Home Interviews Shaun Udal, former England, Hampshire and Middlesex spin bowler

Shaun Udal, former England, Hampshire and Middlesex spin bowler

by Freddie

This month we speak to a former off-spinner who took over 800 first-class wickets, yet for reasons few of us understand, didn’t get the Test match recognition he deserved until he was 36 years of age – a player who had the fortune of listing players such as Shane Warne, Malcolm Marshall, David Gower, Robin Smith, Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke, among his many team-mates. It is of course former Hampshire and Middlesex favourite, Shaun Udal.

Now, the challenge interviewing someone like Shaun, is where do you start with someone who played with such an illustrious list of former team-mates, someone who has a 100 percent win rate in four Lords finals, took five wickets in a Test match in Mumbai, played in a famous T20 cup win, was out in Antigua for the whole Stanford affair, and who narrowly avoided the Mumbai attacks by 24 hours, the list goes on…

“It certainly has been eventual,” remarked Shaun, or Shaggy as he was known on the circuit.

Well, let’s do what we always do, and start at the beginning. Where did it all start?

“Well, my grandfather and father were both very good cricketers. My grandfather played half a dozen first class games for Middlesex and Leicestershire. He was a very fast bowler and at one stage was measured as fast as Larwood. My Dad was an outstanding club cricketer for 40 odd years at Camberley Cricket Club, where he scored tens of thousands of runs and took over 3,000 wickets. He had a chance of going to Surrey, but money in cricket wasn’t what it is now, and he instead decided to do an apprenticeship for a printing firm. So, cricket for me all came from those two. As a family, we’d go, and watch Dad play at Camberley. My Mum would do the teas and I would do the scoring.”

And what about playing cricket? “I played a lot of games for my secondary school and at Camberley, along with my brother who went on to become a very good and competitive club cricketer and led Camberley to a cup victory. I was picked up at Hampshire at 15, which was rare, as it was pretty unheard of for a kid at a comprehensive school to be picked up.”

Shaun’s initial stay in the Hampshire colt set-up only lasted a year before he moved to Surrey, something many of you might not be aware of.

“Hampshire didn’t have an under 16 side but Surrey did, so I actually played one season of colts cricket at Surrey with the likes of Graham Thorpe and Martin Bicknell, but Hampshire was always my number one choice and after a year at Surry I returned to Hampshire and played in their under 18s and 19s.”

By a twist of fate, Shaun’s first game back at Hampshire was against Surrey at the Oval and just two years later, in 1989, he was making his first-class debut on a bitterly cold April morning against Oxford University. “Everything happened for me quite quickly. I was actually more nervous for my first game back rather than on my first-class debut. With my first-class debut, it was against Oxford University and there wasn’t much of a crowd. But that first game back against Surrey, I was desperate to do well. I remember Tony Richards, the captain, kept me out of the attack until the middle of the afternoon and Surrey were going great guns – Darren Bicknell scored an excellent hundred. But I ended up bowling 21 overs and took 4/40. I took 3 more in the second innings and also hit the winning runs, so it was quite a memorable debut. In fact, throughout my career a lot of my best performances came against Surrey. I always enjoyed bowling at the Oval as the pitches always had good bounce and would turn.”

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Shaun properly broke into the Hampshire 1st XI in 1991 and success was immediate as the first of his Lord’s wins, fell in that first ‘proper’ season. A win against, who else… Surrey and a final in which he was named man of the match.

“Winning that NatWest Trophy was a fantastic achievement, but we did have an excellent side, with the likes of David Gower, Robin Smith, Paul Terry, Mark Nicholas, Cardigan Connor and Aaqib Javed.”

One player who missed that final, because of his commitments with the West Indies, was the late, legendary West Indian fast bowler Malcolm Marshall, someone Shaun was very close to.

“Malcolm was the simply the best quick bowler there has been. He was an absolute gentleman and his attitude to for playing for Hampshire was second to none. He was with Hampshire for 10 years, and the only seasons he missed was when he had touring commitments with the West Indies.”

