PHIL TUFNELL

Phil Tufnell was looking at peace with the world as he relaxed on the visitors' balcony watching his Middlesex team mates take on Durham in a Sunday League match at the Riverside during May.

Not selected due to a couple of niggling injuries and the limited amount of turn revealed in the Riverside wicket during the just completed County Championship match, the oft-troubled England left-arm spinner was in upbeat mood as he talked about the host venue, his media work and chances of playing in the Ashes this summer.

"I like to play in the one-day stuff," he said, as the Middlesex physio massaged his injured ankle. "If the pitch is looking like it'll take a bit of turn I'll usually play but if not we have plenty of seaming all-rounders (at Middlesex) and that's what we decided to go with in this match."

Tufnell had lasted the course of the preceding Championship match and had guarded praise for the Riverside wicket: "It's a good batting pitch here as the match scores indicated but there wasn't that much in for the spinners. Producing the perfect wicket - good for the seamers early on, flattening out for the middle part of the game, then favouring the spinners towards the end - is not as easy as people seem to think. The Riverside's a good pitch but lacks a little bit of 'oomph'. The bounce is even but it's not easy to score quickly on."

Does Tufnell like playing at the Riverside? "Yeah. We always get a good welcome up here, there's some good banter with the crowd which our boys enjoy, there's a great pavilion and great facilities."

He sees no reason why the ground can't stage a Test Match sooner rather later. "The far side of the ground needs a bit of development," he continued. "But why not play a five-day Test Match here? The facilities are spot on for international cricket and the fan base is here - people love their cricket in the North East. What more do you need?"

Tufnell is high on praise for the Durham youngsters, picking out Paul Collingwood as a player with an outstanding future in the game. He was also impressed by the performance of Nicky Peng, who made a century in the Championship match, and reckons he could go to play for England. "It's a bit early to say, he's only 18, but he's shown some potential. He's had a poor run of scores leading up to the match but that hundred will give him great confidence. If he hadn't played that knock we'd have made you follow-on and probably beaten you."

He's also confident that Martin Love will prove to be a good signing for Durham. Tufnell had the Australian stumped in the second innings with what he modestly describes as "a beautiful piece of bowling", but believes he'll score a lot of runs by the time the season's out. "He's an ACB contracted guy, so he's bound to be able to bat a bit. He certainly looks the part. You know what you are going to get with an Aussie and that's usually plenty of runs."

Could Tufnell be producing some more "beautiful bowling" against Love's fellow countrymen in the Ashes later this Summer? "I dunno," he answered cautiously. "I think I've still got some bowling left to do for England. It's a bit of a cliché but I'm playing hard for Middlesex, taking some wickets and I'm ready if the call comes - we'll just have to wait and see. I'd love to play in the Ashes again - it's still the best series to play in and I want to be involved."

If Tufnell doesn't get his chance and is not selected for the Winter tours will we be seeing more of him as an expert panellist on Sky TV running the rule over England's performance, where he has surprised many with his informative views on the game? "I like doing the TV stuff and writing for the papers (he writes a column for the Evening Standard and Sunday People)," he concluded. "I find it quite relaxing really. There's a lot to be said for commentating when you weigh it against being 'pinned' by some bloke bowling at 90 miles an hour at you in a Test Match. I've still a lot of cricket left in me; I'm by no means planning to hang my boots up but it's nice to do other things."

Whatever Tufnell ends up doing this winter, I for one will be tuning in.


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