Are you missing it?
The big, stuff: definitely. Absolutely.
You said in the book that, for a while at least, you hated playing for England?
I did. Some of the stuff that was going on in the dressing room meant I didn’t want to be there. I still produced the results on the field, because I felt incredibly free when I was batting. I loved it; I loved batting.
Should we be thinking of you as a former player?
I’m 34 and my knee has had a brilliant rest now. So, I’m ready to play again. I’m sure people will refer to me as a former player, but I’m still playing tournaments around the world and I will continue to do so for a good few years. I’m still young and fresh and I still love batting.
How is the knee now?
It feels 100%. It feels amazing. I haven’t played a Test on it, of course, but I don’t have any pain on it.
If you had really wanted to force your way back into the England team, wouldn’t you have played a bit more county cricket last summer?
Two things: it’s been brilliant for my knee that I’ve had the opportunity to rest. And another thing: if I’d scored 10 million runs for Surrey this summer, would I have been selected?
No, but you would have increased the pressure on the ECB.
They’ve been under pressure for a lot of things, but they haven’t buckled. They still might, I suppose. Look, maybe, it’s a fair argument. I can see your point. I do need to sit down and discuss what direction my cricket goes in next year. Because I didn’t play well for Surrey this year. Playing once a week just doesn’t work in T20 cricket. It might if it was Championship cricket, but I’m not going to play T20 just once a week. I have to commit to four-day cricket and being around cricket a lot more if I want to be successful. And I set myself such high standards. I felt I let down Graham Ford, I let down Surrey, I let down the lads in the dressing room and I was heartbroken about it.
Surrey remain first choice?
Absolutely. My mentor is at Surrey. I love the guys in the dressing room. They’re a brilliant club and I have such a great relationship with all the players. If I wasn’t playing this summer, I would pop down there with my little boy. I’d play cricket on the outfield, I’d go and see the lads in the dressing room. It’s such a great environment. I love that place. But I have to discuss what my future holds in the next month or so.
If you had your time again, would you leave South Africa?
[Exhales. Long pause] I can only answer that by saying that I love England. I love what this country has given me. I only know one route. And it’s been the most incredible journey. I’ve achieved so much with the England team. I’ve played with some brilliant players. I’ve achieved some stuff personally that I’m incredibly proud of. So it’s a question that I don’t find relevant, as this is the route I took, this is my life. I don’t have any regrets because I love England.
It would help you, wouldn’t it, if a few other players came out to support your comments about bullying?
I needed to bring up that issue. It wasn’t a nice environment. Guys were picked on big time. Some other players will come out eventually and say the same thing.
Were there any qualms about the extent of the criticism of Matt Prior? To most of us, he has been a fine player for England and the way he is destroyed in the book seems unnecessarily harsh.
I’ve had my character assassinated on a regular basis ever since the captaincy went. So, I’ve had to come out now and say what happened. I’m proud of the book. I’ll go to bed tonight and I’ll sleep brilliantly. I stand by the book.
It’s the double-standards that I can’t stand. I was portrayed as the flash Harry of the dressing room and it just wasn’t the case. Okay, I made a lot of mistakes. I admit to them. I learned from them. But it wasn’t me talking about myself in the third person. It wasn’t me talking about my sponsors changing the colour of my equipment to match my Big Bash team’s colours. It wasn’t me shouting across the dressing room to ask how my Big Bash side was doing. It wasn’t me, shouting to David Saker “Hey, David, what’s the score in the Melbourne match?” across the dressing room halfway through a Test. And he hadn’t even played for the Big Bash team!
Yes, I had maybe done something a bit similar before. I spoke too favourably about the IPL, which has been a huge issue in that dressing room. And I was crucified for it.
But he had been a very good player. That’s true. I have spoken positively about him in the past. But I’d had my character assassinated by him. When he’s talked about being the heart and soul of the dressing room, I know it’s not right. It had to be aired.
Do you think you have ever been guilty of bullying another player?
No. Never. But I know what you’re getting at. You’re talking about James Taylor. Because there’s this lie out there that I rubbished him in front of the team. It’s not true. I spoke to Andy Flower about him. It was a private conversation. It was a senior player talking to the coach in private. I expressed my views when asked. To have private conversations turned into a media story on Monday morning that I was ridiculing James Taylor in the dressing room is ridiculous. Has anyone bothered to ask him if it’s true?
I have, yes.
He said that he didn’t hear you say anything. He was told second-hand that you might have done, but he wasn’t aware of it at the time.
Well, there you are then. He’s clearly an honest lad. Look, I had some pretty good ideas. I was a senior player. I had captained various teams. I had played right around the world. And I wanted the best for England cricket. So the coach might have asked my opinion. So I expressed my views – and sometimes he hated them. But I was isolated and private conversations became newspaper stories.
Is there any truth in the story that you threatened to quit the Ashes tour while in Perth?
No, no. Why would I do that? It’s a ridiculous story. The only issue was with my knee. I almost didn’t play in that Test. My knee was really hurting. I was batting the day before the Test and I walked out of the nets and told Andy that I was really struggling. I called the physio over. But that’s not the same as trying to quit a tour, is it?
I had the option of micro-fracture surgery before the Ashes in England but I said “No, I want to play these ten Tests.”
What sort of percentage chance would you think there is of you playing for England again?
Today? Right now? [Laughs] Well, I look at it like this: I came to England as an offspinner who didn’t know how to bat and I became England’s greatest ever run-scorer. So I live in hope.
Look, Kallis retired at 38-39. Now that my knee is okay, I feel I can play well again. I didn’t play well because of my knee. It played on me for months and months and months. I really struggled because of it.
