He Wore The Wyvern: Steffan Jones

Philip Steffan Jones was born in Llanelli, south Wales on 9th February 1974. He was a Somerset player for two spells in his career and wore the Wyvern with a great deal of distinction, always showing immense heart and pride in his performance. A right-arm fast bowler and hard hitting batsman, he made his debut for the cider county at the Home of Cricket, Lords, in 1997 and truly made his mark on the Somerset watching public during a televised Sunday game against Warwickshire in 1998, arguably the best one- day team in the country at that time, taking a five-fer.

steff2Now involved in coaching, Steve Jennings sat down with Steff to talk about his career and his thoughts on fast bowling, fitness, Jamie Overton, T20 (etc., etc.)

  • I don’t like Cricket, I love it!

Cricket was not necessarily the preferred option for the young Steffan Jones, despite him joining Glamorgan CCC as a youngster while attending Cambridge University. In fact, he looked set to carve out a career in Rugby Union having played for Bristol before a move to play for Exeter brought Steffan to the West Country. He also played for Moseley. So how did the move from rugby to cricket happen?

“I had no intention of playing cricket. I was at Glamorgan in the Academy for six years and I went to Loughborough then went to Cambridge and it was all rugby and I joined Bristol RFC from there. But I was playing cricket for Cambridge against all the first class sides as we did back then. In fact Devon Malcolm hit me on the head in my first game! But I enjoyed my cricket. I did what I did and ran in and bowled fast. In one game I bowled 27 overs, barely broke sweat and Mark Benson and Ray Julian asked if I fancied playing cricket and I said ‘go for it’!

“I was doing my teacher’s training at a school in Essex when the headmaster told me Dermot Reeve was on the phone – as you do – and he asked me down (to Somerset) for a trial. So I played against Kent 2nd’s at Ashford and I bowled alright. Keith Parsons kept dropping catches off my bowling! In the game the coach Colin Wells wanted someone to go in as nightwatchman so I said ‘I’ll do it!’

“So I went down the wicket first ball to a spinner and got caught and bowled. But they signed me. ”

Steffan played his first games for Somerset in 1997, bowling only nine overs in the County Championship, but claiming 3 wickets for 49 and batting just once. What does he remember about his debut and those first few games?

“I made my unofficial debut against Pakistan A with the Australian leg spinner, (Stuart) McGill – he was feisty – and I signed a two-year contract after.

“My actual debut was at Lord’s. Kevin Shine got injured and I was due to play rugby for Exeter so was travelling down to Exmouth to play for them and I got a phone call telling me to get to Lord’s so instead of turning left for Exmouth I turned right to Honiton and on to London. I bowled alright and kept my place.”

steff3But it was the following season that Steffan was given a run in the side and seized his opportunity. On 31 May 1998, he made his name and TV debut against a strong Warwickshire team as Somerset managed to win having bowled their opponents out for just 96 with Steffan grabbing the wickets of Knight, Ostler, Giles, Brown and Sheikh. In one spell he took all five wickets for just one run in 19 deliveries.

“That was my third game in that season I think? It was high profile as I remember Brian Lara didn’t turn up (he arrived back late from a business trip in the Caribbean and was fined £2,000) and I got 5 wickets. They were about the best team in the country so I was delighted.”

Scorecard for this game

Prior to this game Steffan had taken 3 for 16 against Surrey and immediately after 2 for 35 against Essex to cement his place in the one day team. Yet, despite this he was still used sparingly in the County Championship bowling just 42.5 overs taking two wickets.

The following season 1999 was a good year for Steffan who showed his worth with the bat, scoring the first of his two career centuries – both for Somerset – when he hit the touring New Zealanders for 105. Somerset made it to a first Lord’s Final for the first time since 1983 and Steffan played a major part in the club making it to the last leg, but before that game he would suffer from the huge disappointment of being told he was going to miss out in playing in the big match.

“I played in the final in 2001 but two years before that in 1999 I was the leading wicket-taker and got us to the final and played well in the semi-final against Surrey. But Graham Rose had come back from injury and he was picked for the final. Initially I thought it was unfair because I had been playing well, had taken 4 wickets against Sussex (4 for 25 in 9 overs) and he hadn’t been playing so was a bit sour. But looking back I think it is good that the club recognised his service and rewarded him with a final. But Dermot (Reeve) told me then that my time would come again and it did two years later.”