In 1992, Shaun took a remarkable 109 wickets, across all formats, a haul that somehow wasn’t enough for England selectors to take notice, despite England’s troubles in Test cricket at that time. And they didn’t again, 12 months later, having taken a further 111 wickets. “It was extremely frustrating. The first season, to a point I could understand it as people can sometimes say a one season wonder, but to then take 111 wickets the following year and still not get recognition for even an A tour hit me hard.”

And if you think back, it wasn’t as if we had spinners in the side who had cemented their places. The turning point of Shaun’s international aspirations, came however, with the appointment of Ray Illingworth as chairman of selectors in 1994.

“Back in 1991, I played in a NatWest quarter final against Lancashire and took 3/40. Ray Illingworth was commentating and said that I had the most smooth and natural action he’d seen in years, so I was fortunate that he’d become a huge fan of me. As soon as he took over in 1994, I was selected for the first time, alongside Darren Gough, for the ODI series against New Zealand.”

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I actually remember this well and the photo of Shaun and Goughy on the front page of the Cricketer – the new dawn was the headline.

“It was an amazing feeling.”

As was typical in that period, hearing of his selection, wasn’t a straightforward exercise!

“We were playing in a four-day game against Sussex and I was sat in a café in Brighton when I received a call from a journalist asking me for my reaction to my selection. I had no idea. I headed to the ground and asked Mark Nicholas who said it was true. What was good for me was Robin Smith was also in the side at that time, and we were really close mates. He drove us up to Edgbaston and told me how everything worked and what to expect. He always made sure I wasn’t on my own, which made settling in really easy. We scored something like 220, and I then took 2/37 off of my 11 overs as we bowled them out.”

And not a bad two wickets…

“Adam Parore was my first wicket, bowled through the gate and then Ken Rutherford, LBW to an arm ball, which is always nice when you try and set someone up.”

Shaun played all of the games in that series, together with further one-day games against South Africa later on in the summer. His performances, coupled with his 70 first-class wickets that summer, saw him selected for the Ashes tour down under, in the winter.

“It was strange, because it was my first tour. I’d never played any schoolboy representative cricket. I was never picked for an A-tour. So, my first game away for England, at any level, was a one-day international under the lights in Sydney!”

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Any cricketer’s dream. And what was that first tour like, particularly with the hustle and bustle of an Ashes tour? “I didn’t play much cricket early on. A warm-up against New South Wales in Newcastle, but that was it. It was the tour that Tuffers had a few problems. One day he was going home, and I was told I was going to be the first-choice spinner and then he was staying, and I was no longer first choice. We played the first three Tests and then came the one-day games where we had a four-team series with us, Zimbabwe, Australia and Australia A – a tournament that ended up with Australia playing Australia A in the final!”

Sadly, for Shaun, his appearances were limited to the one-day games and the tour came to a premature end. “We travelled up to Brisbane for a one-day game and I tried to whack someone out of the ground and ended up tearing my intercostal muscle and got told it was best to head home and recover.”

Shaun did play a series against the West Indies the following summer, but a wicketless series, saw his international career come to a halt for what was to be ten, long years.

“I didn’t get a wicket in 3 games against the West Indies, although my economy rate was good. But I still took 60 first class wickets that summer. I went on an A tour to Pakistan in the winter, but there was me, Ian Salisbury and Richard Stemp and I didn’t get too much of a look in and hardly played. It was to be the start of a bad couple of years for me. Mark Nicholas retired as Hampshire captain. He was always someone who looked after me and knew how to get the best out of me. We did play on a lot of green wickets in that period, but I really struggled, and I did worry about my contract.”

The turning point was Hampshire’s appointment of Robin Smith as 1st team captain. “Robin made me his vice-captain. He sat me down and told me that the club believed in me and that I’d come back stronger. He wanted to give me added responsibility and that really boosted my morale.  I took 50 first-class wickets in that next season, which is a number you always benchmark yourself against. I also scored some runs and I was enjoying my cricket again.”