Is there any possibility that the knee was a physical symptom of mental exhaustion?
No, it was an issue. You don’t talk about micro-fracture surgery unless you really need it.
Have you been the architect of your own downfall to some extent?
Maybe, yes. I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve said some things I shouldn’t have said. And yes, I’ve been too honest. But should I have been sacked for it? Michael Vaughan wrote a good piece, a balanced piece which isn’t just pro-me, about man-management. English cricket wouldn’t be where it is today if it had been managed well in the last five or six years.
But that includes England’s most successful periods.
Success papers over a lot of cracks.
Surely Andy Flower deserves praise for his role in that?
The Mood Hoover? He had a fantastic team. But he used to walk into the room and it was like “Uhhh”. He would walk into breakfast and it was like “uhhh”.
But yes, of course he did good things. He has his numbers and he is very proud of his numbers. And he should be incredibly proud of what he did in Zimbabwe. It takes a brave man to do what he did and nobody should question that. It was fantastic.
We all do good things. But this is my side of the story and the guy didn’t like me.
He would have to go if you were to have any hope of a recall, wouldn’t he?
Yes. Though he isn’t actually coach now.
But he works for the ECB. Doesn’t he still pull the strings?
Yes! One of my questions to Paul Downton is: if I seemed disinterested, why did I?
Downton complained about me fielding on the boundary. Do you think I enjoyed fielding on the boundary in Australia? Where people abuse you all the time? Ridiculous. My surgeon had told the ECB doctor that, if they wanted me to play all ten Tests, there was no way I could field at gully all series. He has to be on the boundary so he is not squatting every delivery.
So I did the hard yards for England. I took the shit from the crowds. My knee wouldn’t allow me to field at gully. Downton really should have known that.
I heard you say on the radio that you had a “great” relationship with the current team. Define “great”?
No, no. I said I had a great relationship with them. I did. I had a great relationship with Alastair Cook. We were open and honest with each other and I had no issues. We had a discussion before the Sydney Test and I said “Cooky, you know that I’m here to help you. But I’ve played over 100 Tests and I’m allowed an opinion.” And he said “Absolutely”.
So when did you fall out?
I’d love to ask him that. I’ve messages on my phone from him saying we’ll hook up when he got back from Australia. But it never happened. The next time I saw him was in that meeting where he was staring at his feet.
I don’t blame him. He’s not in the position he wants to be in. He is not a confrontational person.
Has it been difficult to deal with the prospect of never playing international cricket again?
It’s been hugely difficult to deal with. I’ve trained my brain to accept that everything happens for a reason. I was probably in mourning for a while, but I’m pretty much at peace now. I still play, I still travel and have fun. I drop off my kid at school.
What was the motivation behind the book?
This was not a life-changing sum of money for me, it wasn’t about that. I deserved a chance to give my side of the story. My character has been assassinated for years and I have never defended myself. Under Andy Flower’s regime, if you did anything that wasn’t the way he liked it, he came down on you hard. I wasn’t allowed to defend myself.
Do you think he ever forgave you for your part in Peter Moores’ sacking?
Never. It was never okay. Not even on that first tour. I really did try. But I always knew he had it in for me.
How would you have captained you?
Well, I did captain guys like me in the IPL. Free spirits. My theory is, you set out the guidelines of the team and you find out how individuals like to run. And there are certain individuals that need to be treated differently to others. Some need to play warm-up games and spend time in the nets. Some need to be put under pressure; some need to be taken away from pressure because of the amount of pressure that is thrust upon them in the international environment. You have to understand those players and manage them carefully and to your advantage. Don’t use them against you.
So, to me, I would have said: I know how hard you train. Continue to work your tits off. I know you will make mistakes when you bat, but you will come off next time. Keep doing it! Ask Duncan Fletcher or Matt Maynard or Michael Vaughan: they will tell you how hard, I trained. And if I screwed up, they backed me to come off next time. And I kept on delivering for them. I was riding the crest of a wave, but then it was all taken away from me by a guy who had it in for me.
Do you think of yourself as a thick-skinned person?
You have to be. After the level of abuse I’ve had, you have to be. I have a close circle of friends. I have my family. I’ve been bombarded for about five years and now I am totally cool about it.
Let’s clarify the captaincy issue: there was no ultimatum against Peter Moores?
No, there wasn’t. The ECB gave me a letter with questions on it about my thoughts about the team. I spent a long time drawing up answers. We were due to have a board meeting, but it was leaked and I was sacked. I thought I had the majority with me: Strauss and Collingwood were in my corner. But what I said – that I couldn’t take the team further with him as coach – didn’t go down very well. And that’s where the spiral started.
What comes after playing for you?
The most exciting thing I have going on at present is my foundation and academy in Dubai. I have a really exciting programme for the kids: it will be the best cricket academy in the world. I will be hands on. I’ll be there at least four times a year and I’ll be giving masterclasses. I have friends such as Chris Gayle and Yuvraj Singh coming to give masterclasses, too.
Look, I’m probably never going to be director of cricket at Derbyshire, but I love coaching. I love helping youngsters. I helped out the bowlers with their batting on the last Ashes tour. They said they were just abused when the coaches threw balls at them. I gave them a technique that I thought would help them defend themselves. I said to Jimmy Anderson at T20 Finals Day: “Hey, what about your batting this summer?” But nobody leaked that, did they? It didn’t suit the agenda of the ECB to leak news that might have been positive about me. It never suited the ECB to say that I was trying to help my team-mates. Draw your own conclusions.