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My Life at Middlesex - John Emburey

over 4 years ago | Interviews


I was a Surrey Young Cricketer hoping to go on the staff at The Oval in 1971. But because of their financial situation at the time, they couldn’t take any more young players on the staff, and they had plenty of cover in the spin-bowling department. The coach at Surrey at the time, Arthur McIntyre, recommended that I contact Don Bennett at Middlesex. Me being a Surrey boy from south London, I didn’t bother. And then Middlesex contacted me: Don Bennett invited me for a trial, I had that trial at Lord’s, played a couple of second XI matches and was then offered a contract mid-summer.


I had a long apprenticeship in the second XI developing my skills; I wasn’t going to take Fred’s [Titmus] place until he retired. I had six or seven seasons playing second-team cricket, he then went to Surrey, and I was hoping to break into the side straight away in 1977. But I didn’t; Norman Featherstone, who was a batsman that bowled a few offices, got into the side early season. Eventually I got an opportunity and bowled quite well, taking 7-36 at Cambridge. It went from there and I had a good season. I remember Mike Brearley saying that if I could improve my batting there could be an opportunity to go on England’s tour that winter. At 25 and having just broken into the side, it was a bit rapid. That didn’t happen but I went away and played cricket in Australia, had a really good season and made my [Test] debut in ’78.


We had a very good, young second XI side that won the second XI Championship in ’74. We won the Under-25s competition in 1972, 1973, and 1974. We had the good basis of a young side coming through and, bit by bit, the more senior players began to retire. In ’76 we won the Championship and everything started to change at the club. A lot of that was down to Mike Brearley as captain and Don Bennett as coach. Coaches in those days looked predominantly after the second team. And the captain looked after the first team. It was Don Bennett’s skill of identifying young talent that brought a lot of players through at Middlesex and ultimately brought about that success.


He didn’t set fields for you; he always asked your opinion on what fields you’d like, and more often that not would give you the field that you wanted. If it didn't work out after a few overs, then he'd offer his suggestions. He was very focused in everything he did and what he wanted from everyone, and tactically, he was brilliant. I remember once Keith Tomlins in a final was batting at five and was very nervous. Mike Brearley sent down the 12th man with a whisky for him and told him to have it. He drank it, went out and got a first-baller! It didn’t work but it made Keith Tomlins feel much better. Mike Brearley was an excellent man manager and worked with individuals for the benefit of the team. He shaped the way Middlesex played in terms of the success we had. I suppose the players that came through him took on his philosophy. When Gatt [Mike Gatting] took over as captain, we continued to have success. It was an amazing period to play in.


The best team we had was in 1980, when we won the Championship and the Gillette Cup. That side was the best Middlesex team that I played in. Logically we should have won all four competitions that year; that’s how good we were. The introduction of Vintcent van der Bijl to our squad alongside Wayne Daniel, Mike Selvey, Phil Edmonds and myself – we had the nucleus of a top bowling attack. That same year I got 12 wickets against Nottinghamshire all on the same day. That was my best every performance but it was all odds and sods for me in terms of contributing to matches. I just enjoyed my cricket like everyone else. No-one worried about salaries and what we earned; everyone just enjoyed playing. We enjoyed the winning.


We complemented each other. We were two different types of bowlers in our outlook and the way we thought about bowling. I think someone once said that Philipe was a Cavalier and I was a Roundhead. Philipe was always willing to experiment with his bowling and make something happen, whereas I relied on control and bounce. I was probably a more steady, blinkered bowler in that respect and didn’t bowl many bad balls. I look at the end of our careers, and our figures were very similar. Philipe had one of the best actions I’d ever seen and to play and partner him – I’d say one big disappointment was that we were always competing with one another for a place in the England side. But I guessed that helped us in having a competitive edge when we played. Although we always supported each other, there was the element of wanting to outbowl one another as well.


The player that had the most influence on the field was Wayne Daniel. He bowled quick. Other counties were aware of the pace he had and I wouldn’t say he made it easier for us, but people took more chances against the spinners with Wayne in the side, to the benefit of Phil and I. I don’t think Wayne’s had the praise he should have done. He was probably the most important player we had in terms of the way other teams played us, certainly in terms of batting against us.

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