And that enjoyment moved on to the next level, with the arrival of Shane Warne to Hampshire in 2000, someone who Shaun holds in the highest of regard and someone who went on to not only become a team-mate but a mentor, friend and huge influence.

“Shane was the most competitive cricketer I played with and an absolute all-round influence. I remember when Robin and I went to pick him up. I’ll never forget us arriving at Heathrow in the arrivals area and just seeing this flash of cameras everywhere as he arrived. I was just like ‘oh my God, this is really real!’ We had a big chat in the car and we actually had a game the next day, so we took him to meet the rest of the team. He introduced himself by saying ‘hi, my name is Shane’, like we wouldn’t have known! But he shook everyone’s hand and just wanted no fuss. We headed off to Essex, had a team meal and he was just a very normal down to earth guy that was an absolute pleasure to be around.”

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Warne had one initial season in 2000, was due back in 2003, but couldn’t because of his drugs ban, but then returned to the south coast in 2004, for a period where he cemented himself alongside Malcolm Marshall as a true Hampshire great. “In 2003 we were terrible. We finished second from bottom and couldn’t buy a win. Then Shane came back as captain and with the same squad of players, we went from two years of nothing to only lose out winning the title by one point to Notts. He turned it around with his sheer desire to win. I’d never played cricket with anyone who wanted to win so badly. No one can ever complain about his attitude and desire. There were times he was playing for us with his shoulder hanging off. But he’d take a pain killer and get out there and play.”

I asked Shaun, as a spinner, what did he learn from Warne, and was he ever fearful of losing his place, given he was suddenly competing with the arguably the best spinner that has ever played the game?

“Absolutely. When Shane first came in, I questioned if it might be the end of my career. But one of the first things he said to me was ‘Shaun, I promise you, you will play at least three quarters of the games. He was true to his word and whenever we played together, he used to always bring me on to bowl before him. I would be thinking, ‘why me, you’re the best spinner in the world?’. He’d just say, ‘because you’ll get him out.’ He knew exactly what to say to make people feel confident. And he taught me that the head rules everything, the mindset you need as a spinner and the importance of working on how to get a batsman out. I just used to run in and bowl and get wickets with a bit of bounce and turn but Shane made me realise how to really set batsmen up.”

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Ahead of the 2005 Ashes series, Shane passed on the Hampshire captaincy to Shaun, such was his faith in Shaun’s ability. “We played Middlesex at Southgate on a real turning club wicket and lost by 2 wickets. As we were getting onto the coach Shane said to me, ‘mate you gotta look after this team while I’m away’. I said I’ll do my best, but he said ‘No, I want you to captain it. You’ve got the respect of the team-mates, and you think about things in the right way.’ For the 8 weeks I was captain we won the C&G Trophy at Lords, we finished 2nd or 3rd in the County Championship and I took a lot of wickets. It was just a wonderful period of my career. The win at Lord’s meant I became the first Hampshire born and bred captain to lift a trophy which means a lot to me, to this day, and is something that can never be taken away.  I then got back into the England side, and none of this would have been possible without Shane Warne.”

Shaun’s recall to the England set-up saw him finally make his Test debut in Pakistan at the age of 36. It was far from a dream debut, but that dream performance was to follow.

“The pitches in Pakistan were like bowling on concrete. I took 5 wickets at an average of around 70! I definitely thought I wouldn’t be going on the tour of India, which followed after Christmas. But thankfully in between the two series, India travelled to Pakistan and on those same pitches, Harbhajan Singh played three Tests and didn’t take a single wicket, which made me hope the selectors would see that and realise my performances weren’t as bad as the numbers suggested. Anyway, I received the call from David Graveney who told me that I would be going to India. That gave me confidence that the management backed me.”

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The tour to India sadly didn’t start the way Shaun had hoped. “Within a week or 10 days of arriving I got really ill in Baroda.  I literally lost a stone and a half and it took me to the end of the 2nd Test to get better, by which stage we were one nil down as we headed to Mumbai for the final Test.”