In 2000 Steffan started to carve a reputation in the longer format game too, taking 40 first-class wickets with a best of 5 for 41 and scoring 122 runs including one fifty, an undefeated 56.

In 2001 he had his best return for Somerset in the Championship taking 59 wickets in 16 games including one five-fer too, a haul of 5 for 41.

But Somerset’s main result in this season was victory against Leicestershire in the C&G Trophy Final, with the Welshman taking 3 for 40 at Lord’s including the final wicket of Boswell to clinch the win.

So what memories does he hold of that day?

“It was an amazing day. There was a crowd of 30,000 and 20,000 of them were Somerset fans. We had a unique group of players then I think. It was a family, which we have lost these days as he game is more of a business and it is a very selfish sport. But we went out in groups and we were a really close unit and that showed because we fought hard for each other. We celebrated hard too.

“At that time it was all about fighting for each other. Think back to the game against Kent a year later. I bowled the last over and they needed five to win and they didn’t get them, we were down and out. We grabbed four wickets for one run thanks to a great catch by Keith Dutch. He was a great guy – gobby little shit (laughs loudly) but a great guy!

(Link to that game on You Tube here)

“And that 2001 side was a good side. We came second in the Championship behind Yorkshire, made the quarter-finals of the Benson & Hedges and third place in the one-day league. ”

steff-quote

  • Leaving Somerset after 2003:

If 2001 offered the club’s supporters much hope then 2002 was the start of an alarming slide, despite another day at Lords where this time Somerset lost the C&G Trophy Final to Yorkshire. The same team that finished second in 2001 were relegated in the Championship alongside, ironically, the previous champions, Yorkshire, who finished bottom. Steffan played seven games taking 19 wickets and only scored 76 runs, 37 of them in one innings.

To compound a miserable year Somerset were also relegated from the top tier of the Norwich Union League finishing seventh.

If 2003 was intended to be a season of redemption, then this did not materialise as the club continued to decline. Somerset were seventh in Division 2 of the Championship with Steff taking 20 wickets with one five-fer. But with the bat he was beginning to show his worth hitting 273 runs including two fifties and a best of 63.

Somerset finished bottom of the National Cricket League and fifth in their group of the newly- formed Twenty20 competition.

Things had not worked well for the club in Ian Blackwell’s two seasons as captain and Somerset were planning life under Mike Burns and making changes. For various reasons Steffan moved onto Northamptonshire in 2004.

“I went to Northants for two years because my chances at Taunton were limited because we signed Nixon McLean. Caddick was back and we signed (Richard) Johnson, so I was just a one day player and I thought I was in my prime and needed to play Championship Cricket.

“I bowled 40 overs in an innings against Northants so they offered me a deal and I signed for them even though I had a year left on my Somerset contract. It was the worst two years of my life! Horrible. I thought it was the end of my career.”

steffHere he stayed for two seasons before joining Derbyshire in 2006. In the East Midlands he enjoyed one of his finest seasons, taking 59 Championship wickets to equal his previous best ever return in 2001. And it was in this season that Steffan had the game that gave him most satisfaction, ironically against home county Glamorgan, where Jones had match figures of 8 for 111.

“Just when I thought that was it Derbyshire signed me. Dave Houghton told me just to run in and bowl as fast as I can.

“Obviously the C&G Final was brilliant but for me my best game was for Derbyshire. We played against Glamorgan and they needed 20-odd to win in their second innings and I bowled 20 overs and took 6 for 25. I bowled quickly and aggressively and it was like a defining moment for me as I had really doubted myself but knew then I could still do this.”

Scorecard for Glamorgan v Derbyshire link here

  • Back to Somerset for 2007

Brian Rose, who was busy plotting Somerset’s return to the big time, was suitably impressed enough to invite Jones back to Taunton and the Welshman duly obliged and played a major part in Somerset winning the second tier of the Championship in 2007 under the captaincy of Justin Langer.

So was it hard to come back to Somerset after such a fine season at Derby?

