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Dean Headley – A Career Too Short

There are two families who have produced three generations of Test cricketers. There will doubtless be more in years to come but the Headleys of West Indies and England will, by virtue of being the first, probably remain the best known. Grandfather George was the first great West Indian batsman and still has the third highest batting average of all time. Father Ron was an opening batsman who brought a dash of Caribbean style to county cricket several years before residential qualification rules were relaxed in 1968 to allow counties to specially register overseas players. He played for Worcestershire between 1958 and 1974 and, after an injury to Steve Camacho, the county were persuaded to release him to allow him to join the 1973 West Indian tourists and he played in two Tests and an ODI.

Ron’s son Dean was born in Stourbridge in 1970 and he signed for his father’s county, Worcestershire, after leaving school and in time for the 1989 season. Sadly however his performances were unremarkable. There were no first team appearances and a disappointed Dean was released after just one summer.

For 1990 Dean played in the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League and assisted his club to promotion and a victory in a cup final. He came to the notice of Staffordshire as well and played a number of games in the Minor Counties Championship. Then family friend Clive Lloyd effected some introductions at Derbyshire, Somerset and Middlesex, all of whom liked the look of what they saw and made Dean an offer. He chose Middlesex.

Two summers of modest achievement at Lord’s followed before Dean moved on to Kent. He felt that, in financial terms, the offer he had received from Middlesex did not fairly reflect either the cost of living in London or the role he would be expected to undertake which, with England pacemen Gus Fraser, Neil Williams and Norman Cowans all struggling with injury, and Simon Hughes having moved to Durham, he expected to be as leader of the attack.

The split was not a happy one, the Middlesex secretary at one point commenting; Perhaps in time Headley will have the good manners to tell us where he is going, and why. A complaint was made to the TCCB and there was a slight delay to the start of the next stage of Dean’s career as a result of waiting for their decision.

West Indian batsman Carl Hooper was a friend of Dean’s and Kent’s overseas player at the time and he was the catalyst for Dean joining his third and, as it turned out, final county. There was a distinct improvement as soon as he arrived at Kent both in terms of wickets taken and average and, when they were all fit, with Alan Igglesden and Martin McCague Dean formed as effective a pace trio as the County Championship had.

In his own words Dean took quite a lot of time to grow into my own body, and he gained a yard or two of pace in his early years at Kent. His returns were consistent, although an average that remained stubbornly in the high 20s might have been better. He was not injury free either, and missed a considerable amount of cricket in 1994 due to being on the treatment table.

After a full season in 1995 44 wickets at 29.00 were not the figures to create an expectation of an international call and Dean duly missed out. He was in luck however and received a late invitation to join England ‘A’ in Pakistan as a replacement for Peter Martin who had his own stroke of good fortune when he was called into the main squad as a replacement. The unlucky man was Richard Johnson who had been diagnosed with a stress fracture.

Dean made the most of his opportunity. He was by a distance his side’s ‘Man of the Series’. In The Cricketer Simon Hughes gave him an A in his end of term report with the summary; Faultless commitment, stamina and accuracy. Took 17 wickets (at 16.64)in the three Tests with probing, skidding deliveries on an immaculate line. In the last of the three representative games he came agonisingly close to a first hat trick. In the first over of the Pakistan innings he conceded a single whilst the crowd were still taking their seats before hitting the stumps of numbers two and three before seeing Nick Knight at second slip put down Asif Mujtaba from the hat trick ball. Six months later he certainly made up for any disappointment.

To begin with the 1996 summer was a disappointment for Dean. A hip injury meant that he could not progress, and the Indian series was already over by the time he got into his stride, but he at least had the satisfaction of helping Kent, bottom of the Championship in 1995, to get up to fourth. In doing so there was a share of a world record as well as, in the space of just 51 days he took three hat tricks. The first was against Derbyshire, and his victims were a trio of past or future Test batsmen, Kim Barnett, Chris Adams and Dean Jones. Less than a week later he was at it again, a slightly less distinguished trio, Tom Moody, Vikram Solanki and Reuben Spiring, but all three were top order batsmen. There was a wait until the penultimate game of the season for the third, against Hampshire, when John Stephenson and numbers 10 and 11 was a less spectacular feat, but a hat trick is a hat trick and three in a year a remarkable achievement. It was not surprising that Dean was disappointed when the winter’s touring parties were announced and he was still in the ‘A’ squad.

Back in the mid 1990s the prospect of any England team beating an Australian one was pretty remote, so no one expected too much of the ‘A’ side and no representative fixtures were arranged. The three First Class matches were against strong South Australian, Victorian and Queensland sides and to the surprise of most the first two were won and the third drawn. For Dean there were 14 wickets at 16.42, including 11-98 against South Australia, figures destined to remain his career best. Wisden’s verdict on Dean was ; A thinking bowler, always ready to listen, he put theory into practice at a pace which bore comparison with any opponent. His great strength was to make the batsmen play, and the pressure this created ensured regular rewards.

