It was never an easy task to play in the England side as an all-rounder in the 1980s and early 1990s. The enormous shadow of Ian Botham hovered constantly. Either the great man was in the team or just about to return after being out for some curious reason or other.
However, Derek Pringle managed to play 30 Tests during the 1982-1992 period, when Botham was very much around. He picked up 70 wickets with his medium pace and scored nearly 700 runs from the lower middle order. He was a useful performer in the ODIs as well and played for England in two World Cups.
He later became a respected cricket correspondent and that is the avatar in which one finds him today. Arunabha Sengupta caught up with him in the press box at Edgbaston, talking about the 1986 Test series between India and England, and a few topics beyond that.
Arunabha Sengupta: You had come into the series in 1986 with some impressive performances in the Texaco Trophy ODI series that took place between the two teams before the Tests. But, what was the mood of the England team at that moment? There was a question mark hovering over David Gower’s continuation as captain and so on …
Derek Pringle: Well, once we had won the Texaco I hadn’t thought Gower’s captaincy was under question, but when we lost that first Test at Lord’s he was sacked and Mike Gatting came in. I suppose he was under pressure after the series in the West Indies, but it’s just that I was not involved in that series. I was not aware of it. The mood had seemed normal to me. I just turned up the day before the Test match, practised and played.
AS: When the news came in that the change had taken place and Gatting and Gower exchanged the “I’m in Charge” tee-shirt, was it a surprise to the team?
DP: I suppose for me it was a little bit of a surprise. But for the ones involved in the West Indies series, it might not have been that much of a surprise. I really don’t know to be honest. In those days you got picked and dropped very quickly. These things happened.
AS: In the Lord’s Test England lost a few quick wickets and then Graham Gooch and you put together a long partnership. What are your memories of that?
DP: I got my highest Test score (63). I was batting at No 6, which seemed a little bit too high to me (laughs) but I had aspirations to being an allrounder, and so I suppose I concentrated pretty hard. I knew Graham pretty well, and he had come back to the England side the year before. He was a correct player, an inspiration to bat with and we had a good partnership.
AS: India got a small lead as Dilip Vengsarkar got a hundred, his third at Lord’s …
DP: I remember seeing Vengsarkar first when they were here in 1982. After Sunil, he was the batsman we always wanted to get out. Him and Mohinder Amarnath. We rated him highly. He was quite a front foot player but you could play like that in England. He did and cashed in.
AS: In the second innings England underwent some sort of a collapse
DP: I know that Kapil Dev bowled me a good ball that went up the hill. You either miss those and get lucky, or edge them like I did. Caught Kiran More. Kapil Dev was a very good bowler, four wickets in that second innings.
AS: The next Test at Leeds saw some really tough conditions for the batsmen
DP: In those days Headingley used to crack, and the cracks used to be loose. So, the ball would go up and down, sideways … it was tough to bat, especially against good bowlers. Madan Lal and Kapil Dev bowled pretty well, and Binny. The old story about Headingley is that if the sun shines it doesn’t do much. If the clouds come over, it does a lot for the bowlers. In that match, Vengsarkar got another hundred, and it was always sunny when he batted (laughs)
AS: Then you came here, to Edgbaston, and it was quite a thrilling draw.
DP: India had already won the series, and they wanted to make sure that they did not lose. We couldn’t force a win.
AS: What happened after that? You didn’t quite cement your place in the side.
DP: No. I missed the first Test against New Zealand as I was injured. I played the second Test [at Trent Bridge] and didn’t have a very good game. As I said, in those days if you didn’t have a good game they would drop you. That’s what happened. Although, I was the leading wicket-taker in that series against India. I took 13 wickets. But one bad game, and you were gone.
AS: You were always in the team as an all-rounder, and it was always either playing in the place of Ian Botham or alongside him.
DP: He was banned for three months during the time we are speaking about. When I had that poor match against New Zealand, he came back for the third Test. Which was probably fair enough. He was our best all-rounder.
AS: Did you also suffer from the comparisons with Botham that, during that time, dogged every English player who could both bowl and bat?
DP: It wasn’t me who suffered from it. It was the press that suffered from it. It didn’t worry me the slightest. As far as I was concerned we were different players. What surprised me somewhat was that we were in the team together because we were roughly offering the same sort of package. I was surprised at playing that many Tests with Ian, roughly 7 or 8 [actually 11]. It wouldn’t have surprised me if we were in the same One Day side, but being in the same Test team was surprising.
AS: You also played 4 of the 5 Tests of the summer of four captains. How was it?
DP: Not easy (laughs)
AS: Did you ever expect to become the captain yourself, given that even Chris Cowdrey was brought back to lead the side?
DP: I never thought about it. I was only the captain very briefly in the last Test when Gooch split his fingers. So for two sessions, England had the fifth captain. (laughs)
AS: Finally, going back to 1986, how do you think the Indian bowling is now in comparison to the bowling that the Indians had then?
DP: Kapil Dev was a great bowler. He did well in India obviously, but he was an English style bowler and he was probably going to do well here, and he did. Chetan Sharma was skiddy and quite quick. Madan Lal was very steady, he could hit the seam. If he got a proper pitch in English conditions, he could expose us as well. And then there was Roger Binny. All, what you would call English-style seamers.
I suppose that what the Indian bowling always lacked was pace. I mean Kapil Dev was a skilful bowler but he wasn’t quick. Now at the moment, there is a bit of pace. Mohammad Shami is quite quick, Ishant Sharma is quite quick. They are not what I’d call West Indies quick, express bowlers, but they are quick enough, bowling at 86-88 mph. They are able to hurry batsmen.