“Yes it was hard, but I wanted to raise my daughter in the west and I had taken 12 wickets against Somerset in two games in 2006 so I was offered a three-year contract. Apparently Justin Langer had said that if he was going to captain the side he wanted Steff signed too!”

steff5With Marcus Trescothick back at Taunton full-time, Somerset won the second tier of the Championship convincingly under Langer’s leadership having gone head-to-head with Nottinghamshire for most of the season. Steffan scored the second of his two career centuries in the Championship, 110 not out against Leicestershire in April. His 254 runs in the Championship was at a very respectable average of 36.28 and with the ball he took 23 wickets.

Promotion was assured with a second place finish in the NatWest Pro40 league too.

Somerset supporters could most definitely breathe more easily as the club headed back into first tier cricket.

For 2008 Rose signed Alfonso Thomas to join the fast bowling contingent of Charl Willoughby, Andrew Caddick and Ben Philips with Peter Trego offering medium-pace support. This limited Steffan’s opportunities but he still contributed taking 26 Championship wickets including two five- wicket hauls.

In 2009 Jones joined Kent on loan for one month at the start of the season, subsequently returning to Somerset and then spending the end of the season with Derbyshire again on loan.

After impressing by taking 30 wickets and scoring two half-centuries, he signed a two-year contract to remain with Derbyshire until 2011, taking on a coaching role in addition to his playing duties.

At the end of the season he did travel with Somerset to India as part of the Champions League squad but did not play any part.

  • Time gentlemen, please – retirement in 2011

He was offered the chance to extend his time at Derbyshire with a full-time coaching role which incorporated some playing duties too. But an offer to teach at Wellington School back “home” in Somerset was too good for Steffan to turn down as it offered the kind of job security that life in professional sport could not. What is his position and duties?

“I am Head of Cricket and Elite Performance. Everyone that comes here from a county I do their strength and conditioning programme and I train them. I start them all off with fitness.

And I do the first team rugby too!”

BBC Breakfast’s local news ran a story in January 2014 about a young fast bowling hopeful being nurtured by Steffan at Wellington School called Aadil Rachid, who is signed to Worcestershire and is being viewed as a potential 90mph fast bowler for England. How is this young man’s progression developing?

“He was working really hard and was bowling 80mph at age 16 which is a really good pace. He has an amazing action, the best action I have ever seen. Loads of key attributes that would make him really quick but he is at that age – 16 – when it could go either way. He is teetering on the edge at the minute because the exams took over. He’s had a lecture from me and his Dad, so it is up to him whether he wants it. He has to have the right attitude. He has been at Worcester now for three years but I am doing his programme until he goes back there. But he can bowl. ”

The link to the BBC story from January 2014 is here

  • Looking back!

So looking back at his career he played with some true greats but if he could name only one player as the best he played with, who would that be?

“(Marcus) Trescothick is the best player I played with. Unbelievable player, and one of my best friends too. All people see is the player on the field but off it he is such a lovely guy. And all that rubbish last year about him not being good enough, well those people don’t know what they’re talking about.

“I batted with him when he got 300 in the seconds and he was seeing it like a football. I do like to play my shots and I smacked a couple of sixes and I tried to do it again but I got caught. Dermot Reeve absolutely roasted me!

“Bowling to him in the nets is frightening. You’re running in and giving it everything and bowling well but he made batting look easy.”

And the best player played against for any of the county sides he represented?

“I played against so many great players and could reel them off. Dravid was good, Steve Waugh was good, Mark Waugh was good, Gilchrist, Laxman. But to pick one it would be Darren Lehmann – he was awesome.”

Does Steff have any current commitments at the County Ground and follow their fortunes?

“I’m the coach of the under-13’s and there’s some good players coming through there. I am the bowling scout for them but not on a paid capacity but I recommend bowlers to them all the time and if they don’t want them I recommend Gloucester.

“I was the Academy bowling coach too for a while and I look after the girls there which is contracted. I sit in the background at the moment really.”

So what does Steff think of someone like Jamie Overton at present? If Jason Kerr asked Steffan to mentor Jamie for a year what would he do and what would happen?

“If I got hold of him he would play for England within a year! Technically he’s got some issues as he loses some momentum as he approaches the crease but he is a beast and I love to watch him bowl. It has become a joke now because when I turn up they say ‘come to see Jamie bowl?’ but he genuinely excites me because he is box office, he has the X Factor. We have enough of the 90mph outswinger’s – we can find those anywhere – but someone who can bowl 90mph and genuinely hurt you is rare. Not a lot of them around. So technically he has some work to do but physically he needs to put some work in the gym that is more beneficial to his bowling.