A number of us in the Addis remember this Mumbai Test with very fond memories. Of course, the leading memory is our own Wycombe, getting his hair shaved in the stand. No one knows how a hair shaver got into the ground, or indeed why, and then the batteries ran out halfway through his ‘cut’, leaving his hair more like BA from the A-Team, only reversed, hair down the sides and nothing through the middle. I digress. The famous memories on the pitch was Shaun and his 4/14 in the second innings which took England to a famous victory.

“Two days before the Test, Duncan Fletcher told me I was in the side. The biggest thing for us in that Test, was when Rahul Dravid won the toss and chose to bowl. You always look at the commentators at the toss to see who they turn to, to speak to first, we were all stunned when he chose to bowl. The pitch was brown and dry. They do say that if it’s going to do anything with the ball in Mumbai it’s in the first hour, but still. They gambled, picked six batters and five bowlers, with Dhoni keeping and we went out and scored 400.  Straussy scored an excellent ton and Owais Shah on debut scored 80 odd. We bowled them out and got a lead of 120 or so. I managed to take one wicket, a catch at mid-on by Matthew Hoggard, but I hadn’t had a very good game to that point.  I remember going back to my hotel room that night thinking, I’d gone for 4 and a half runs an over, my hands were sweaty, I had no control and I couldn’t grip the ball.”

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But wise words from Robin Smith and Shane Warne lifted Shaun and gave him the confidence to go on and achieve what he did in that famous second innings. “Robin was out in India with a tour group and he said to me that evening, ‘what would Shane do in this situation?’ I replied, ‘he’d pick himself up, dust himself down and get on with it’, ‘then that’s what you gotta do,’ Robin replied. I then received a text message from Shane. ‘How’s it going? Did you struggle today?’ He then just told me that I deserved to be there, what did I have to lose, told me this could be my last Test match for my country so go out, relax and enjoy it.’ That gave me such a boost. The next day we were batting, and I was asked to do nightwatchman duties – I got dropped twice! But I got a few runs the following morning and hung around for an hour and 20 mins and we ended up with a 300 or so run lead. We had them one down overnight, going into the last day.  I remember Monty bowling a bad over before lunch and Freddie asked me to come on. At lunch Freddie had Jonny Cash music on and literally everyone was up dancing when he turned to me and said, ‘me and you now’. He got Dravid in the first over after lunch and I got Sachin caught bat pad, followed by Dhoni when he came down the wicket and hit it straight into the air which, Monty eventually caught.”

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This was the Mumbai Test when a couple of balls before that Dhoni wicket, Dhoni again hit it in the air, Monty tried to get underneath it only for the ball to fall to the ground metres behind him! One of the funniest moments watching England away!

The game was wrapped up when Shaun took the winning catch and the celebrations began.

“What a night. We all took a boat across the harbour and sat out there for 3 or 4 hours. It was fantastic. We then came back and carried on in the bar and when the bar closed, we carried on sitting around by the pool. It was a great feeling to take five wickets in the match, but little did I know that, that was going to be my last Test match.”

A few months later, England were hosting Sri Lanka, and the selectors plumped for Monty as their number one spinner. I asked Shaun, if he thought that, that might be the case when the next Test came around? “I didn’t. Not once I took those wickets. Monty had bowled well in the series in India, but in that final game, where he was needed to bowl well in the last innings and didn’t, I thought that might swing things in my favour. I’d also been given a bit of a nudge by one of the England coaching staff that my name was being put forward as the first-choice spinner. On the Sunday morning when the squad was announced we were playing at Southgate, my phone rings at 9am and I honestly thought it was a call to tell me I was selected, but it was of course a call to tell me I wasn’t. I asked why, given I’d take 5 wickets in my last Test and they said that Monty was the future, he was going to be around for the next 10 years and that with the greatest respect I was 36. If I’m honest, at least I got told the truth which I was grateful for.”

