Next up in our series celebrating the heroes of county cricket, Scott Oliver speaks to the Colonel of Durham.
Name: Philip Mustard
Best of times: Winning the club’s first-ever County Championship in 2007
Worst of times: Captaincy
In his own words: “I’m more of an encourager than an abuser. Every now and again I might give a bit out, mind. I gave Shane Warne a bit of a gibbing once and he just told me to piss off.”
County cricket has had its fair share of distinctive hair configurations down the years, from the mighty moustaches of yore – Eddie Hemmings, Jack Russell, Ned Larkins et al – to Moeen’s beard, Ryan’s rusty ringlets and, of course, ‘Colonel’ Mustard’s sideburns, which have been gratefully receiving nipping seamers up at Chester-le-Street for the best part of a decade.
Not this year, however, as he has found himself outside Durham’s four-day side, a fact that he has taken in his stride: “I was having a bit of a rough patch with the bat, but that’s the way sport is. Don’t get me wrong, the first time I got dropped was a bit of a shock, but you go home, you go to bed, you wake up and try and think about Plan B.”
The even-tempered approach may spring from the fact that, growing up, cricket was an afterthought. “I remember getting the bus down to Chester-le-Street on a few occasions, but it was a bit of a trek from where I lived and bus fares and everything were quite expensive, so I didn’t get to watch very often. My sport was always football. I used to go to Roker Park occasionally with me dad, but now I’m more Newcastle, I’d say.”
Cricket took over almost imperceptibly, Mustard progressing through Boldon Colliery and Hylton clubs into the Durham Academy, representing Durham Schools, then England under 19s. Yet the performance that convinced him he could prosper at county level was a NatWest Trophy game for Durham Cricket Board against Glamorgan at Darlington in 2003, when he made a brisk 33, slapping Michael Kasprowicz over cover for six. “That was a turning point for me, to hit a world-class bowler for six. In them days I used to just plant me foot down and try and hit through the line of the ball. Obviously that day it worked.”
Winters working for Comet, Northern Rock and a local landscape gardener were no longer needed as Mustard became a cornerstone of two hugely successful Durham sides. While the Lord’s successes of 2007 and 2014, and the underdog Championship of 2013, won as a senior player, are obvious high points, Mustard is clear about the pinnacle of his time in a Durham shirt: “The first Championship was spectacular. Two years before, we stayed up by half a point. Then we were four-and-a-half points off winning it in 2007. So to get over the line in 2008, for the club’s first-ever Championship, was very, very special.”
In many ways, the transition between the two eras – the success of 2007-09, and recently, under Colly – was Mustard’s own captaincy, reluctantly taken on when Will Smith resigned in 2010, mid-season: “I didn’t really want it, but none of the other senior players wanted it either and I was the next guy in line. I enjoyed it for the first few games, but it’s quite hard to tell people what to do when they’ve known you for a long time and you’ve always been one of the lads. I’m great to be an individual around the team, but I wasn’t cut out to be a leader. I’ve always been one of the lads, having a bit of a laugh and a carry on. I learned a harsh lesson.”
Still, Mustard’s free-spirited top-order batting and tidy glovework won him a winter away in Sri Lanka and New Zealand under Peter Moores. Yet despite his pugnacious left-handedness inviting comparison with a certain Australian and a first international dismissal of Sangakkara, st Mustard b Swann 38, he’s under no illusions about his England limited-overs career. “To be honest, I only got in because of an injury to Matt Prior. I thought I performed pretty well but it’s like a goalkeeper in football: once you’re established and playing well, it’s quite hard to dislodge the number one.”
That is exactly what he has found out since the back end of last year, when a lack of runs saw him replaced behind the sticks by Michael Richardson. Not that he intends to go elsewhere in the search for cricket: “Leaving Durham is a bit down the list at the moment. My main aim is to make a few runs and get back in the first team, because this is where I belong.”