Ex-England international Phil Tufnell has been a regular commentator on Test Match Special throughout 2009’s Ashes series. It’s a decent gig for the one-time ‘bad boy of English cricket’ who was once as famous for his heavy smoking, rocky marriages and ability to fall asleep anywhere as he was for his spin bowling. Tufnell is currently a vocal supporter of the Bowl Your Maiden Over campaign, which encourages impotent men to go and see their GPs. Scary.
When you were in the England team, who was the biggest git you ever played against?
I got on with everyone. I mean, everyone in the opposition side was a bit of a git because they had a bat in their hand and I had to get them out. So everyone with an opposing jersey was a git, really.
Who could really dish it out with the sledging?
Sledging is just a bit of banter. I was never really out there long enough to get any sledges because I was a number 11 batsman.
Are there any standard heckles that players will be getting? Like Ian Bell being called The Sherminator?
A lot of chat is made about sledging, but it doesn’t actually go on that much. It’s just a bit of professionalism. A lot of the guys play together in England or the IPL and are mates. It’s just banter.
FHM was once heard Andrew Symonds described as the nastiest man in cricket. Do the Australians have anyone like that in their side at the moment?
The Australians are a very good cricket side. They produce good cricketers and will never send a poor cricket side over here. People have been saying this is the worst Australian side to ever come over here. I totally disagree with that.
What’s going on with Ricky Ponting? Why isn’t he batting very well?
Well, he’s batting quite well. He got 150 in Cardiff. It’s amazing how people forget things really, really quickly. They’ve got a couple of world-class players in Michael Clarke and Ponting. They’ve got a very strong, very long batting line up and they need to be got out.
Do you think Ricky Ponting needs to lighten up a bit?
I think Ricky Ponting goes along and does his thing. He’s the top run scorer in the world. I don’t think he needs to do anything. He’s got 10,000 Test Match runs. He has the highest run score for Australia ever. I think he’s quite good.
Do you think he’s unfairly hated by the English crowd?
People go to the cricket to enjoy themselves. It’s a home series, which should count for something. I think the crowd should cheer every wicket we get and every run we score. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Perhaps booing is a bit out of order. You definitely shouldn’t boo national anthems and individuals, but you should certainly support England with massive patriotism.
How does Ponting rate as a captain, now that he’s lost his top players?
It’s sort of ‘welcome to the real world’ Ricky. He’s lost Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, so he’s had to come back down to earth. It must be a shock because when you’ve got world class players it makes life a lot easier.
Is he one of the greatest ever captains?
I’ve never played under him, but he looks very competent. He leads from the front with the bat, he seems a good guy and he’s alright tactically. He took a young side over to South Africa and beat them so he must be doing something right.
Is there any team England love beating as much as Australia?
No. The Ashes is the biggest series of the lot. I don’t know why.
What would you say to people who don’t like cricket and think it’s weird that everyone cares so much about a tiny urn?
It’s the tradition and heritage. It’s the old enemy, the banter and the bragging rights all wrapped up into one. We’re great mates with Australia but we love to beat them. It’s an age-old rivalry.
Is being a Test Match Special commentator the easiest job in the world?
We just talk about pigeons, buses and a bit of cricket. And cake. It’s great. You’ve got the best seat in the house. I remember when I was about 10, sitting in my dad’s car in a traffic jam going to Brighton and listening to it. That’s where I got my love for the game so I’m honoured to be involved with Test Match Special. It’s a legendary little slot.
Is any of it scripted?
Yes, we write 6 hours of script about pigeons.
You don’t have a list of 10 jokes to get in at some point?
No, and I think that’s great. You just watch the cricket and have a bit of a laugh. It’s a bit like being down the pub.
When you and Jonathan Agnew are commentating, do you feel you’re qualified to talk about a batsman’s technique?
Just because I didn’t get any runs it doesn’t mean I don’t know what I should have been doing. I’m a good batting coach because I was a bowler. I’ve played the game so I can give my comment on it.
What about when Geoffrey Boycott comes on and starts having a dig at you for being rubbish at batting?
Does Arsene Wenger know nothing about football because he didn’t play for his club or his country? Or Alex Ferguson? I know a bad shot as much as anyone. We don’t bang on about technique, but I played cricket for 20 years so I kind of know what I’m talking about.
Is it true that Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott don’t get on?
I have no idea. I think they do, I don’t know.
Why do spinners like yourself and Shane Warne make good pundits?
We used to bowl slowly and get people out by outthinking them instead of using brute force. We have to think about the game, bowl our variations and look for people’s weaknesses. I think you’re a little bit more kind of analytical about the game as a spin bowler.
Graham Swann is the one England player you can rely on to give an entertaining interview. What is it about spin bowlers that make them such a bloody laugh?
You’ve got to be a bit mad to be a spin bowler. All these other people bowl at a million miles an hour and try to knock your head off, we just bowl slowly. It’s a little bit mad.