Shaun did get picked in the preliminary 30-man squad for the 2009 ICC World T20, but didn’t make the final cut, so that match winning spell with the ball in Mumbai, was to be his final appearance in a 3 Lions shirt. It should have been so many more and let’s be honest it was crazy that his Test debut didn’t come until he was 36.

The end of the 2007 season saw Shaun retire from first-class cricket. A retirement that lasted… a couple of weeks!

“My contract wasn’t going to get renewed by Hampshire. I was told they wanted to look at the youngsters. I thought with Shane no longer around, they’d want to keep an experienced head, but it wasn’t to be. I thought to myself I’d rather retire than be sacked, so I did and then literally within a fortnight, I had three counties on the phone. I spoke to them all but John Emburey at Middlesex, was brilliant. He said to that I still had years left in me, they were looking for a second spinner, they were building a T20 side modelled around two spinners, and that I would play at least three quarters of the season. I spoke to my wife and family and they all said to do it. It meant staying in a hotel in London, which wasn’t great, but I went on to have three wonderful seasons at Middlesex.”

The highlight of which was of course the T20 win in 2008, back at the Rose Bowl. “We had a great T20 side with Ed Joyce, Owais Shah, Eoin Morgan, Dawid Malan, Murali Karthik and Tyrone Henderson. We only lost one or two group games on the way to the final. I remember we played Surrey in the quarter finals and we were 20/4 before Dawid Malan smashed a hundred off 50 balls. Then the Finals day at the Rose Bowl was just meant to be. I took 1/17 in the semi and 1/21 in the final as we beat Kent. The celebrations lasted long into the night.”

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Later that summer Shaun was asked to be captain when Ed Smith was injured. “I said of course. I captained the last 3 championship games, we won two of them and drew one and ended up finishing 3rd. I loved it. I mean who wouldn’t enjoy captaining your team at Lord’s.”

Another interesting memory from Shaun’s time at Middlesex was their involvement in the Allan Stanford T20 series. Prior to the $20million game, Middlesex took on a Caribbean side in a lucrative warm up game the day before the main event. “We lost in the last over, but what a surreal experience. It was basically a two week all expenses paid trip to the Jolly Beach resort, with three games of T20 cricket.”

And looking back what was it like to meet Allan Stanford? “He was definitely a forceful character, who dominated a room, but he seemed totally genuine.”

Middlesex’s win in the T20 Blast also meant they were due to appear in the then ‘Champions Trophy’, a competition which saw the winners of the IPL and the domestic T20 competitions in Australia, England and South Africa compete to see who’d be named as the best T20 side in the World.

24 hours prior to Middlesex’s planned arrival at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, came news of the terrorist attack on the hotel. “We were due in that hotel 24 hours later. I received a call from our chief executive who just said, ‘we’re not going to be flying tomorrow’, I said why? I didn’t have a clue. I was down the pub having a pint. I got the news put on and couldn’t believe it. 24 hours later and 25 English cricketers would have been prime targets in that hotel. Thank god it wasn’t, because if those attacks were 24 hours later, we wouldn’t be here now.”

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Shaun captained Middlesex for one more season, before finally retiring in 2010. “My body took over and it was a difficult discussion with Angus Fraser mid-way through a season. But I had 3 very enjoyable years at a club, which was run by some very good people.”

It wasn’t the end of cricket for Shaun. He went on to play minor counties cricket for Berkshire, a period which included a fourth Lords appearance as Berkshire beat Hertfordshire in a one-day final, and he still plays the odd local club game now.

Despite his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Shaun leads an extremely active life. As well as the odd game of cricket, he can often be found on the golf course, and he runs a very successful clothing business: www.cottongraphics.co.uk which sells customised, embroidered clothing, workwear, sportswear and uniforms, oh and face masks! Check out their site.

I know a number of Hampshire fans and I myself am a Middlesex fan, so I know first-hand just how much happiness Shaun’s performances over the years gave to so many members and supporters. And for us in the Addis, none of us will ever forget those Mumbai memories of 2006.

Shaun, your record of over 1,300 wickets and 11,000 runs, across all formats, says it all.

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