against Waqar Younis in County cricket and international cricket. Describe what it was like to face him?

PD: I remember the first game we played against Waqar when he was at Surrey and Wasim Akram said that this guy is a faster bowler than me and we said no chance. We were watching him prepare to bowl and he marked his run-up from close to the sightscreen at Old Trafford. When he bowled his first delivery it was lightning quick and we looked at Wasim and all said, Wasim you weren’t wrong about his speed.

Pakistan was very lucky to have Wasim and Waqar opening the bowling for them. They were fantastic bowlers as their respective records show. They weren’t just great in international cricket but as overseas players in County cricket they were tremendous. Wasim Akram at Lancashire was one of the best overseas players I ever played with and I’m sure Waqar was one of the best overseas players that Surrey have ever signed.

PP: What made Wasim and Waqar such great overseas players in English County cricket? 

PD: If you go back to when Wasim and Waqar were playing County cricket, overseas players were top international cricketers and every County had a top international player who was at the top of their game. The great thing about Wasim and Waqar was that they came here and became part of the team. Wasim is part of Lancashire’s history and Waqar is part of Surrey’s cricketing history and that’s the sign of a great overseas player. They became part of the furniture and Wasim became an adopted Lancastrian who is still remembered very fondly.

PP: What are your thoughts on Kolpak players in County cricket?

PD: If you weren’t born in the country but played school cricket in England and that is where you learnt your cricket then that’s fine. However if you’ve played for another country at, for example, Under-19 level then that is who you play for so I don’t agree that you can suddenly come and play in County cricket as a non-overseas player and qualify to play for England in some cases.

They’ve got to have a look at the rules. I have nothing against Kolpak players as it’s not their fault as the rules are there and they make the most of those rules. However, I feel sorry for youngsters in this country who might not get the opportunity to play because they have two or three Kolpak players at their County.

PP: Do you think the aggression of fast bowlers is being taken away due to Twenty20 leagues where they are the team mates of opposition players? 

PD: I’m sure the smiles are hiding something. Even if you play against a team mate, your personal pride means that you want to do well. I don’t think it’s as friendly as it appears on television.

PP: Do you think limited-over cricket’s rules need to be changed to make it a more even game for bowlers?

PD: People want to see sixes and fours. Boundaries are obviously shorter in limited overs cricket and the wickets are very good for batting. Bats have improved and the cricketers nowadays are professional cricketers. Previously, some County cricketers only played for half the year and then found something else to do for the rest of the year. Nowadays cricketers may take a month off at the end of the season before they are back in training working in the gym, so cricketers are much stronger these days. On good wickets the ball is flying all over the place. In addition the rule changes incorporating the power play rules have made a big difference. Is it better for the game? Entertainment-wise it is.

PP: What do you make of the Kevin Pietersen saga?

PD: Kevin Pietersen the cricketer not playing international cricket is quite sad. It’s very sad that one of the best batsmen in the world has had his international career put to a halt. Apart from that I don’t feel that I can comment on this matter as I have not been present in the England dressing room or at meetings where matters relating to this have been discussed.

PP: James Anderson recently broke the record for most Test wickets by an English bowler. Your thoughts on James and how he has developed as a bowler?

PD: He’s been terrific. It wasn’t that long ago that they were trying to change his bowling action which affected him but he went back to his old methods. You have your own action, you have your own ability and that’s how you should bowl. I’m pleased for him and it’s tremendous that James has done so well. It’s great to see a fast bowler play 100 Tests, especially for England. I also believe that with the introduction of the central contracts he has been well looked after as he doesn’t have to go back to County cricket day in, day out. If he’s played a Test match then he doesn’t have to rush back to play a County match not long after the Test match, as he would have done in the past.

PP: We see fast bowlers around the world burst onto the scene bowling at over 90mph, yet a year or so later they are struggling at around 80mph, why do you think that is?

PD: Over-coaching can damage fast bowlers. To be able to bowl fast is rare and it’s natural. You can coach a bowler to bowl a little bit quicker, but as a coach you cannot make a fast bowler. You can tweak a fast bowler with a few skills, but fast bowlers are comfortable with their own action and as long as their action is not dangerous then leave them alone. As a fast bowler you are always going to get injuries but I believe that if a bowler is bowling fast and is bowling in the right places and is getting the right results then that is ok.

The reason why some bowlers lose their pace is that someone has talked them out of doing what comes naturally to them. It’s a real shame when a bowler who is doing well for his domestic team then goes to international cricket and is taught things that are not natural to him. At the international level it’s about brushing up the mental side of the game and not being coached. I think it’s wrong to coach a fast bowler in international cricket and therefore change what he was doing well in domestic cricket. There is a lot of this happening and it’s a worrying trend.

PP: Chris Jordan looks an exciting prospect. Your thoughts on Chris and what aspects of his game he needs to work on? 

PD: Chris looks a very good prospect and looks a very good all-round cricketer. There’s something not quite right with his run-up though. He’s improved his run-up a little recently but it still needs some work to it. As a bowling coach I look at his action and I think he needs to work on his wrist as many deliveries are going down the leg side. I’d work with him on his run-up and his wrist position when he’s bowling.

PP: We are set for the return of international cricket to Pakistan, a country that you have previously toured. Your thoughts on the return of international cricket to Pakistan?

PD: I think it’s really sad that international cricket is not being played in Pakistan and that teams are not touring there at the moment. Touring Pakistan was always one of the toughest tours and Pakistan’s players must feel very disadvantaged at not being able to play international cricket in their own country. If Zimbabwe go to Pakistan and everything works out well, I’ll be very happy. It will be great to see cricket back in Pakistan and I just hope the tour goes well and the safety issue is fine and we can then get international cricket back regularly in Pakistan.

PP: What are your abiding memories of touring Pakistan?

PD: I’ve been fortunate that when I toured Pakistan I had friends like Wasim Akram there. I always enjoyed touring Pakistan and it was a great experience and one that I will always remember and one that will always live with me. The Pakistan supporters and fans were always great and it was a very pleasant experience playing cricket in Pakistan.

Pakistan has a great cricketing history and it’s a country that is very proud of its cricketing traditions. It’s a country that I would love to coach in at some point in the future and have the opportunity to work with players of different ages and abilities. I would be honoured if the Pakistan Cricket Board ever wanted me to work with Pakistan’s pace bowlers.

 

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(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion. The above article first appeared in PakPassion)