When the England touring party for Australia was announced in 1986-87, many wise judges predicted that the young Leicestershire pair of Phillip DeFreitas and James Whitaker was there to learn the ropes; to get the feel of Test cricket by watching from the dressing room. The 20-year-old ‘Daffy’ DeFreitas, though, had other ideas: with consistent performances in the lead-up matches. He demanded and received his first Test cap in Brisbane, where he was impressed with his batting, bowling, and electrifying fielding.
Phillip Anthony Jason DeFreitas was born at Scotts Head, Dominica on Feb 18, 1966. Dominica, one of the Leeward Islands, does not have a great cricketing tradition, but the island has produced three West Indies Test players — Norbert Phillip and the cousins Grayson and Irvine Shillingford. Thoughts of future Test success were the last thing on the minds of Martin and Sybil DeFreitas when they decided to move to Willesden, North London, from Dominica in 1975.
They hoped for a better life for their seven sons. Phillip, the fifth son, remembers little about the homeland he left at the age of nine, although he played his first games of cricket on the beaches there. Older brother Faron, who has played for Middlesex 2nd XI and is currently a Durham League professional, introduced Phillip to Middlesex club Sudbury Court, whose football section has given John Barnes and Brian Stein to the national soccer team.
Phillip DeFreitas first played for Sudbury Court at the age of 13 and became a first-team regular towards the end of 1982. Club officials Michael Capitelli and Charles Meyers recall the youngster as having a tremendous amount of natural ability; quite apart from his bowling, they rate him as the best batsman ever to appear for the club.
The pair is proud of Phillip DeFreitas’s loyalty to his old club — he still plays occasionally when his other commitments permit. After assiduous teaching from club coach Ken Liffen, Sudbury Court recommended DeFreitas for a place on the MCC cricket staff, a position he took up in 1984. Lord’s head coach Don Wilson remembers that he didn’t see much of the player: ‘He was away playing for Middlesex 2nd XI most of the time!’
Towards the end of the 1984 season, DeFreitas played a couple of matches for Leicestershire 2nd XI, impressing the county’s coach Ken Higgs. Both Leicester-shire and Middlesex made contract offers for 1985, and, after weighing up the possibilities, DeFreitas joined the Midland County, where the seam-bowling department looked less imposing. The 1984-85 winters saw DeFreitas return to West Indies, with England’s under-19 side, which was managed by Bob Willis.
Phillip DeFreitas gained more useful experience, which he soon put to good use. Early in 1985, reports of his pace spread quickly around the 2nd XI circuit. Opposing batsmen were careful not to rile Leicester-shire’s rapid opening pair of DeFreitas and George Ferris. Towards the end of the season, DeFreitas was given a run in the first team, finishing with 27 wickets (26.03) from his nine matches. To further his career, DeFreitas spent the 1985-86 winter playing for the South Australian grade club Port Adelaide.
Phillip DeFreitas was acknowledged as the fastest bowler around the Adelaide clubs, and some of his opponents (and some of his own slip fielders) scoffed when DeFreitas was described as a ‘medium-pacer’ when his selection for the tour was announced. As a very deep third slip to DeFreitas in 1985, I too can vouch for a turn of speed that severely damaged the spinning finger of my neighbor in the slips, Surrey’s Keith Medlycott.
After his Australian experience, Phillip DeFreitas returned to Grace Road a more complete cricketer. He was Leicestershire’s only ever-present player in the 1986 Championship, and he won the Britannic Assurance ‘Player of the Season award. Phillip DeFreitas finished with 645 runs (23.04) and 94 wickets (23.10) in all matches. Among a number of notable performances were his 6 for 42 and career-best 7 for 44 against Essex — a match in which the eventual champions were defeated inside two days — and a marvelous day at Canterbury, when he followed his 113-minute maiden century (18 fours) with 6 for 21 against Kent.
Returns like this, added to an impressive showing for the TCCB XI against the New Zealanders, pushed the 20-year-old past the other challengers notably Derek Pringle — for the second all-rounder’s berth on the Australian tour. His early tour performances saw DeFreitas into the first Test side, at the age of 20 years 269 days. Only Brian Close, Denis Compton, and current team-mate Graham Dilley have played for England in Ashes Tests at a more tender age.
The future holds a lot for the young man with a taste for turquoise tracksuits: his emergence at the time Ian Botham announced that he wills no longer tour is fortunate indeed for England. Botham replaced Tony Greig, with scarcely anyone noticing the loss of the former captain: Phillip DeFreitas seems the best bet yet to replace the ‘irreplaceable’ when the time comes.
Phillip DeFreitas is congratulated by skipper Mike Gatting after trapping Dean Jones lbw in the first Test at Brisbane. The 20-year-old allrounder enjoyed a splendid debut, scoring 40 and taking five wickets.