In 1997 Mark Taylor brought that great Australian side to England. Still awaiting a Test debut there was talk that England skipper Michael Atherton didn’t particularly rate Dean on the basis that he didn’t have an outswinger. That perception was something that made Atherton distinctly grumpy with the press the previous winter, but it has to said that Dean barely merits a mention in Atherton’s autobiography. Whatever Atherton’s views England’s pace attack for the first Test was made up of Darren Gough, Andy Caddick and Devon Malcolm. This was the remarkable match when England reduced Australia, after a clean sweep in the ODIs, to 92-8 at lunch on the opening day and went on to win by nine wickets.

Sadly of course it was a false dawn, and only the rain saved England at Lord’s. After two wickets in that harum scarum first session in the first Test Malcolm hadn’t taken a wicket, and the selectors had to choose one from him, Dean and Gloucestershire’s Mike Smith for the third Test at Old Trafford. Dean got the nod and at 27 made his Test debut. If he lacked an outswinger that was inevitably of less significance against a side like Australia who had three left handers in their top six, and by tea on the first day, after Taylor had surprised some by choosing to bat first, Dean had removed all three of them as Australia had struggled to get to 162-7. Had it not been for one of the great Ashes centuries from Steve Waugh, and an obdurate display from Paul Reiffel who helped him put on 70 for the eighth wicket, the rather less than imposing 235 that Australia were all out for on the second morning could have been many fewer.

If praise from his skipper was not particularly fulsome Dean certainly impressed Waugh Snr who wrote in his tour diary that he settled into a nice rhythm from the start as he moved the ball off the wicket at good pace and created enormous problems for our left handed opening combination ….. he gave us the fright of our lives as we struggled to reach the lunch break without losing a grip on the Test.

Just as our hopes had been raised of another victory England’s batting let us down again and even on that modest total a deficit of 73 was conceded and Australia batted a whole lot better second time round. England didn’t and lost by 268. Normal service had been resumed although Dean, with another four wickets in the second innings, including all three left handers again as well as Waugh for his second century of the match, certainly enhanced his reputation.

There were heavy defeats in the next two Tests as well, although Dean let no one down. Australia had to bat only once in the fourth Test, and he dismissed both Waughs, and then took six more wickets in the fifth Test, lost by 264. By the time England, largely thanks to Phil Tufnell, nicked the final Test by 19 runs to give the scoreline an apparent closeness that was not in any a reflection of the series, Dean was out of the fray, injured.

His place in the touring party to the West Indies secure Dean went on to play the only full series of his career in the Caribbean. The home side were not quite the power they had been. The most recent series in England, in 1995, had been drawn 2-2 and there were real hopes that the tide was turning. It did of course do so but 1997/98 was just a little too soon. West Indies won the series 3-1 with Curtley Ambrose, 34 and written off as finished by some before the series, took 30 wickets at 14.26 to make the biggest impact. England’s leading bowler was another man whose future had been questioned, Gus Fraser with 27 at 18.22. With 19 victims at 28.73 Dean was a fair way behind, but it was a creditable return nonetheless.

Darren Gough was back against South Africa in 1998 and with Fraser still fit he and Dominic Cork made up England’s pace attack. Dean played just once, in place of an injured Gough in the second Test, but he didn’t do enough to retain his place for the next Test once Gough was back. For the last two Tests there was a four man pace attack as a 20 year old Andrew Flintoff made his debut. His time was yet to come though. He achieved little and Dean was back in favour as a member of the 1998/99 Ashes squad. His finest hour was just around the corner.

At the start of the tour Dean was well down the selectors’ pecking order and in the first Test not only were Fraser, Gough and Cork included ahead of him but left armer Alan Mullally as well. England drew that game and when Alex Tudor replaced Fraser for the second Test it was clear that Dean was the man the selectors started out with least faith in. However the batting collapsed twice as the second Test was lost and in an attempt to bolster that department Dean came in for the third Test to form a bowling unit consisting of merely himself, Gough, Mullally and off spinner Peter Such. Given the family pedigree Dean never made the most of some undoubted ability with the bat, but he was no pushover and served his side well as nightwatchman on several occasions. In the county game he reached 50 six times with a high score of 91, scored as a 22 year old at Middlesex in just his second season.

The third Test was however another resounding defeat and England went into the Melbourne game two down with two to play. There had been, in a game in which neither the bowling nor the batting impressed, five wickets for Dean so he had done enough to retain his place.

The game before the Melbourne Test was very much England’s low point of the tour. They travelled to Hobart for a match the Australian press described as a true encounter of equals, the tourists against what amounted to an Australian second eleven. The match finished with the Australian ‘reserves’ chasing down 376 for the loss of just a single wicket. Greg Blewett, a man who couldn’t get into the Test team, finished the game having scored a total of 525 runs against England for once out. The pitch at Hobart was perfect for batting and Dean would have been pleased to have earned himself a break after the third Test, but the result can have done nothing for England’s confidence going into the fourth Test.

Melbourne seemed to be more of the same. Only a captain’s innings of 107 from Alec Stewart got England as far as 270 and after that they conceded a first innings lead of 70. Dean’s bowling was unspectacular as he ended with figures of 0-86. Another disappointing batting performance left Australia a fourth innings target of just 175. No one expected that to detain them for very long. Dean dismissed Michael Slater and caught Taylor at fine leg from Mullally’s bowling to have both openers back in the pavilion with 41 on the board, but after that Justin Langer and Mark Waugh moved serenely on to 103 before Mark Ramprakash changed the course of the game.

At 103 Langer pulled a delivery from Mullally that had everyone on the ground looking at the square leg boundary until it became clear that Ramprakash, diving full length to his right, had brought off a spectacular one handed catch. The adrenaline coursing through Ramprakash’s veins was obvious and in the commentary box Tony Greig picked up on what was happening and suggested that the course of the match might be about to change.

The brothers Waugh steadied the ship for a while, and at 130-3 it seemed as if the storm had been weathered but then Dean took the outside edge of Mark’s bat and Graeme Hick at second slip made a sharp chance look very easy indeed and suddenly Ian Chappell was echoing Greig’s thoughts. Two overs and ten runs later Dean was coming round the wicket at Darren Lehmann and a lazy drive presented reserve ‘keeper Warren Hegg with a straightforward catch. In his next over, with no runs added, there were two more wickets. First of all Ian Healy gave Hick some more catching practice, and then Damien Fleming was rapped on the pads plumb in front. The Barmy Army were, to say the least, becoming rather noisy.

For a while that long time England nemesis Steve Waugh seemed, with the assistance of Matt Nicholson, playing in what proved to be his only Test, to be getting his side home. The pair batted for more than forty minutes and got Australia to within 13 before Dean induced a shot from Nicholson to a delivery he could easily have left and it was another regulation catch behind the wicket to Hegg, who performed an impromptu quickstep by way of celebration. At this point Dean was on 6-60 but it is doubtful that he would have been in the least bit disappointed at not getting a chance to improve those figures as, in the very next over, Gough removed Stuart MacGill and Glen McGrath to leave Steve Waugh marooned and England victorious by a dozen.

The abiding memory of a rare and remarkable England win might well be the celebration of ‘The Dazzler’ as he immediately grabbed a stump and repeatedly punched the air, but Dean was beyond doubt the matchwinner in cricketing terms. That said England had a bit of help from Steve Waugh, who probably shouldn’t have elected to stay on the field at the scheduled close, and who certainly shouldn’t have taken a single from the first delivery of that final Gough over.

Those who hoped the heroics at Melbourne might lead to a series-levelling win in the final Test at Sydney were to be disappointed. Australia’s winning margin was relatively small, just 98 runs, but England were never really in the hunt, although if Michael Slater, 123 in his side’s second innings of 184, had gone early the miracle might have been on. England’s bowlers plugged away though, and with Dean taking four wickets in each innings, all bar one front line batsmen, the future looked a good deal brighter for England after their fifth Test defeat than it had after that in the third.

The new home season in 1999 dawned with Dean feeling good in pre-season nets, until he slipped on a mat whilst running in. He didn’t feel anything amiss straight away, but afterwards struggled all summer. He wasn’t selected for the 1999 World Cup squad, ODIs were never really his forté, but despite never really running into any sort of form he was picked for the second and third Tests against New Zealand. He took three wickets at Lord’s and one at Old Trafford and was not retained for the last Test.

In September 1999, a month after his final Test appearance, Dean walked out on to a cricket ground to play First Class cricket for the last time. He was not yet 30 years of age. Ironically, given the increase in life expectancy over the course of the twentieth century, his playing days at the highest level were over at an age when his father was still the better part of five years away from his Test debut, and his grandfather still had 15 years to go before he played his final Test.

In absolute terms Dean’s career was not quite over. Despite his 37 First Class wickets in 1999 costing him almost 40 runs each the selectors hadn’t forgotten Melbourne and he was given a place in the party that toured South Africa in 1999/00. He didn’t bowl at all for six weeks before leaving, and was selected for the first fixture, a twelve a side friendly, but he broke down after just ten deliveries. A stress fracture to the troublesome back was diagnosed and he returned home.

Dean was still having back problems in April 2000 but in a refreshing display of loyalty he was still awarded one of the first batch of ECB central contracts. The problem would not however go away, and in March of 2001 Dean gave up the unequal struggle and announced his retirement. He had taken 60 wickets at 27.85 in fifteen Tests, all bar two of those matches against Australia and West Indies.

In the immediate aftermath of retirement Dean spent 20 months with a design and print company in Canterbury, before joining a media group in Kent. He stayed there until five years ago when he came back into the game by taking the position of cricket professional at Stamford School in Lincolnshire. Dean has two young sons himself, Caius and Raiffe, so there must be a possibility at the very least that in the next decade or so the Headleys will retake sole ownership of the game’s generational record, something they have had to share since 2005, when Majid’s son Bazid Khan played his one and only Test for Pakistan.

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