“It’s a balance. I know people who are awesome in the gym yet there are others like Andy Caddick who didn’t do anything in the gym. My philosophy is somewhere in the middle. They don’t bowl enough when they are younger as the directive is four or five overs so they don’t develop to bowl long spells and the stuff they do in the gym doesn’t transfer to the pitch. There is nothing you can do that will replicate bowling. My method is weighted ball bowling which they used to do in the seventies – Michael Holding tried it so did Dennis Lillee – so if I could get hold of him I could get another yard of pace and make him fitter.

“These fitness guys in the counties have 30 other cricketers to look after and it is no reflection on Darren (Veness), who is a friend, who has 20 other cricketers to train so he can’t give his time to Jamie Overton whereas I am a fast bowling specialist. I would say ‘give me five of your fast bowlers and I will give them back to in 8 weeks faster and fitter.

“I have a Rajastan Royals bowler coming here and he is spending a week with me.”

The T20 format was in its formative years when Steff played and the development of the format with various lucrative leagues around the world has dominated Cricket. Steff carved out a huge reputation as a death bowler and big hitter, so was the T20 five to six years too late for him?

“Yes, and I think I would have been in the IPL had it been around in 2001! I could bowl a Yorker at will and hit a ball. I was better than Alfonso at death bowling!

“But the player I feel most for is Caddick. He would clean up now. Stuart Broad? Go away! Andrew Caddick was a different world to these guys today.”

Of all the players in all the clubs he played who was the biggest character in the changing room?

“What apart from myself? Ian Blackwell was a big character and so is Peter Trego. At one stage there was Blackwell, Trego and me and we used to get up to some stuff. Justin Langer was in the corner and you didn’t see half of what we got up to but it was always funny with those two.”

Does he miss the changing room and the camaraderie?

“Yes, it may sound soft but I played cricket because I loved playing cricket. A lot do it today because they get paid for it but I loved it so now I still play cricket. The difference is now I spend more time with family. The standard is lower, obviously, and I coach.”

His team-mates often said that Steffan had a serious fetish for being fit. At one stage he was juggling his training time between two sports so he had double the workload. Reflecting back at former team-mate Ian Blackwell, who was a sublime talent but by his own admission easily distracted, did Steffan ever approach him and tell him to lay off the party lifestyle as he would play more games for England?

“He should have played more times for England definitely and (Mark) Lathwell was the same. He was my room-mate and he was brilliant, the most naturally gifted batter you will ever see. But the problem was with trying to put everything together.

“I liked training and it was something I could be better at than anyone else. I couldn’t be a better batter or bowler than them but I could be fitter and I controlled it. That was the philosophy I had.

“I used to say to Ian Blackwell, if you just go to the gym and have a stretch then at least it looks as if you are going to the gym. But at the end he and Langer were at loggerheads and neither would back down, which is a shame really, because he should still be playing for Somerset I think. But he proved a point as he went to Durham – and he didn’t want to go – but he was a successful there and proved a point. But he did let himself go which is a pity. He just needed to give 50% more effort into his fitness because he was such a talent.”

Do you keep in touch with former team-mates and, if so, who?

“Jason (Kerr) lives in the same village so I see him all the time. Very good friends. Trescothick – I was best man at his wedding and we are still good friends. All of them really. I see them all at the ground regularly.”

Steffan played international cricket for Wales v England three times with some success. Aside from being a proud Welshman did he feel that this should be a permanent fixture and Wales gain their own international team?

“We beat England first time and should have beaten them second time which was a close game and the third game was the hardest for us but was still a good game. I think it was a very good fixture but should Wales go it alone? I think they would be competitive and as good as Ireland. “

Having played here in two spells and now being a part of the “cider army” that watches and supports Somerset, does he have a message for Somerset supporters?

“I say it all the time, and was telling the under-12’s the other day, but it is by far the best county in the country. Somerset is the best supported county with the most passionate and knowledgeable supporters, the best ground which is the best place to play. They deserve some success somewhere along the line. I hope so!”

He is now 40 years-old but remains incredibly fit and still plays Cricket to a good standard. He is the club captain of Bridgwater CC, who play in the West of England Premier League.

You can follow Steffan Jones on Twitter.

He has two other businesses in sport: