Growing old and becoming part of the establishment isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Since time immemorial, young people have rallied against The Man, burning their bras or punching police horses in the name of various good causes. But, in almost every case the same thing happens: young people become middle-aged people and settle down into a nice pleasant life. Before you know it, you wake up in the morning, you’ve got to read all the Sunday papers, the kids are running round, you’ve got to mow the lawn, wash the car, and you think “Sunday, bloody Sunday!”.
Our latest Unlikely Lad was once considered something of a rock and roll cricketer, being the first England player with an earring. He now writes for the Daily Telegraph and probably owns several pairs of seriously comfy slippers. He is, of course
Pringle’s international career ticks any number of Unlikely Lad boxes: he was part of the England Test setup for ten years, yet played only 30 Tests and 44 ODIs. While he was considered something of an all-rounder, he made just one half-century and took five wickets in an innings but thrice. In other words, he was yet another new Ian Botham that failed to make the grade.
Strangely enough, Pringle’s international career was intertwined with Botham’s, often stepping in as a replacement when the latter was indisposed, whether due to being injured, banned for smoking cannabis or off in pantomime. And no, none of those are made up. Pringle started somewhere around medium-fast and quickly went backwards, becoming that rarity amongst modern cricketers, a specialist medium pacer (think Chris Woakes after a couple more years of working with David Saker). As a result, not even the gin-addled selectors of the time were daft enough to take him on away tours; of Pringle’s 70 Test wickets only nine came away from home.
Nevertheless, he certainly had his moments, mostly against the West Indies. He took 5/108 and made 46* in 1984 (a game in which England were beaten by an innings and 180 runs on their way to the infamous 5-0 ‘blackwash’), took 5/95 in 1988 and a further 5/100 at Lord’s in 1991 as part of one of the great series. He also made a somewhat legendary 45 from 237 balls later in that series, resisting an Ambrose/Walsh/Marshall/Patterson pace attack for just over five hours as an England side full of Unlikely Lads utterly failed to overcome the last great West Indian side at Edgbaston.
But perhaps the highlight of Pringle’s international career came in the 1992 World Cup in Australia where he played eight of England’s ten matches as they reached the final. Entrusted with the new ball, Pringle produced some remarkably miserly figures, such as 7/3/16/0 against the West Indies, 8.2/5/8/3 against Pakistan and 9/1/24/1 against Australia. Plus there was the small matter of taking 3/22 from his ten overs and making 18* from 16 balls in the final. Of course, England still lost, thanks to the rubbish bowlers around him. Take a bow, messers Botham, Lewis and Reeve.
Despite intermittent success, Pringle never really stood a chance in the late 80s and early 90s as England began a couple of decades of selectorial lurching. As well as losing his place to Botham, he was also replaced at various times by the likes of Eddie Hemmings, a 37 year old Pat Pocock and David Capel, a subtle hint that he might not truly be cut out for international cricket.
Following the end of his playing career, Pringle moved into journalism, writing for the Independent and then amazingly being the smuggest man employed by The Daily Telegraph against very stiff and smug competition. He soon became a reassuringly curmudgeonly establishment figure, featuring on Cricket Writers on TV, drinking real ale and generally enjoying being middle aged.